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House of Lords

Monday, 5 November 2012.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Death of a Member: Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract


2.36 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza): My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Lord, Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract, on 1 November. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord’s friends and family.

Police and Crime Commissioners


2.36 pm

Asked By Lord Roberts of Llandudno

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what guidance is being given to electors for the election of police and crime commissioners who have not received election communications from the candidates in their constituencies.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, information about every candidate is published online and can be delivered in written form to anyone who wants it. Details of our website and how to request paper copies are on every voter’s poll card. Furthermore, every household has received information about the elections from the Electoral Commission. Knowing my noble friend’s particular interest, the website and the booklets are bilingual in Wales, as are the ballot papers.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: I appreciate part of the Minister’s Answer. However, would he not agree with me that universal suffrage is the cornerstone of democracy, where every candidate has equal access to every elector? In this election we have no free post for candidates so only the wealthy can hope to pay their own postage to reach the electors. Millions of people are not online. Does the Minister not agree that this election is totally undemocratic and the result could be open to legal question?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My noble friend’s supplementary question was in two parts. I endorse all that he had to say about democracy. However, on the second point, I would have to say to him that there is no such thing as a free mail shot. It would have cost more than £30 million to have provided free post for all candidates. As I said in my original Answer to him,

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individual candidates have equal access to the Home Office website. That address is available on every poll card. Anybody who does not have access to the internet can get hard copies delivered to them if they wish. It may interest noble Lords to know that the website has received more than 1 million hits since it went up and more than 100,000 hard copies have been posted.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, those figures are derisory compared with the size of the electorate. Is it too late to do something about this?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Noble Lords will know that we are capable in this House of a certain amount of last-minute legislation but I think that it is too late for this election. My noble friend and I have homes in the same county. He will know that local television and newspapers are covering this election strongly. Here in the metropolis there are no elections and it may seem to those who are based here that there is not much going on. But I assure noble Lords that this election is a very live issue in the provinces.

Lord Morgan: My Lords, is not one group of electors particularly disadvantaged in this election? I refer to those who are Welsh speaking. What progress are the Government making in answer to the excellent points raised by my noble friend Lord Touhig?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: The website is bilingual in Wales. All the forms for the election are bilingual and the ballot papers are bilingual. I hope that that shows our proper respect for the Welsh language.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, is there a level below which the number of people voting would make the result invalid?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: No.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, this is a very brave experiment in democracy. When the Bill was going through this House, Ministers told us that we should not criticise the cost of these changes in governance because you could not put a price on democracy. Surely, the Minister has done just that. He said that the extra £30 million for ensuring that every elector knows who the candidates are and what they stand for simply cannot be afforded. Can he tell us how much the other changes to governance with regard to police forces have cost and why he thinks that the extra £30 million is not a proper investment in effective democracy?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank the noble Lord. Of course, £30 million is a significant sum. This election has given us an opportunity to show that it is possible to communicate with electors in different ways. I have given noble Lords the figures: 1 million hits on the website is not an insignificant number and 100,000 requests for printed forms is not a modest number. I believe that the Government have done the right thing in this way. I hope that all noble Lords will see this as an

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opportunity to bring democracy into police governance in a way that has not existed before and that they will support their favoured candidates for these elections.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I received a bilingual address from the Conservative candidate but not from the Labour candidate and I have cast my vote accordingly?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: That is very good news for the candidate in my noble friend’s constituency.

Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, for a moment when the noble Lord referred to late legislation, I thought that the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill was being withdrawn to have new legislation on this but unfortunately he has not agreed with us on that point. Perhaps I may ask two questions. First, is he satisfied that the level of public awareness of and interest in these elections is adequate at this stage? Secondly, he will have seen the reports of shockingly low police morale. Does he think that this flagship policy on police from the Government has improved police morale, made it worse or made no difference?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My answer to the second part of that question is that I am certain that it will have done. It has focused public attention on the police as an institution in a way that has not existed before. It has made it quite clear that the services of those who work in the police service are valued. Indeed, people will be voting for the police and crime commissioner who will be responsible for the governance of police in local areas. I am sorry but I have forgotten the first part of the noble Baroness’s question. Perhaps she would not mind repeating it.

Baroness Smith of Basildon: I asked whether the Minister was satisfied with the level of public awareness of and interest in these elections.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I think that I have given that answer already. The poll conducted showed that 85% of the people who were eligible to vote in these elections were aware that they were taking place. I am satisfied. It is up to those of us engaged in democracy to get involved with making sure that these elections return good candidates to do the task that is set before them. It is an important job and it will make a lot of difference to policing in this country.

Claims Management Companies: Unwanted Text Messages


2.45 pm

Asked By Lord Kennedy of Southwark

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure that people do not receive unwanted text messages from claims management companies.

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The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the Government fully support the work of the Information Commissioner’s Office in enforcing the legislation that protects individuals from unsolicited text messages. The Ministry of Justice’s claims management regulation unit is actively working with the commissioner to investigate individual claims management companies receiving leads or claims as a result of unsolicited text messages, and is taking enforcement action as appropriate.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark: My Lords, the mis-selling of payment protection insurance was an absolute scandal, but the activities of some claims management companies are also a scandal, with unwanted text messages and phone calls. Does the Minister agree that there is a serious problem with this industry? If so, what are the Government going to do about it?

Lord McNally: The Government are making sure that there are joined-up investigations, co-operation between the various bodies responsible for various aspects of the industry and carried-through enforcement action. This is feeding through into weeding out the rogue traders and making sure that the consumer has sufficient information to be able to make rational decisions as to whether they use the services offered.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have asked Questions several times of both this and the previous Government, not so much about texts but about unsolicited phone calls on exactly the same matter? I have been told that you can go on to a site and put yourself on a list, saying that you do not want to receive things. But, unfortunately, that does not really work. The latest statement that I had from the Government was that if things come through overseas channels or other satellite means, they cannot control it; they can control things only within certain parameters in this country. Is that still the case? I am getting about six phone calls a week and sometimes three or four a day, all offering me wonderful things.

Lord McNally: I have some sympathy for the point that the noble Baroness makes, because we at home are supposed to be on this blocking mechanism that you sign up for, but the calls still get through. I will investigate the point that she made about whether international calls get round the blocking. I know that Ofcom is very much aware of this problem. I know that it is no use me telling the noble Baroness that she can go on to this register and that Ofcom is on the job and so on, because from the noises around the Chamber and my own experience, I know that these nuisance calls are still getting through. I will contact Ofcom and write to the noble Baroness with the reply, which I shall put in the Library of the House.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, the Information Commissioner has received at least 10,000 complaints every year, but how many prosecutions have there been?

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Lord McNally: If the noble Lord means complaints about the rogue calls, I do not know, because this Question is not about the rogue calls. In my letter, I will cover it. On the question of texts, the Information Commissioner has announced that he is preparing to levy some very heavy fines on people who abuse the system with texts. But I will make the question on unasked-for calls part of my inquiry and put the reply in the Library of the House.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, would the Minister add e-mails? I get an enormous number of e-mails every day, generally about PPI but about a whole lot of other things, too. They all seem to be done at about three in the morning. E-mails are just as serious; I spend such a lot of time just deleting all these e-mails on a daily basis. Would the Minister add e-mails to texts and phone calls? I also get the texts and the phone calls.

Lord McNally: I agree; I know what absolute anger this matter causes. It sometimes raises a groan when Ministers announce the following, but a cross-industry working group has been set up led by the Direct Marketing Association and including the MoJ’s claims management regulator, the ICO, Ofcom, the Telephone Preference Service, the OFT and the Advertising Standards Authority. They are looking across the piece at what is undoubtedly a nuisance.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I am sure the House is reassured to know that it takes so many people not to be able to do anything about this problem. Does my noble friend agree with me that the real problem here is the routine selling on of our personal data—our mobile phone numbers and our e-mail addresses—and that we might avoid this problem if we dealt with that and had severe punishments for breach of data protection?

Lord McNally: I thank my noble friend for that question. She is right. However, from April 2013, claims management companies will be banned from receiving referral fees in personal injury cases and from offering financial rewards or similar benefits as an inducement to make a claim. We are trying to make sure that we do not block legitimate activity but that we comb out and stop those who are causing a nuisance and the rogue traders. I am afraid that a number of regulators need to come together in this area to get effective action.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the Minister’s offer to put the letter in the Library is, of course, of great interest to Members of this House. However, there is much wider interest in this matter. May I encourage him to consider putting the letter in Hansard so that it can then get on to the internet and be much more widely read?

Lord McNally: I am not sure how easy it is to put it into Hansard, but what I can put into Hansard is the general advice on this matter, which is that customers should never use these firms. It is simple to make

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claims yourself and there is a template and letter on the


? website. However, these claims companies have at least enabled financially less confident consumers to seek redress. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his assiduity in pursuing these matters. I should also point out that the consortium of concerned bodies to which I referred has produced a very helpful pamphlet as a consumer guide entitled

Nuisance Calls and Messages

, which is supported by 11 bodies, which may be a clue as to why it is difficult to find a solution to this problem.

Universities: Overseas Students


2.53 pm

Asked By Lord Giddens

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the impact of current immigration policy on the attractiveness of United Kingdom universities to overseas students.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach): My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the UK continues to make a great offer to international students. Those with an adequate command of the English language and enough money to support themselves can come with no limit on numbers. When they finish, they can stay if they are doing a graduate-level job, again with no limit on numbers. Universities UK has reported that the number of international students continues to rise and UCAS acceptances are up 4%.

Lord Giddens: I thank the Minister for that reply. The point is that government migration policy threatens to do huge reputational damage to British universities, institutions which bring in some £8 billion in earnings from overseas students. Why cannot the Government adopt the same scheme as our competitor countries, especially the United States and Australia, and list overseas students separately from migration statistics, since we know that almost all overseas students—about 97%—go back to their country of origin?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I think it must be agreed throughout the House that the previous system was open to abuse, with too many students just coming here to work rather than to study. The Government have sought to protect our world-class universities while targeting the less compliant new colleges, driving some 500 of the latter off the sponsor register. We want to continue to attract the brightest and best international students who will drive growth in our economy. Most observers would agree that our reforms are no more than common sense. We are not adopting the Australian or American model. We believe that it is right to have these figures as part of general migration although the net migration figure is obviously less than the top line one.

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Lord Bilimoria: Does the Minister agree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, that it makes sense to remove student figures from the overall immigration figures as countries like the United States, Canada and Australia do? The Government are creating a rod for their own back. Does the Minister also agree that the treatment of London Metropolitan University’s foreign students was appalling, unfair and unjust? Is that the way that we, a fair and just nation, behave? More importantly, does the Government agree that the signal that it sent out to foreign students around the world is, “Britain does not want us”?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: No student who was engaged in a course at London Metropolitan has been asked to leave at this stage. There was serious abuse of the process, despite the UKBA working alongside London Met. The UKBA felt that it could no longer rely on London Met to sponsor students and that is why the permit was withdrawn. As noble Lords will know, there is a judicial review going on and these arguments will, no doubt, be vented there. I am, however, confident that the UKBA made the right decision in this case.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, perhaps I may tell the Minister that last night I got off a plane from Beijing, where I had been visiting two of the most outstanding and internationally minded universities in China—and that we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Not only are we helping to destroy our own best universities, we are cutting off the contacts we need for future relationships, for future foreign influence and, of course, for future exports. I would therefore beg the Government to reconsider their current position. It is vital that students are excluded from the immigration policy, as they are in Australia, Canada and the United States. We are an exporting and internationally minded nation which is cutting itself off from contact with some of the most outstanding future leaders of the very countries with which we need to work most closely. I ask the Government to reconsider the situation very seriously.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I thank my noble friend for raising this issue because, as she will know, the number of students from China is increasing. Indeed, the number of students from some parts of south-east Asia is increasing enormously: there is a 26% increase in students from Hong Kong and a 10% increase in students from Singapore. I do not believe that a policy which seeks to control this area of immigration in a proper and manageable fashion is in conflict with an education policy which is designed to give an opportunity for our excellent university education to be shared with students from around the world.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, at the University of East Anglia in Norwich we are seeing a very marked downturn in applications from postgraduate science students from India. This is consistent with evidence from 2010-11 that, when one lifts China out of the figures, there has been a rapid reversal in Britain’s relative attractiveness to overseas students. If

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the Government are not going to lift students out of the net migration figures, how do they propose to respond to these facts?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am not sure that the right reverend Prelate is correct in his assumptions. I know that the numbers from the Indian subcontinent are indeed down, but graduate-level jobs are available, and students are able to go on to postgraduate studies. We welcome that. I am therefore not sure that the right reverend Prelate’s reading of this is correct.

Viscount Hanworth: My Lords, a recent survey of UK universities has shown that, excluding students from China and Hong Kong, whose numbers continue to increase, the numbers of non-EU students in UK universities decreased in 2011-12 compared with the previous year. Does the Minister have figures in his brief that would illustrate this and, if so, is he prepared to share them with this House? Could he also tell us whether the Government intend to take any measures that might reverse this trend?

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: Perhaps I can help the noble Viscount with some figures. Up to the year ending December 2011, overall student immigration was 232,000—the second highest year on record. Of those, 180,000 were non-EU nationals, which is almost 60% of total non-EU inflows.

NHS: Liverpool Care Pathway Inquiry


3.01 pm

Asked By Baroness Knight of Collingtree

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what procedure will be adopted in carrying out the proposed NHS inquiry into the Liverpool Care Pathway.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, there is no procedure, as there is no such inquiry. A number of organisations, led by the National End of Life Care Programme, Dying Matters and the Association for Palliative Medicine, are looking into complaints, patient experience and clinical opinion on the Liverpool Care Pathway. We do not make policy decisions based on anecdote. If the work in hand suggests cause for concern, we will respond on the basis of that evidence.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that large numbers of people with personal experience of how the LCP is now operating complain that their relatives were denied hydration in hospital and died in acute pain and discomfort, with no knowledge whatever or agreement of having been put on this pathway? Is he aware that patients often survive if relatives step in in time and give their dear ones help and water? One rang me a few days ago and she is now going on a cruise. Will my noble friend assure us that there will be an inquiry, which has been

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promised and announced in the press, and that it will be truly independent and not carried out by those who have vested interests? Nothing else will do.

Earl Howe: My Lords, there is never any cause for complacency in a matter of this kind, and I can reassure my noble friend that the Government will keep this issue under review. At the same time, I hope she will allow me to respond in slightly more forthright terms than I normally do, because there has been an enormous amount of misreporting and misinformation around the Liverpool Care Pathway, which has been endorsed publicly in a consensus document by 22 of the leading professional organisations and patient organisations in this area, including Marie Curie. We cannot ignore that. As I mentioned in my Answer, some of those organisations are looking carefully at the reports to which my noble friend alluded. It is notable that not a single complaint has reached the regulators in this area, which I suggest indicates that there may be less substance to some of these stories than may first reach the eye. However, I emphasise that there is no complacency.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, as the noble Earl comes to look at the consultation on the National Health Service constitution over the coming months, will he take the opportunity to look at the care pathway in Liverpool itself, where last week I was able to meet Professor John Ellershaw and those who devised the pathway? Given that 80,000 patients a year are treated on the pathway, does the Minister accept that it works very well for many of them; that while the philosophy is not the problem, the procedures used in some places have been; and that one of the principal concerns is dehydration? Does he agree that that is something to be looked at, as well as the level of training of those doctors who are responsible for the palliative care of people at the end of their lives?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I fully agree with the noble Lord. Training is integral to the care pathway, as is the need to consult the families of patients and, if possible, the patients themselves before a decision is taken to put them on the Liverpool Care Pathway. On the NHS constitution, I completely take the noble Lord’s point. The proposed change to the NHS constitution makes it absolutely clear that patients and their families and carers have the right to be fully involved in discussions and decisions about their care, including that at the end of life. We are clear that that should already be happening, but we understand from reports that that is not always the case. As regards end-of-life care, I think there is sometimes a taboo on discussing death and dying and press reports show how damaging that can be. I shall indeed take all the noble Lord’s points on board, particularly as regards nutrition and hydration.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: My Lords, I am relieved by the Minister’s response to the noble Baroness, Lady Knight. He is absolutely right that the care people receive at the end of their lives is hugely important. National statistics show that 29% of eligible people are on the care pathway. In my own trust, Barnet and

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Chase Farm, 28% of people are currently on it. The involvement of carers in those discussions is huge and a whole protocol is attached. I, too, am extremely worried about the publicity, some of which I am sure is well meant, but it can be very damaging to a system that provides a great deal of care. My mother-in-law was on the Liverpool Care Pathway in Liverpool hospital and had a very good experience. Please can we ensure that in any discussions we look at the overall benefit to elderly people at the end of their lives?

Earl Howe: The noble Baroness is quite right. So often, good experiences are not reported. Predominantly we hear from patient organisations and the Marie Curie organisation that in the vast majority of instances where the Liverpool Care Pathway has been used, it has resulted in better care for the dying person. She is absolutely right. Nevertheless, where the pathway is not being properly followed, we have to take the matter seriously and ensure that there is proper training and communication with care staff.

Arrangement of Business


3.07 pm

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, last Wednesday, I made a short Business Statement to draw the attention of the House to a change in the Order Paper for that day to facilitate a period of reflection on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill before the noble Lord, Lord Hart of Chilton, invited the House to consider an amendment which the Clerks had advised was inadmissible.

Forthcoming business had advertised that the Bill would next be considered today. Noble Lords will see from the Order Paper, and the revised edition of FB circulated last Thursday, that that is not now the case. Today’s business is debates, and not legislation. The reason for the change is the same as that which I gave the House last Wednesday.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Strathclyde: All those involved need further time to reflect before the House is invited to take a decision either on the admissibility of the amendment or on its merits. It will not surprise the House that those involved include senior members of the Government and, until their discussions are concluded, the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill will not proceed further in Committee. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, the Leader of the Opposition, intends to speak, but if she does, perhaps she can answer this question.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I invite the noble Baroness to speak. If noble Lords opposite listen, they will understand precisely why I am posing it. On the last occasion that a Conservative Back-Bencher insisted on tabling an amendment against the advice of the

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Clerks, the then Leader of the House drew the matter to the attention of the House, as the Leader is required to do, and asked the House to endorse the opinion of the Clerks and, thereby, maintain our customs and procedures. The Leader of the Opposition unreservedly supported the Leader of the House, and the Clerks’ advice, and the Back-Bencher concerned did not move his amendment. The noble Lord was my noble friend Lord Trefgarne; the Leader of the House was the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington; and the Leader of the Opposition was me. Will today’s Leader of the Opposition tell us whether she will respect the role and advice of the Clerks, as her predecessors have always done?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for his Business Statement seeking to explain why the House is again not dealing with the business that it—and indeed the Leader of the House—was expecting to consider. Your Lordships’ House expected on Wednesday of last week to consider the second day in Committee of the Government’s Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. Instead, it was given an explanation by the Leader of why that would not be the case. During the course of his remarks in the Chamber, he said of the postponed business:

“I expect the business to be taken next Monday”.—[Official Report, 31/10/12; col. 622.]

That is today. However, as we know, today’s Order Paper yet again does not feature the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. Instead, we have a further Business Statement from the noble Lord.

In the light of today’s wholly inadequate Statement from the Leader of the House, it is transparently clear where the disorder is on this matter. It is on the Conservative Benches opposite. Within the coalition, it is clear that the Liberal Democrats are standing by their declared position that they will oppose the Government’s proposed changes to Commons parliamentary constituency boundaries, and the boundary reviews that would put them into effect. We on these Benches oppose them also. So do noble Lords on all sides of the House.

The Leader of the House, in his Statement last week, attempted to paint a picture of the amendment to the ERA Bill that would retimetable the boundary reviews as stemming only from these Benches. This House knows that the amendment was signed by four Members of your Lordships’ House: my noble friend Lord Hart of Chilton, a senior lawyer and former adviser to two Lord Chancellors; the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a former Permanent Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, a former chief executive of the Liberal Democrats; and the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, a former leader of Plaid Cymru. Each is from a different part of the House; all are Members of the House who are highly distinguished and highly respected; and all are putting forward the amendment on boundary reviews.

There are a number of important issues here. On the merits of the amendment, the Government would be better advised to put their effort and money into

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improving the electoral register, and into making sure that as many citizens as possible are able to—and do—take part in our country’s democracy rather than into gerrymandering the voting system. We know that there are a number of views on the issue of admissibility and relevance. I hope that as many noble Lords as possible have read the legal opinion that we on these Benches commissioned, and last week placed in the Library of the House, which makes it crystal clear that the amendment to the Bill is both highly relevant and admissible.

The Leader invited me to give my opinion and say what I would do. I stand by the amendment as tabled. While I entirely respect the Clerks of the House, who are excellent, this does not mean to say that their view cannot be questioned. In this instance, having read the advice in the letter from the Clerks, and the quotations from Erskine May, I believe that we are right to ask the four noble Lords in question to continue with the amendment.

What characterises these and other issues is simple: this House should discuss them. It should consider the amendment, and the issues raised by it—but it is not doing so. Instead, and for the second time—in a move that we believe to be unprecedented—the Government have pulled the Bill from the Order Paper. Why have they done so? We have heard no satisfactory explanation from the Leader of the House. I hear that the actual reason is that time could not be found for the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to meet to consider the issues ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit to the Gulf today. Even if that is the case, it is not a sufficient explanation: not sufficient for the workings of government, and absolutely not sufficient for the relationship between the Executive and the legislature. Parliament is not the plaything of government: in particular, Parliament is not the plaything of a political party in trouble. By yet again pulling consideration of this Bill because of the amendment being proposed to it by distinguished Members from all sides of your Lordships’ House, the Conservative Party, for party-political reasons, seeks to subvert the constitutional role and practice of this House. The Conservative Party seeks to prevent a discussion that this House wants to have.

One of the roles of Parliament is to protect the public interest against, if necessary, an overweening Executive. In this case, the public interest is clear: it is not in the public interest for the system of parliamentary democracy in the country to be shrouded in a lack of clarity, which the Conservatives’ position on boundary changes has produced. MPs, candidates, political parties and, most importantly the public, need certainty in the electoral system.

There is a further issue. In casting around for matters to be put on the Order Paper today in place of the ERA Bill, the Government have alighted on three issues: the role of the Armed Forces, policies on planning, and the fate of the British ash tree. They are all extremely important issues, but in a part-time, voluntary House, where Members have to arrange their time, it is a discourtesy to your Lordships' House to bring in, without any material consultation, debates in this way on matters about which many Members of this House may be interested, just to fill a party-political gap.

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In what it is doing in relation to this Bill, the Conservative Party is seeking to subvert democracy. It should simply stop trying to do so now. I invite the Leader of the House, in his response to the issues raised in the Chamber this afternoon, to stop treating your Lordships’ House in the way that it has done so far on this Bill and stop running scared of this House considering, debating and, if necessary, dividing on these issues. It must stop treating this House as if it were a plaything of the Executive, face up to its responsibility to Parliament and set a firm date very soon for the Committee stage of the Bill—a date that it will stick to and a date that will allow this House to get on with the business that it wants to consider.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, first, the Government have not pulled this from the Order Paper: it is important that the House should recognise that. Secondly, it was never on the Order Paper. If any noble Lord can demonstrate how it was on the Order Paper, I would like to see it. But it was not on the Order Paper and has not been pulled from the Order Paper. That is the first accusation that is wrong.

Secondly, the usual channels were told on Thursday evening, which is plenty of time to let noble Lords know. Thirdly, on Thursday afternoon, we had a debate in this House about the lack of topicality of debates. Well today we have enabled the House to have a most topical series of debates.

But let us deal with the substantive nature of this. The noble Baroness said that the Government are perverting democracy. Perverting democracy in the House of Lords? That is a strange one. Secondly, the noble Baroness said that the review was simply about boundaries. It is not. It is a review to reduce the size of the House of Commons to save a considerable amount of taxpayers’ money and rebalance the number of Members of Parliament throughout the United Kingdom.

I return to the central point of my speech. Today, the noble Baroness, the Leader of the Opposition, who held this post as Leader of the House only two and half years ago, said that she will now ignore the instructions and the advice of the parliamentary Clerks.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I know many other noble Lords will wish to come in, but I would say three things. First, the debate was on the Forthcoming Business of this House and on the green sheet. Secondly, the House is an integral part of our democratic system. Thirdly, I did indeed very proudly hold the position of Leader of the House. But I believe that when I did so I acted in the interests of the whole House—the House as a whole.

Lord Laming: My Lords, I have no wish to comment on the amendment that has led us to be in this situation but I am sure that I am not alone in regretting the fact that we are. When the House finds itself in a dispute of this kind there is no doubt that it affects detrimentally the efficiency of the House. It is clear from last Wednesday’s discussion and from what we have already heard today that this matter will not be resolved on the

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Floor of the House. It will have to be resolved through discussions, and possibly through discussions some distance from the House.

I urge the House on all sides to allow these discussions to take place and let us get back to discussing this important Bill as quickly as possible and get on with the proper procedures in a self-regulated House. I hope that the Leader of the House will assure us that it will be possible for us to get ahead with these discussions as quickly as possible.

Lord Peston: My Lords, if a Back-Bencher may be allowed to speak, I say in terms to the noble Lord the Leader that what he said will not do in any circumstances whatever. We are in a great mess and the real point is how we get out of the mess with honour. I say “with honour” and noble Lords will have noticed that I used the word “we”, even though I personally have not been involved in any of this. However, we all have to regard ourselves as having that as our duty.

There is a very good way of getting out of this. I say to the noble Lord that he ought to appreciate that the amendment accepts the fundamental principles of the Bill the Government are placing before us. He does not seem to have noticed that, but it does; it merely postpones one aspect of what happens. We could get out of this with honour through the Government accepting the amendment. All they have to do is say yes—that is all they have to do—and that is their honour; and those moving the amendment will come away with a degree of honour in that they have got their way.

The matter should not involve us in fundamental discussions about the role of the clerks of Parliament and our attitude towards them or anything like that. It is important that we should get back to discussing the thing that we are good at, which is legislation, and a great deal of legislation is waiting to be discussed. If the Leader of the House persists in the technicalities of his answer, he will keep this mess going endlessly. He may feel that he would like to lose all his legislation but, as I favour quite a large chunk of it, I wish that would not happen.

May we ask the noble Lord to go away, think again —rather than him telling us to go away and think again—come back and say yes to the amendment? Indeed, he would also save the coalition, which he may like to consider. This is not a party-political matter—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Peston: I am perfectly serious. This is not a party-political matter but is a matter of how your Lordships conduct their business. What has been going on for the past week does us no credit whatever. The noble Lord nods his head, but he is responsible for this. We are not responsible for it; we did not pull out of the legislation. Speaking as a Back-Bencher, I say that enough is enough. Whoever are the powers that be, they should go away and come back with an agreement.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, the Leader of the House will recall or, if he does not recall I am sure that someone in his office can find the previous instances,

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that time after time when he was the shadow Leader of the House he was in the habit, quite properly, of reminding my noble friends at the time—I can recall three or four of them—that their duty as Leader of the House was to the whole House, the convenience of the whole House and observing the normal practices of the House as well as, and I recognise this as much as anyone, his duties and loyalties to his own party.

The noble Lord is trying to describe today’s events almost as a routine day at the office. I remind him that on two successive legislative days the Government’s business for the day has been withdrawn at the last possible moment: Wednesday’s business on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill was withdrawn on Tuesday night, and Monday’s business was withdrawn today—he quibbles about the word “withdrawn”— when it was quite clear that that business was going to go ahead today. That is not a routine day at the office. He is very fond of clerks’ advice, so to begin with I will ask him one question. Has he received any advice from the clerks as to the efficacy or advisability of a government flagship Bill which the House was preparing to consider being withdrawn on two successive days with virtually no notice?

The second point I want to make is to remind the noble Lord of what he said to this House last week. He withdrew the business on that day because,

“the House needed the opportunity to reflect on that advice”—

the advice from the clerks—

“before taking a decision on this matter”.

He went on to say:

“I would prefer an informed debate next week to an ill-informed, disorderly row today”.—[Official Report, 31/10/12; col. 619.]

I think that he could claim to have been speaking then for the House as a whole. Indeed, there were Members of the House who thought that that was not such a bad argument, but it cannot conceivably be used—as he has tried to do—as a justification for delaying consideration of the Bill again today. You do not need to be Sherlock Holmes to work this one out. It is quite clear that something happened between the Leader of the House making a solemn undertaking to the House at 3.15 pm on 31 October and then at 6 pm on 1 November, a day that is memorable not least because it is my birthday and All Saints’ Day, deciding that his advice to the House the previous day no longer obtained. The whole question of having enough time to consider and reflect over the weekend was not enough. I would simply ask him this question: what was it between 3.15 pm last Wednesday and 6 pm last Thursday that made him reverse by 180 degrees the advice he had given to the House?

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, perhaps I may speak on behalf of some of the bewildered. My noble friend the Leader of the House is rightly reluctant, as I think all noble Lords should be, about simply overriding the learned views of our expert clerks. If an amendment is inadmissible, why is not possible for the four great gentlemen, the four noble Lords who drafted the amendment—on what is obviously a red-hot political issue, let us not pretend otherwise—to go away and draft an amendment that is admissible? Why are they

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so insistent on pushing through an amendment over the rulings of our learned clerks, whom we are accustomed to recognise for the validity of their judgments? Why is it suddenly the judgment that we should override them? I cannot see the necessity for that.

I think that the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition has made a wrong judgment call. She is anxious to pursue this issue, and why not? It might damage the Government—but to do so by overriding the clerks seems an absurd and clumsy way of proceeding. I suggest that she or her noble friends who have signed the amendment should go away and cook up a sensible amendment. They are learned and experienced noble Lords, so why on earth can they not cook up an amendment that is admissible?

Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, reference has been made to the signing of this amendment by my noble friend Lord Wigley. He consulted me before doing so because, in a party of two, consultation is essential. I rise to speak on this issue because for 12 years as the Presiding Officer in Cardiff I always took the advice of the clerks. It is not possible for a parliamentary assembly to function without taking seriously the advice of its clerks. However, we are in a different situation in this Chamber. We are a self-regulating House, which means that there is a democratic and moving relationship. The Speakership of this House—I defer to the Lord Speaker in this—is divided between the Leader of the House and the other parties in this House. The discussions that take place behind the Speaker’s Chair—as it would be in the other place—are essential to the progress of the business of the House.

We have to face two issues here. First, the Government have a right to take their business through, but the Opposition, along with other Members of the House, have a duty to oppose that business when they have the opportunity to do so. That is what is at loggerheads in this situation. I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider his tactic of continually withdrawing the opportunity for the rest of this House to vote on this matter, because that also is contrary to the principles of this House and of parliamentary democracy.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, perhaps a rather naive Back-Bencher on this side might intervene. We continue to discuss this matter in the context of a specific amendment. That, to me, is not the point at issue. The point at issue is that if we accept this amendment in its present form, against the advice of the clerks, we open the door for any Member of this House to do precisely the same thing again—and again. It is my private view that if we go down that road, those who have tabled this amendment and are insisting on it will live to regret the day, and the future administration of this House will be infinitely more difficult than it has been—or indeed is at this present moment.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, last week the Leader of the House gave a reason to the House for the action that he took. Was the advice he received about the power of the Leader of the House to pull something from the Order Paper on behalf of the Government, or acting as leader of his party?

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I find tragic the way in which the role and use of the usual channels have been diminished in your Lordships’ House over the past two years. I do not know whether all the parties in the coalition were made aware before a decision was taken about the procedure that the noble Lord has followed in changing the expected business or whether the other party in the coalition was informed after the decision had been taken.

I had a few years’ experience as a government Whip and I am aware of the way in which the usual channels used to work. I cannot recall any occasion when what was done by the Leader of the House was done by merely informing the usual channels rather than discussing it with them.

I have to tell the Leader of the House that there is a view outside your Lordships’ House that he may, as Leader, have convinced enough people to be able to carry the argument that time needed to be spent to reflect on the issue, but the action that he took on Thursday and the resulting effect today will be viewed by the cynical, within and without your Lordships’ House, as merely a response by the Conservative Party, as part of the coalition, facing a defeat. Many people will believe that. I listened so hard to the Leader of the House, waiting for a good reason for the business to be changed.

Secondly, in my view, to start putting matters on the Order Paper after the House has risen on a Thursday on issues about which Members across the House feel very strongly is discourteous. I did not think I would ever stand up in your Lordships’ House and feel the right to say that I believe the Leader of this House has behaved discourteously. However, on this occasion, I do.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Hart of Chilton, I am a member of the Constitution Committee and I have always held him in the highest respect—I do not think that we have ever disagreed about a matter of substance during our discussions in the committee. I had not intended to speak today; I had hoped that the matter would be resolved; but it is necessary to say that there is another reason why we should be very cautious about moving in this way—it does not arise from the procedures, though I think that they are important. In my view, the tabling of this particular amendment to this Bill in the way proposed flies in direct conflict to every single criterion and bit of advice that the Constitution Committee of this House has proffered. It is in contradiction to what we advised as being the proper process for constitutional change in a report that we produced in the previous Session. Indeed, in the report that we produced on the Bill that we are supposed to be debating, we congratulated the Government on having in an exceptional way followed the advice about the manner in which constitutional issues should be debated; that is, they should be debated with plenty of notice and the opportunity for wide consultation and consideration. To table at the last moment an amendment to another Bill that has been more widely considered in this House than almost any legislation in my time here and widely supported, without any opportunity for prior consideration—or, if it had been tabled on the day in question, without the importance

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of the matter being drawn the attention of the House—is an appalling way to conduct a significant constitutional matter.

In the normal course of events, if a piece of legislation comes forward which has constitutional implications, the Constitution Committee is given the opportunity to consider it, to take the advice of its extremely capable advisers and to produce a report to this House so that it is fully aware of what it is doing before it debates the matter. This has not been possible on this occasion; the Constitution Committee has not had the opportunity to consider and report; and so, quite apart from the importance of the procedural matters that the Leader of the House has drawn attention to, I believe that there are other, very important reasons why we should not go down this route. This is not the way to carry out constitutional change.

Lord Barnett: My Lords—

Lord Cormack: My Lords—

Lord Richard: My Lords, with respect, I think that it is this side’s turn. I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, has just said, but I am bound to say that I totally disagreed with it. I disagreed with it almost absolutely. It is an extraordinary proposition that, if the Government bring in a Bill that allows the Opposition to table an amendment to it, somehow or other, it is unconstitutional for the Opposition then to table that amendment because the Constitution Committee has not been consulted. That is nonsense. If the Government have produced their Bill in the form that they have produced it, and if the amendment is in order, there is absolutely no reason why the Opposition should not table it, why the House should not debate it and why a vote should not take place.

We are making very heavy weather of this. The constitutional position is very clear: there is no Speaker in this House; there is nobody here who can determine whether the amendment is in order; and the clerks are there to give advice. Of course, there is an obligation to take the advice, but there is no obligation to follow it any more than there is an obligation on the Speaker of the House of Commons to follow the advice that he is given by the clerks of the House of Commons. If this House is self-governing, as it is supposed to be, the body that has to determine whether the amendment is in order is this House and nobody else, and certainly not the Constitution Committee.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I know that one or two Peers still wish to speak, but I wonder just how much will be gained by that. Perhaps I can give a brief response to some of the points that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, as Convener of the Cross Benches, said that we should invoke proper procedures in accordance with the rules of self-governance. I very much agree with that approach.

The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and others referred to the fact that I said last Wednesday that I expected that we would continue the business today. That was my expectation. The fact is that the discussions that I hoped would take place have not been completed.

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Therefore, rather than having a debate which may prove to be unnecessary, it is far better for those discussions to continue.

The usual channels were informed at the earliest possible opportunity, on Thursday evening. I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington of Ribbleton, that 41 speakers have put their names down for today: not much notice, but enough for 41 speakers to put their names down.

To the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who said that we should just accept the amendment, and to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott—

Lord Peston: That was just one suggestion; what I was really suggesting to the noble Lord is that he goes away to sort this out. That is what their Lordships want. He does not have to accept my suggestion, although I think it is a rather good one. My main suggestion is: just go away and get this sorted.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, that is a much better line. That is the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that I recognise; not the one who spoke a few minutes ago.

Let me just explain for a few moments to those who have questioned the process, the procedure and, indeed, my personal motivation in all of this. We do not have many rules in this House, but we do have some. One of them is that when an amendment is deemed inadmissible by the clerks, I have an absolute duty as Leader of the House—the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, if she were Leader of the House, would do the same thing; the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, did it in the incident to which I referred a few months ago—to draw that to the attention of the House. The House, ultimately, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, is the arbiter of this. We cannot find an occasion—

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the noble Lord said that the House ultimately is the arbiter of this, but the reason that he gave for the delay was that the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, the Deputy Prime Minister, would have to be consulted. If it is a matter for the House, why do they have to be consulted?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, we are crossing two different things. One is my role as Leader and the other is when we take this. I thought it right, as did senior members of the Government, that there should be a period of discussion before bringing the business before the House. As I explain, they are two clearly different things: one is the role of the Leader of the House and the other is a decision for the Government. It must be right that the Government decide when to bring business forward; after all, that is the purpose of winning a general election.

The noble Baroness said: why cannot we have our say? She is entirely free and allowed to bring forward her own Private Member’s Bill at any stage and, if it is in order, it will be taken. My noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford asks an extremely sensible question: why cannot these brilliant individuals, such as the noble Lord, Lord Hart, with all his training and knowledge

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of this House, advised no doubt by outside counsel, not bring forward an admissible amendment? I do not know the answer to that. I urge the noble Lord to do so. Then we would not be having this debate.

I am grateful for the support of my noble friends Lord Dixon-Smith and Lord Crickhowell. There are matters of processing procedure that are not always straightforward in this House. I urge noble Lords who wish to discover more to go to the very excellent seminars that the Clerk of the Parliaments holds from time to time on these matters. They will discover that, as I said earlier, although we do not have very many rules, we do have some, and this is one of them. Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, my predecessor, said:

“It is a consequence of our procedures that the House has collective responsibility for observing these procedures and that all Members of your Lordships’ House therefore need to co-operate to see that procedures are observed”.—[Official Report, 20/4/99; col. 1112.]

I could not have put it better myself.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, before the noble Lord the Leader of the House sits down, would he be kind enough to acknowledge something that he has not acknowledged so far in discussing all this? It is not only my noble friend Lord Hart who is bringing forward the amendment. It is also brought forward by the former head of the Diplomatic Service from the Cross Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and, perhaps most significantly, by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, who is such an important figure in the Liberal Democrat party. I wonder whether the noble Lord would be kind enough to acknowledge that before he sits down.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is because of the eminence of the four individuals who have brought forward this amendment that I pray in aid my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford. Why cannot they find a better way of doing it?

Lord Elystan-Morgan: May I make a point which has not, I believe, been touched upon up to now? There are procedural issues that are fascinating and of massive impact; there are also constitutional issues dealing with the possible merits of the amendment that are of massive impact. One point that I suggest should be considered by anybody who has the future of this House, and indeed the good of Parliament, in mind with regard to the two statutes we are concerned with—first, the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 and, secondly, the matter now before the House—has been very pertinently made in the most excellent opinion of Mr James Goudie, a Queen’s Counsel. It is that those two pieces of legislation, assuming that the ERA Bill goes through in its present form, are out of sync one with the other.

I can put it very simply in this way. In so far as the 2011 Act is concerned, the number of registered electors is the very touchstone of the approach of the Boundary Commission to the situation of a particular constituency. I do not think anybody would disagree with that. In

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relation to this proposed legislation, however, that situation is fluid not solid. It is fluid in this sense; at the moment, it is the householder who is legally responsible for registering persons living in his property. From the time that the ERA Bill becomes law, it will, of course, be a responsibility upon the individual elector. The effect will be that in the first instance there will be a fall in the number of registered electors in each constituency—I do not think that anybody can dispute this—because of the change in responsibility between the individual and the householder. Any calculation made by the Boundary Commissions will therefore be inaccurate. That is why the two pieces of legislation are out of sync one with the other. It was contemplated at one time that both should be looked upon as one whole. In a speech on 5 July 2010, the Prime Minister said that the effects of the proposals would be considered together. That is what I urge upon the Government in this context.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I mean no disrespect at all to the noble Lord, and no doubt what he has said will be debated when we get to the Bill, but I wonder if the time might have come for us to proceed with the business of the day.

Lord Barnett: Before the noble Lord the Leader of the House sits down, I have one brief point to make. I have some fellow feeling with him because I too was once accused of being discourteous to the House—as he will no doubt recall because he was the one who accused me of it, and then apologised privately and personally in a very kind letter. The important thing here is that, as has been made quite clear, it is for the House to decide, so let him put this business on the Order Paper and it can do so. Why has he not given us an adequate reason for removing the business? We know that some slight disagreement between his fellow coalition members might be a problem, but the House can decide—that is what we are here for. Why will he not bring it back?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, there is really not much more that I can add to what I have already said.

Partnerships (Prosecution) (Scotland) Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.50 pm

A Bill to make provision for the prosecution in Scotland of partnerships, partners and others following dissolution or changes in membership.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Wallace of Tankerness, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Crime and Courts Bill [HL]

Recommitted to Committee

3.50 pm

Moved By Lord Taylor of Holbeach

That the Crime and Courts Bill [HL] be recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House in respect of Schedules 16 and 17.

Motion agreed.

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Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [HL]

Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [HL]

Second Reading

3.51 pm

Moved By Lord McNally

That the Bill be read a second time.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, I am pleased to bring forward this Bill, which continues to make further progress in the modernisation of the statute book by removing obsolete legislation from it. The Bill was prepared by the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission in fulfilment of their ongoing statutory responsibility to promote the repeal of obsolete and unnecessary laws.

Over the past 43 years the law commissions, which are independent statutory bodies set up under the Law Commissions Act 1965, have published 19 reports on statute law repeals, with draft Bills attached, that have been presented to Parliament. The 18 previous reports have resulted in the repeal of 2,300 whole Acts and the part repeal of thousands of others. The present Bill proposes the repeal of more than 800 whole Acts and the part repeal of 50 others. This makes it the largest statute law repeals Bill that the commission has ever produced.

The repeals are set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill. They are in 11 parts and cover a diverse range of subjects, from poor relief and lotteries to turnpikes and Indian railways. As always, the law commissions have uncovered areas of some historical interest and antiquity. For example, the earliest repeal is from around 1322—the exact year remains uncertain—and concerns the working of the old Exchequer Court. Other historical curiosities, no doubt important in their time, include an Act of 1696 passed to fund the rebuilding of St Paul’s cathedral after the Great Fire of 1666; an Act of 1800 to authorise the holding of a lottery for the £30,000 Pigot diamond; and 38 Acts passed to support various railway companies operating in British India and the wider East Indies. However, not all the repeals involve ancient law; the Bill includes the repeal of a number of unnecessary tax provisions, the most recent of which were enacted in only 2010.

Your Lordships will wish to know that there has been full consultation by the law commissions with interested bodies on all the proposed repeals, and there are no outstanding objections to any of them. I am sure that your Lordships will wish to join me in paying tribute to the two law commissions for their very thorough and painstaking efforts in this important work of modernising our statute book. I should also thank those who have been consulted by the commission for their contributions.

Finally, because some of the repeals relate to devolved matters in Scotland, a legislative consent Motion has been lodged in the Scottish Parliament in accordance with standard practice. If your Lordships are content with the Bill at Second Reading, it will be referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation, a committee on which I had the honour to serve some 30 years ago. This will be considered by that committee in the usual way. I commend the Bill to the House.

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3.55 pm

Lord Beecham: My Lords, I join the Minister in thanking and commending the Law Commission for the huge amount of work that has gone into bringing forward the Bill. As winter perceptibly draws upon us, the Minister appropriately comes to us in the guise of a sort of Autolycus manqué; in his case disposing rather than snapping up unconsidered legislative trifles accumulated over, as he said, many centuries.

I do not know whether the Minister has read the 365-page report of the Law Commission. I confess that I have not done so, but my eye caught some of the matters to which the noble Lord referred. In particular, I noticed that there were some Acts of Parliament affecting Newcastle, of which, of course, I am a resident and, still, a member of its council. It is striking how much detail has gone into the work of the commission, looking at some rather obscure provisions. For example, in Part 1 group 11 in the report, there is reference to two Acts of Parliament concerning Newcastle hospitals. The first is the Holy Jesus Hospital; the Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Act of 1947 dealt with that. These were hospitals built as alms houses in the 1680s. This one later became a museum and harboured something called the “town hutch”. The town hutch did not in fact contain rabbits; it contained the cash of the city council. The hutch is still preserved. Given the declining resources of the city council, they might well find it easier to accommodate them in the hutch in future, rather than the banks in which we are presently depositing our moneys.

Another Bill affected a different sort of organisation, the Mary Magdalene Hospital, a real feature of the city’s history. It is 900 years since a leper hospital was founded just outside the then city boundaries. Later it changed its character, and a new charter was granted in 1611, to provide housing for,

“three poor single or unmarried brethren”.

Brethren of whom it was not quite clear, but the trust still works. It still provides a very successful sheltered housing scheme, which is very popular and well managed, and resourced by the trust’s substantial landholdings in the city.

On another front, Part 5 of the report contains reference under the rather misleading heading of “Northumberland” to another Newcastle piece of legislation. The Explanatory Notes contained in the Law Commission’s report say:

“In 1688 a sizeable proportion of the population of Newcastle-upon-Tyne were poor artificers and labourers who found it extremely difficult and costly to recover small debts”.

I can assure your Lordships that, unfortunately, still a sizeable proportion of the population of Newcastle is poor. I do not know whether artificers are around, and do not know how many are labourers, but there is certainly a significant proportion of people who are poor and who find it difficult to cope with such legal matters as dealing with their debts. To resolve the situations 300 years go, a local court was created under the wonderful title of the Erecting Newcastle-upon-Tyne Court of Conscience Act 1688; that is a wonderful description. The court was to provide a local recourse because the cost of starting and conducting

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cases in London was too great. We therefore had effectively a small claims court where creditors could pursue debts of up to all of £2 locally.

The Minister has some responsibilities for courts now. We are seeing something of history repeating itself, given that we now have a single national county court with local branches. However, all proceedings have to be issued not in the locality but through a single court centre in Salford. Huge problems have been engendered by that process. I am not entirely sure that the Minister would countenance the creation of courts of conscience all over the country in order to promote the disposition of claims. But, as history seems to be repeating itself, it may be that some such recourse will have to be held.

These two examples of arcane and interesting legislation clearly have run past their sell-by date. We are certainly happy with the work of the Law Commission. We commend it for its work and commend the Government for bringing forward this Bill. I suppose that we can look forward to receiving another 365-page document in a few years’ time to dispose of many more pieces of legislation. Of course, I hope that much of the present Government’s legislation will be off the statute book before we get another Law Commission report and that a change of Government, as this side of the House certainly hopes, will happen soon.

4 pm

Lord McNally: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for that response and for his ingenuity in managing to get a political point into the reply. In some ways, I am much relieved that more noble Lords did not delve into the support papers—they are absolutely fascinating. I live in St Albans where the court house Act in 1829 enabled it to build a beautiful building in St Peter’s Street, although it is no longer used as a court house. It is interesting that an Act of Parliament was needed to build it.

Another thing which caught my eye was the reference to finance Bills. There is always the complaint that such Bills are too large and too complicated. The value of the Law Commission is given to us. I am a great fan of the Law Commission and its work. I am very pleased that this House, through its new, expedited procedures, brings more Law Commission work through Parliament. It set out on a massive task of looking at finance Bills between 1950 and 2010. Over 14 years, five major consolidations were produced, which must have been an amazing labour of love by the members of the Law Commission who combed their way through successive finance Bills, sifting out the unnecessary.

I also asked which is the oldest statute still active. It is the Statute of Marlborough 1267, which is an omnibus Bill covering distraint on goods without the permission of the courts, tort waste and the suing of outgoing tenants to maintain a property in good order. Dealing with these Bills—starting with Marlborough in 1267 and ending with the electoral boundaries Bill—underpins the sense of history and continuity in the work that we do every day in these two Chambers.

As I have said, with great confidence I will send it to the Consolidation Bills Joint Committee. As a junior

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member of that committee 30 years ago, I remember the thoroughness with which it does its job. I commend the Bill to the House.

Bill read a second time.

Armed Forces

Motion to Take Note

4.04 pm

Moved by Lord Astor of Hever

That this House takes note of the role of the armed forces and their contribution to the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever): My Lords, I begin by giving a warm welcome to my noble friend Lady Garden in her role on the Defence Front Bench. I am very much looking forward to working with her, just as I enjoyed a very good partnership with her predecessor, my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire.

The title for this debate is wide-ranging, and deliberately so. It will allow noble Lords and the noble and gallant Lord to speak on a wide range of subjects, from the welfare of our service personnel to their equipment; how our Armed Forces are structured and funded; and the operations that they are on now, and those that they will be prepared for in the future. I start by paying tribute to the men and women who now serve in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces. Their selfless commitment, dedication to service and professionalism is inspiring to us all. They do not choose where they are sent, but they are willing to risk life and limb, on our behalf. As a country, we owe them a great deal. In this period of remembrance, let us pay tribute to all those who have served in the past, particularly those who have paid the ultimate price to keep our nation free.

Next year will mark the centenary of the start of the Great War. The ranks of those who fought in the trenches have now passed away, but we remember them in the poppies we wear and in the way in which we honour those veterans of other battles of the 20th century who are still with us—and, in this century, all those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our Armed Forces exist to protect our country and provide the ultimate guarantee of its security and independence. Everything we do in defence is directed to that aim and, in the globalised world we inhabit, that means projecting power abroad to protect our national interests, demonstrating our determination and our values. In the uncertain and rapidly evolving security environment of today, we need to be prepared to meet a complex range of threats and challenges. We will always use our influence to reduce the risk of conflict, but we must be ready to fight and win on difficult and dangerous operations against determined opposition. We cannot do everything on our own, so we must work effectively with our allies and partners. That is what we are doing today in Afghanistan.

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The mission in Afghanistan is the first priority for the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence. The reason we are in Afghanistan is to protect our national security and to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for international terrorism, as it was under the Taliban before 9/11. Our goal is not a perfect Afghanistan, but one able to maintain its own security and prevent the return of international terror groups. The plan is clear: training the Afghan forces to take on the burden of security so that we can bring our troops home while ensuring the gains that we have made. The reality on the ground is that Afghan forces are increasingly taking the lead. This is allowing us to gradually reduce our force levels; we will have reduced them by 500 to 9,000 by the end of the year, and we expect to make further, significant reductions by the end of next year, with all UK combat operations finishing by the end of 2014. We are firmly committed to the strategy and timescales agreed at Lisbon and to the principles of “in together, out together”.

As the NATO Secretary-General set out earlier this year, the decisions made at Lisbon,

“will remain the bedrock of our strategy”.

When the ISAF mission completes in 2014, it will be for the Afghans to manage their own security. This is how it should be. But the end of our combat mission does not signal the end of our support to Afghanistan and its people. NATO will establish a new non-combat mission in Afghanistan, in which Britain will play its part, on top of the bilateral relationship which we will maintain with the Afghan Government and armed forces. Although Afghanistan will continue to face many complex challenges, the agreements for financial and other practical support made in the summits at Chicago and Tokyo will help to underpin Afghanistan’s security and future.

As we move towards the end of our mission, we need to plan for the post-Afghanistan environment and the transformation of defence to meet the challenges of the future. Operations and standing tasks aside, the past two years since the publication of the SDSR have been dominated by the urgent need to implement its vision: to ensure that our forces are prepared for the very different challenges they will face in the future; to eliminate the black hole in the MoD budget; and to learn lessons from the failures of the past so we do not repeat them in the future. Not everyone will agree with every decision we have made, but at least we have not ducked them. None of the ministerial team at the MoD came into politics to cut the defence budget or to reduce the size of our forces.

I regret some of the decisions we have had to make, particularly the redundancies and the retirement of some of the platforms, but in May 2010 we were faced with one of the biggest deficits in the developed world. We had to make some tough choices: tough choices that were necessary to set a sustainable course for the transformation of our Armed Forces to ensure they are structured, supported and equipped effectively to protect our national security in the face of the threats they will encounter in the decades to come. They were necessary, too, to tackle a forward defence programme that had been allowed to grow way beyond the resources available.

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Budgetary discipline has to continue to be the supporting foundation of the transformation to Future Force 2020 or the tough decisions we have had to make will come round again. The defence equipment programme needs to be balanced and sustainable if the Armed Forces are to have the confidence that the capabilities promised will actually be delivered on time and to requirement. Thanks to the hard work and tough decisions taken over the past two years, we in the Ministry of Defence now have a balanced budget with an affordable equipment programme, backed by the world’s fourth largest defence budget. This changes the dynamic. By maintaining discipline we can begin to release the contingencies that have been built into the budget to support further investments in capability, confident that there is a sustainable funding stream to deliver them. For instance, since the beginning of this financial year, the new discipline in our budgetary regime has allowed us to give the go-ahead for a series of equipment projects above the committed equipment programme. This includes 25 extra Foxhounds for Afghanistan, enhancements to Merlin helicopters and new targeting pods for fast jets.

Earlier this year we received the first Joint Strike Fighter. This state-of-the-art, fifth generation fast jet will be flying from the deck of the new aircraft carrier HMS “Queen Elizabeth” in just over five years’ time. New vehicles, new helicopters, new aircraft, new ISTAR, new ships, new submarines, new cyber capabilities—the advanced, adaptable and powerful forces of Future Force 2020 are being built piece by piece. It is smaller than before but able to reach across the world and operate across a spectrum from high-intensity combat to enduring stabilisation activity, deploy overseas and sustain a brigade-sized force indefinitely or a division-sized force in time of need. It is able to command in the coalition context and is more interoperable with our main allies. It is fully integrated between regular and reserves, with predictable obligations for the reservists that will require a real commitment to service, and with a more systematic use of contractors for support and logistics, allowing greater focus of military manpower on fighting tasks. This is the shape of the future force we are building.

I turn to the issues we will be facing over the coming year to help make this a reality. By the latest reckoning around a quarter of the commitments in the SDSR involving defence have now been completed. The rest of the headline targets are on track. Now the Army has set out its future structure in Army 2020 we can begin to deliver on another part of the jigsaw—Reserve Forces. We will be publishing our Green Paper in the coming days. At the heart of this will be renewing the proposition for both reservists and employers, ensuring that the contributions of those individuals who serve are recognised and properly supported and that the mutual benefit the reserve service provides to the state and to employers is grounded in a new, open and tailored relationship.

Despite the incredible contribution they make to operations, the reserves have too often in the past been the forgotten part of our Armed Forces: no longer. They will be larger, receive new equipment and be better integrated with their regular colleagues. I know

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that there are those who doubt we can achieve our ambition for the reserves but this betrays very short memories. The new levels we have set are well within historic norms. In 1990, the TA was 76,000-strong: the Army reserve we are proposing is modest in comparison. I accept that the new targets are ambitious in the current climate. We will need the support of employers, reservists, their families and society as a whole to make the changes we need in the right way. The Green Paper consultation will be all about establishing how best to do this.

The work we are doing on the reserve is part of the process of providing certainty for our people and transforming the structures that support them and their families. We will announce, by the end of the year, a rebasing plan so that families will know where their future homes will be. We will accelerate work on the new employment model to make service terms and conditions more flexible to better reflect the complexity of modern family life. We will do what we can to make a reality of the Armed Forces covenant because we want our service men and women to know that this Government and the British people recognise the debt of gratitude that we owe to them and to their families.

We will soon publish the first annual report on the Armed Forces covenant, setting out the progress we have been able to make since we enshrined the key principles in law last year. We will therefore, quite rightly, be held to account for what is done to make the covenant a reality. I am particularly pleased about how entrenched the covenant is becoming across all departments of Government. There has been a cultural change in Westminster, driven by the Prime Minister, with Ministers from other departments approaching the Ministry of Defence with ideas on how they can help. The Education Secretary has found money to increase the level of the service pupil premium and extending its reach. The Chancellor has proposed to hand £35 million of fines levied on the banks after the LIBOR scandal to service charities. There continues to be limited financial room for manoeuvre; we will have to prioritise strictly and only make promises we know we can fulfil.

However, these initiatives say that where the Government can act we will, not just in the MoD but as a whole. Underpinning all this work is the reform of the management of defence itself. Procurement has been dogged for years by weak relationships between parts of the department. We have lacked the right business skills and capabilities to manage capital and infrastructure projects that are among the largest in the public sector. We are, therefore, putting in place a new blueprint for the management of defence, as recommended by the report of the noble Lord, Lord Levene, on defence reform. We are creating a leaner, more strategic head office, empowering the service chiefs to run their individual services and their delegated service budgets. By pushing accountability down the chain of command, we are encouraging innovation and budgetary responsibility. This last message is underpinned by introducing a stronger financial and performance management regime across the whole department. The materiel strategy being put together by Bernard Grey and his team in Defence Equipment and Support is the next big piece of that puzzle. This

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will set out how we will sharpen the boundaries and align incentives internally to ensure consistent, focused decision-making. We are seeking to instil private sector skills and disciplines into our acquisition process, driving up productivity by bringing a private sector partner into the process.

Ultimately, it is the people of defence who deliver the battle-winning capabilities which protect and defend us. As we turn to face the Cenotaph this coming weekend and as we listen to the strains of “Oh God our Help in Ages Past”, as we remember those who have given their lives in the cause of freedom, let us together reaffirm our debt of gratitude to the men and women of our Armed Forces and show them how proud we are of their service.

I beg to move.

4.20 pm

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his remarks, and I associate myself and, I am sure, all Members of the House with the comments he laterally made about remembrance. I also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, to the Front Bench. She has a long and illustrious history on these subjects, and I remember her and her husband, the late Lord Garden, being great supporters of British defence and the issues surrounding it.

As the Minister said, it is the time of remembrance. We wear poppies with pride and with meaning. We show respect for lives lost and for survivors whose lives have been shattered by wounds. We remember sacrifices made and service delivered, and it is right to pay tribute to the courage, professionalism, dedication and commitment of those who serve in our Armed Forces. Out of the present turmoil in the Government’s business programme, we are in many ways lucky to have this opportunity at this time for this debate.

It is right and proper, and worth remembering, that today we speak in our own language, enjoy a parliamentary system of government, have a free press and the rule of an independent legal system because—in many ways, only because—of what was done in our country’s name in past conflicts. I once walked through the park at the bottom of Park Lane, where a number of war memorials are all too unnoticed because they lie on a roundabout, and it is therefore dangerous to get to them. However, there is a huge monument to the Royal Artillery, on which it is stated:

“They died with the faith that the future of mankind would benefit from their sacrifice”.

Some 49,000 men of the Royal Artillery died in the First World War, and 30,000 died in World War II, some 79,000 men who gave their lives in both wars in order that we would benefit; and there is no doubt that we have benefitted.

However, tributes to those who wear the Queen’s uniform, the civilians who support and back them up, and the way that they go about their dangerous and difficult business, lack one thing that is critical to them—full-blooded support for the missions that they have been sent to carry out. Wars such as the conflict in Afghanistan are not won or successful through military means alone. They are won when the enemy knows that you will not give in, when the enemy

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knows that your cause is mightier than theirs, and when those who fanatically want to impose a brutal, illiberal, theocratic and undemocratic regime on a population simply will not be allowed to prevail. We will succeed in Afghanistan when our troops know that they fight for a noble cause and that the enemy, in contrast, fights to enslave its own people. Our troops have a right to know that the people of this country and those of the other 49 countries in the NATO-led ISAF mission are behind it and those who risk their lives and limbs every day to deliver it. However, that requires leadership in our nation. It requires that the political leadership of the United Kingdom—all of it—asserts day and daily why that mission in Afghanistan is about our security here at home, and that its success or failures matter to the safety of our citizens in this country.

The great United States journalist, Edward Murrow, after the Second World War said the following of Winston Churchill:

“He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle”.

Churchill knew instinctively the power of rhetoric in order to get the people of Britain behind the war effort, of the need to build confidence at times such as in 1940, after Dunkirk, when we were militarily powerless and when his Cabinet was enfeebled by division. He rallied the British people, galvanised the troops and, much more importantly, he convinced Hitler that we would never give up and that he would be defeated. He used, in public and in private sessions, the platform of the House of Commons to deliver the message to the people and to the enemy that we were, irrespective of the facts on the ground, invincible. It worked. We know that and we benefited from it. That is why today we speak in English and in freedom in this House.

What would Churchill have made of the fact that, with 9,000 British troops committed to fight in an ongoing war in Afghanistan, the last time that our Prime Minister made a speech about Afghanistan in the House of Commons was on 4 July last year? It is nearly a year and a half since the Prime Minister made a speech about Afghanistan. It is difficult for any of us to put thoughts into the minds of the great Churchill, but he might have said, as I say now, “We seem to have lost the will to win”. Where is the mighty and necessary psychological assault on the Taliban today? Where are the stirring speeches designed to intimidate the insurgents in support of our mission to normalise a country that was brutalised by the medieval criminals who filled the vacuum left in Afghanistan after the Soviet Union left in 1990? Where are the arguments which should be put to the British people, the arguments that I used to make regularly in NATO, as have my successors and Ministers at the Ministry of Defence, about having to go to Afghanistan or Afghanistan will come to us?

We have an exit strategy that appears to be all exit and no strategy. It signals to the Taliban to wait two more years and then we will all be gone. It signals to our troops that, although they see progress on the ground, as they risk their lives to consolidate it, they get little backup or encouragement from the political leadership of this country. We admire and rightly value their guts and their professionalism but we say to them, “Just hang on because in a couple of years’

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time this mission”, which is rarely spoken of here, “will be over and you will be back home”, in some cases, as the Minister has admitted, to redundancy notices instead of the thanks of a grateful nation. It signals to the British people that their weariness at the deaths and injuries and the Treasury cost are justified as it appears that no case is being made for why we went, why we stay and why it matters to people on British streets.

I recently heard a very senior American officer with responsibility for that area say that the closer he got to Afghanistan the more he saw progress but the closer he got to Washington, Brussels or London the more pessimistic he was about it. The picture in Afghanistan shows signs of success, hard and expensively achieved as it has been. Last week, Secretary General Rasmussen laid out the progress made: 80% of insurgent attacks take place in areas where only 20% of the Afghan population now live; and in Kabul and its immediate surrounding areas the number of enemy-instigated attacks declined 17% in the first eight months of this year.

In the first six months of 2012, Afghan troops led 80% of all operations. They do 85% of their own training. Afghan troops and police, trained in their thousands, now take the lead for security in areas where 75% of the population live. Schools are open. Women are being educated again. Even in Helmand province, street markets are being reopened. Many of us had the opportunity to talk to soldiers during the Olympic Games, where again they performed with professionalism. They can see, and will talk about, the progress that is being made. They are proud of their success and we, too, should be proud of it.

We all know why we went into Afghanistan. The move was popular because it was universally seen as necessary to rid Afghanistan of the medieval regime of the Taliban that had incubated the criminal terrorists responsible for the attacks of 9/11 and for many others before that. It was also about making sure that Afghanistan would be sufficiently normalised and assisted so that it would never again host the kind of criminal terrorism that we saw in the early part of 2000. However, the job is not over. Leon Trotsky said, about another war at another time: “You may not be interested in this war, but this war is interested in you”. The job in Afghanistan is not yet over, and if we leave with it only half done, the carnage that may follow will not stop at the mountains of the Hindu Kush or at the national boundaries of central Asia; it will come to us. The lesson of history remains that we should finish the job properly or we will face bleak prospects as a result of failure.

4.31 pm

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: My Lords, first it must be said from these Benches that our Armed Forces have contributed magnificently both at home and abroad to the well-being of this country—often in difficult and dangerous situations, and with our soldiers, sailors and air men and women under tremendous military and political pressure. These hard facts are brought home to Members of your Lordships’ House each time my noble friend the Minister rises and offers

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sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who have been killed or wounded on military operations. Both the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, referred to Remembrance Day, and the Minister referred to the First World War. I had not thought for some time, until he mentioned that war, about an uncle who died as a teenager in the Middlesex Regiment. We are not talking just about Afghanistan; men and women have been serving this country for many years.

There is strong support for our Armed Forces among the British public. Armed Forces personnel have contributed to the successful resolution of large-scale emergencies by supporting the civil authorities. Their achievements include the protection of life and the rescue of those in danger—for example, during the floods in the West Country, the foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001, the national fire strike of 2002-03, the Cumbria floods of 2005 and 2009, the floods in Yorkshire and Gloucestershire in 2007, and the big freeze in 2010; we may have another one coming towards us now. They have also worked with the police in operations on British soil where the level of force they could bring to situations was necessary to defend our national security. The military was deployed in Northern Ireland in support of the civil powers until 2007, supporting the police and managing public order. As a result, military personnel were trained in public order tactics. The Armed Forces have contributed also to protecting people in more routine situations. They have long provided a large part of the search and rescue capability around our coast.

Members of the public have written in their thousands to thank the Armed Forces for their contribution to the London 2012 Olympic Games. During the Games, they played a key role in providing additional specialist support to the police and other civil and Olympic authorities, to ensure that the Games were safe and secure. Of course, support was also provided at the Paralympic Games. The support and appreciation shown by members of the public for the way in which the Armed Forces conducted their duties has been overwhelming and gratifying for service personnel, I am sure. For many people, it would have been the first actual contact with our Armed Forces. What a great achievement and public relations triumph it was. It goes on. Only last week we were informed that in the event of a strike by prison staff, who would step in but the Army to help maintain our prisons?

I now turn to the Armed Forces’ contribution to international stability. At the end of the Cold War, international peacekeeping for military forces took on a new significance as the end of superpower rivalry allowed suppressed regional tensions around the world to reappear. In the 1990s, conflict in the Balkans challenged European and NATO countries to find ways to restore stability, and similar challenges also arose in Africa.

In the new millennium, particularly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, western nations and their allies found themselves in a range of operations, from Iraq and Afghanistan, which other noble Lords have spoken about in detail, to the counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa. The UK has

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adapted its use of the Armed Forces to meet these challenges, reflecting its responsibilities for global stability as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The MoD, in concert with the FCO and DfID, contributes to ensuring the tenets of the Building Stability Overseas strategy by jointly working for peace and stability in post-conflict and transitional states. Many people are doing that at this very moment.

The MoD is working to improve its upstream conflict prevention skills by honing its intelligence capabilities and contributing to Partnership for Peace initiatives. In Libya, for instance, the MoD has identified areas for targeted assistance that will deliver strategic effect, which was requested by the Libyan authorities. Will my noble friend confirm that with any cuts or reorganisations proposed we will, as far as possible as a nation, continue our support for international stability?

The Armed Forces contribute to UK resilience through their protection and promotion of the UK’s national interests overseas, the provision at home of a number of guaranteed niche capabilities—such as search and rescue and explosive ordnance disposal—and a process of augmenting civil authorities and structures where civil capability or capacity is exceeded. When the military augments civil capability, it will be in response to specific requests for planned response or to a crisis.

The important point is that military operations overseas and augmentation of civil authorities at home are not guaranteed, as they are dependent on the capabilities and availability of troops to undertake such work. Those deciding the size and shape of the UK’s Armed Forces must take their vital operational roles into account when making decisions on the Armed Forces’ future strengths and capabilities. Overall, if the military is to be reduced in size and capability, the roles that it is expected to undertake must be similarly reviewed and adjusted so that they do not exceed the capabilities available to undertake them. But in making those decisions, which my noble friend referred to in passing, we must decide what the priorities are. When there are so many calls, one must decide on the priorities.

Other noble Lords have not yet spoken about what Britain wants from its military communications. What do we want in terms of our satellite technologies? Will we replace the current fleet of communications satellites? When I investigated it, I found that so much of what the Army, Navy and Air Force do is utterly dependent on the new communications technologies that have emerged and are emerging and may well need to be replaced. We know of the Army we have but we have to decide on the Army we need. We know of the weapons and equipment that we have—the Minister detailed these and the new weapons and equipment that are coming on line—but are these what we will need for conflicts which may or may not take place?

I was going to talk about the reserves and the territorials but there was a good debate last week which covered that issue in great detail. However, there were press reports today—in at least one newspaper—of the problems of people who wish to serve in the territorials and whether their employers will give them time off and so on. It is a real problem

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because many commercial firms do not want the upset of people leaving after being called—at times without warning—to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan or wherever it may be.

I refer finally to the Armed Forces Act and the Armed Forces covenant contained within it. I spoke in detail at various stages during the debate on that Bill and, given what we owe our members of the Armed Forces, we have to ensure that their housing is suitable and adequate for those returning to this country. The Minister referred to that in passing. There are problems with how the properties have been leased and maintained. We owe a tribute to those people and should provide them with proper housing. Indeed, we have a duty in terms of how we treat our veterans. I have spoken in the House on a number of occasions on the issue of their medals and whether we can allow members of the Armed Forces to accept medals from other nations, such as Commonwealth nations. I hope that we will discuss that issue as well. The Minister referred to the Armed Forces Act and the Armed Forces covenant and how they will be reviewed. In that review we have to consider the ways in which we are failing as well as the ways in which we are succeeding. We owe a duty to those who fight for us and stand for us in the Armed Forces.

4.42 pm

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, for arranging this debate. He has been most assiduous in keeping your Lordships’ House aware of defence issues and this is yet another example of that. I also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, to her new responsibilities. She has proved to be an excellent Front-Bench spokesman on other subjects and I am sure that that she will be equally good, or better even, on this subject, of which she has much background knowledge.

In this Remembrance Week, many families and friends of the fallen will be thinking of their loved ones—loved ones who served in the two world wars and in a variety of combat operations since 1945. Along with many others, I shall be honouring their memory next Sunday as I march past the Cenotaph with the Not Forgotten Association contingent, of which I am the senior president. While the majority who served in the two world wars or on national service were called up, causalities in more recent conflicts were volunteers. They joined the Armed Forces as a career choice, accepting that in the course of their service they could be exposed to real danger. Public support for Remembrance Sunday, as in your Lordships’ House, is thankfully large.

The recovery of the Falklands following Argentina’s invasion was ultimately a matter for combat operations and, importantly, enjoyed overwhelming national support. However, I fear that our more recent efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have not enjoyed the same national understanding or backing. Many reasons are suggested for this. The rationale for committing so much treasure, for sacrificing so much in lost lives and limbs, and for continuing over so many years—double the years that it took us to win through in World War I and World War II—is complex, difficult to explain simply and difficult for the public to grasp. But unlike with the

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world wars or even the Falklands, it is not easy to engender a sense of real tactical successes or even ultimate victory. Media coverage is largely confined to reporting casualties in Afghanistan, and much more needs to be done about that. Minds are now focusing on getting out of Afghanistan, and hopefully enough will have been done by the coalition to enable Afghanistan to look after itself.

However, the so-called war against terror has yet to succeed. There are limits to the contribution that military forces can make in the fight against terrorism. The enemy is not like a state, which is a geographic entity. It can and does threaten from many widely dispersed areas and in numerous different forms. This presents Governments with far more difficult choices for the involvement of their forces in support of other diplomatic and political initiatives.

The current approach is based on two incompatible assumptions. On the one hand there is the size of the financial commitment to defence, not just for day-to-day functioning but also for the future size and shape involving programmes that take many years to realise. For shorthand, let me characterise this as a commitment of 2% of GDP. The other assumption, now shown to be incompatible with the first one, is that the Armed Forces are to be structured to meet a certain level of immediate and ongoing enduring commitments without an honest costing of what that might mean for defence funds.

Most telling now is the number of criticisms of the MoD and Government by coroners dealing with inquests about the lack of life-saving equipment or inappropriate kit for the tasks expected of the casualty. This serves to highlight the mismatch in the public’s mind—their perception of a mismatch between the 2% GDP and what capabilities can be procured and operated on an enduring basis with such funds. Ministers would do well, if the 2% of GDP is not to be increased, to realise the risks of relying on urgent operational requirements and backing from the contingency fund in future engagements. They must never lose sight of the fact that those who will fight for them are volunteers who are prepared to pay the ultimate sacrifice. So service men and women have a right to reasonable expectations that they will get not only political and moral support but the right equipment in the right place at the right time when they are ordered into conflict in a war of choice.

There are two other particular constraints that do not seem to figure as strongly as they should, and attract little or too little attention in the ability of our Armed Forces to take on new operational commitments. The first is that no matter how much current equipment—ships, aircraft or armour—has advanced in hitting power and accuracy, these improvements provide no recompense for meeting geographically widespread commitments.

Noble Lords will recall the endless arguments about frigate/destroyer numbers over the years. My first exposure to this was half a century ago when a force of at least 55 of these ships was deemed to be the absolute minimum. Without going through each of the soon-to-be-breached irreducible minimums in defence reviews in the intervening years, we now expect to stand up a

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mere 19 of such vessels. Of course, each of the 19 will be more powerful than any of their predecessors, but you cannot cut any of the 19 in two to spread the coverage on worldwide commitments. The Falklands guard ship, the Caribbean drug-busting task force, combating piracy in the Indian Ocean and safeguarding the deterrent are just a few examples of worldwide enduring commitments, as of course are training and ship repair schedules. These could leave too little available for mounting any wars of choice with a maritime contribution. Air power has the flexibility and reach to move rapidly afar, but it, too, can become overcommitted on enduring operations, as we have experienced in the combat air support of Afghanistan—and that was before the most recent cull of front-line fast-jet numbers.

Another factor that has a bearing on numbers is the risk of losses in combat. Since the Falklands, our forces have been fortunate to operate in benign or near-benign air environments. Consequently, losses to opponents have been non-existent or very small. It would be all too facile to assume that future operations would take place in a benign air environment, with no serious loss of ships or aircraft or other major equipment. Experience in the Falklands against an enemy of only limited air power capability cost us dearly, particularly in ships sunk or badly damaged.

Losses in a fight with a better equipped enemy than we have had to face in the past two decades could be infinitely more serious today. Indeed, the very limited cover we might be able to mount for a carrier task force, particularly as we now lack the protection of any maritime patrol capability, could restrict its use to operations facing benign threats and an opposition without any serious strike capability. The Exocet type of threat has not gone away.

A defence budget of only 2% of GDP, which will include the replacement boats for the nuclear deterrent—requiring 25% or more of the equipment budget during the peak stages of that programme—has to be the driver for calculating the variety and mix of short or enduring capabilities that the Armed Forces could mount. This must be constantly reviewed so that Ministers are able to reach judgments on the use of the Armed Forces in the expected threat environment. What this produces must be the yardstick used by Ministers before embarking on any future war of choice.

Surely it should be part of the military covenant that our young men and women are sent on combat operations only when adequately armed and equipped for the task. It should not be acceptable that they have only additional support from the contingency fund but do not have the strength and depth of equipment and back-up for losses in conflict. Such losses cannot be made good overnight, no matter how much money is thrown at them. Unless Ministers are guided in this way, there will be more avoidable casualties in the nation’s thoughts on future Remembrance Sundays.

4.53 pm

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, with whom I had the pleasure of working for a considerable period of time when he was Chief of the Defence Staff.

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As the noble and gallant Lord was speaking about the present state of the equipment programme and the facilities and funds that are available to my noble friend the Minister—which he set out very clearly and fairly in his speech, for which I and the House thank him—I was thinking about the criticisms that were made in our time of what was called Options for Change, and the facilities and the range of manpower, equipment and, in the Navy, platforms that were then available, but what we had was positively lavish compared to the situation now, after Frontline First and the various other proposals that followed it.

We listened with great interest to the Minister’s speech. These are very challenging times for the Ministry of Defence. He has inherited an extremely difficult situation, with a huge deficit on the budget. We are told that that has now been met. I congratulate the Secretary of State, the Minister and his colleagues if that has really been achieved and we certainly wish that result well and hope that it will stand the test of time.

I rise to speak on this occasion which, as other noble Lords have said, comes so close to Remembrance Sunday. I noticed in my post today, and other noble Lords will no doubt have received it, the annual report of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which offers the clearest reminder of the sacrifice that so many have made for the security of our country over the years.

As we remember these tragedies of the past, it is always said—the Prime Minister said it in introducing the commemoration of 1914 which will come in 2014 and in which the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and I will have some involvement—that we must learn the lessons of each war and hope that they will perhaps prevent future wars. It was said that the 1914-18 war would be “the war to end all wars”, but, some 20 years later, we found ourselves at war again. The phrases often used are “wars of necessity” or “wars of choice”. I do not think that anybody would challenge that 1939 was a war of necessity, a war for civilisation against Hitler and the Nazis, who threatened the stability of the whole world at that time. After that war, we saw Korea; we saw Malaya—I was myself involved in the Mau Mau incident in Kenya—but, after that, there was a period of relative calm. It was not a very happy time perhaps, with the Cold War and nuclear deterrence, but it was a time of relative peace, certainly compared to the situation in more recent years. The world was divided into spheres of influence, the Soviet bloc and the western powers, and a certain policing took place at that time.

As people looked then at the old war memorials, I remember them seeming less relevant. A lot of people wondered whether the modern generation would be prepared to go and fight for Queen and country, to endure the hardships and sufferings that in the First and Second World Wars had been so manifest and memorable. Subsequent events have given the clearest possible answer to that. There was the continuity of service and conduct of our Armed Forces over 30 years or more in Northern Ireland during that time of great difficulty in fighting terrorism in that Province and in this country. There was then the Falklands war, mentioned

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by the noble and gallant Lord, and the liberation of Kuwait. Those events showed that there was nothing wrong with the new generation of our young men serving in the Armed Forces and that they were every bit as capable as their forebears of showing fortitude, endurance and good humour—so manifestly displayed most recently, as many have said, at the Olympics, but obvious to anybody who meets them in the front line or in any other of the active service activities in which they are involved.

They are ready to serve and they do their duty, but, for us, there is another question: have we always done our duty? Have we always shown the fullest responsibility before we call on the willingness of the young people of this country to serve? I come back to my distinction between “wars of necessity” and “wars of choice”. I accept the necessity of our initial involvement in Afghanistan and the absolute commitment to deal with the challenge of al-Qaeda and bin Laden—I say with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, that it was not the challenge of the Taliban at the time—and to make sure that Afghanistan did not become a training ground and a base for terrorist activity in other parts of the world.

I would have thought that that has been pretty magnificently achieved. I think that al-Qaeda would now find any attempt to relive its previous occupation of Afghanistan extremely difficult after all the suffering that it has brought on that country. I certainly think that it was essential to go in, in the first phase, to deal with that threat, but we have now been there for 11 years. We commemorate a Great War that lasted four years and a Second World War that lasted six, if one includes Japan, but we have had 11 years in Afghanistan.

I echo something that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said: there is a very heavy responsibility on the Government and on leaders in all parties—the bipartisan situation we inherited from the previous Government carried on by the present Government—to ensure that people understand why they are serving there and what is the objective. There are many people who have served here in your Lordships’ House. One cannot think of a nastier campaign to be involved in than when you face not the ordinary, what you might call conventional war but suicide bombers or IEDs; when you never know whether the next step you take down the track will be the end of you or the loss of two or more of your limbs; where you now have the ghastly prospect of the people you are trying to train, who are serving with you in uniform, killing you in turn.

That is a very demanding challenge. When we consider the people who have laid down their lives in the service of their country in Afghanistan, those who have suffered grievous injuries—there is a new phrase that I had not heard before called life-changing injuries—and, to come, post-traumatic stress of one form or another, there is no doubt that there will be big challenges to meet.

I believe that the objectives of Afghanistan have effectively been achieved. It is obviously important that the move which the Prime Minister has announced, which I strongly support—the gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan—is achieved with honour and great

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care. I fancy that it will not be achieved without great difficulty, not least with the question of withdrawing equipment from those territories, but that should be done.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, referred to the problems of equipment. If we have a duty, it is our duty to ensure that, if we ask our forces to embark on campaigns or undertakings of one sort or another that are deemed necessary by the Government and the nation, they are properly equipped, properly trained and have good leadership. In that, I make a plea to both previous Prime Ministers and the present one. It is not impressive if your Secretary of State for Defence changes every year. Our forces are entitled to see that that position is given seniority in the Cabinet and a measure of continuity. No business could run with the leader, the boss, changing every year.

I understand entirely why the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, was guilty of one departure ahead of time. We respect that it was important for the United Kingdom that he should go to be Secretary-General of NATO, but he will know that, more recently, we had five Secretaries of State for Defence in five years. For difficult reasons, as the House knows, we have already had one change under this Government. I hope that there will now be real determination to get some continuity so that people can know who their Secretary of State is and see the leadership that they expect.

On top of that, and this has already been mentioned, if we have a duty to those who serve, we have a duty to their families who encourage them to serve, and we have a duty to those who have served. The importance of the covenant, to which the Government have given suitable prominence, must be fully seen through. The challenge will be great. That covenant will apply not just to serving forces and the Regular Forces; the biggest challenge that the Government will face in maintaining the numbers that we need for our defence is how we are to get reservists of the right calibre and ability to serve. It is much more challenging than it used to be when the TA was a much more part-time activity. Asking people in the TA and others to go for six months —to be taken out of their businesses, as the noble Lord said, and to be willing to serve in that way—will be a major challenge but they must be made part of the military family in every possible way, so that every encouragement is given to that service.

We owe a great debt to those who have served and we shall recognise it this week, on Sunday, but our debt is not just to remember those who have fallen. It is to try to ensure that those who have served already have not died in vain and that the lessons are learnt for us in the future in the most serious way.

5.06 pm

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, it is indeed an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord King, in this debate. Unsatisfactory though the circumstances have been that created the space for the debate, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Astor, for securing this topic. I am sure that there must have been some competing issues but to have secured this

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very important topic for a debate, which is not timed, enables those who are able to do so to contribute and is very welcome. I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, to this debate too. I remember well that when the noble Baroness joined the House, defence was one of the issues that she first picked up. I look forward to working with her in the future and wish her much success.

We are in a week when the country and the nation come together to pay honour and respect and, somehow, to pay the due debt that we have to those who have fallen in the wars that our Armed Forces have taken part in. That is very much manifest in the poppy that we all, rightly, wear. It is a way of recognising the enormous price that so many of our citizens have paid. Within the various ceremonies taking place this year there are still many hundreds of war widows who, throughout the rest of their lives, have paid the price for their loved ones having fallen in defence of this country. They are joined now by young widows—widows of an age that we all hoped, as in the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord King, that we would not be faced with. However, we are because of the unsafe world that we live in. Perhaps I should declare an interest: I am vice-president of the War Widows Association and very proud of the work that the association has done. They have not forgotten the debt that their loved ones are owed by the nation over the years.

We are reminded regularly in this House of the price that our Armed Forces continue to pay in defence of the realm and in carrying out the responsibilities that we give them. At home in the south-west last Friday night, we had on television the service from a tiny church in a small village in Cornwall where people came together to pay respects to Corporal David O’Connor, a young man from 40 Commando who had had three tours of duty in Afghanistan. He was 27, having been killed at the peak of his young life. We were also reminded of the increasing contribution of women to our Armed Forces because when he met his death, alongside him was Corporal Channing Day of 3rd Medical Regiment. She was out there to help and support our service personnel. As we know, our medical people do not just serve those personnel; any civilians who need their help get it. She was aged 25. It is a hell of a price that those young people are paying, day in and day out, in the service of this country.

The nation respects our Armed Forces. That is brought home continually now, not just by the remembrance services that we have but in the other interaction that the Armed Forces have. It is good that they are able to return to their home towns as a regiment in their uniforms. I welcome that. It is good that they come into Parliament in their uniforms and are welcome and respected; we can pay our thanks to them. As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, mentioned, we also turn to them for help when civil services fail, whether that is because of foot and mouth disease, a firefighters’ strike or indeed the Olympics. I am sure that I am not alone in saying that there was an almost tangible sigh of relief nationally when we were told that the Armed Forces were going to work on security. They were not the backstop; they were the security of first choice for many people in this country, and what a proud job they did for us.

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They know when they sign up that they are not going to make a fortune; they know when they take that choice that the ultimate prize could be paid. They know the ultimate sacrifice that they are going to make, but in exchange for that they are given to understand that they have security, stability, welfare support and a cohesive force—whether their regiment, their ship or, in the RAF, their group—that works together. The Armed Forces do not work as individuals but as groups. That is a topic that I shall return to later on in my contribution.

The Armed Forces also expect that when they are on operations, their families will be treated properly. It is the issue of families that I would particularly like to cover today. They also expect that, if they pay the ultimate price, their employer—the nation—will do good by their dependants who are left behind.

The service covenant, which we have had a number of debates on in this House, is a good policy commitment and has good intentions, but we are very short of delivering. I welcome very much the words that I believe were sincerely given by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Astor, today, about plans in the coming months. Our Armed Forces are pretty straightforward in their view, and I can hear them now saying in my ear, as they used to when I chaired the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body, “We’ve heard it all before. Come on, start delivering in the areas where you haven’t delivered”. And there is quite a list of those areas.

I have spoken to some personnel in preparation for this debate. The big issue now for them, and this is referred to in this year’s Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body report, is the uncertainty and the insecurity that they feel about the future—where are they going to live and what is the housing going to be like? Nearly 40% of complaints to the forces’ family federations are about housing—the quality of it, the lack of choice and where people are going to be. This issue has been ongoing for a number of years and does not lie just with the present Government, but it will be exacerbated by the fact that we have personnel returning from Germany.

I gather that we now have a situation where, although people may be in one group in one of the three services, they are not all going to be able to live in the same area. I heard of one case of three commanding officers of the same group living in entirely different areas. In such cases you lack cohesion but, more importantly for the families, it is then very difficult to give welfare support when the serving personnel are off on operations. It is difficult, for instance, to bring military wives together to enjoy life and give each other moral support while their spouses are away serving their country. Probably for the first time, this year the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body referred to low morale in some areas, which it is very concerned about. I hope that it will be following up on that in its report next year.

A two-year pay freeze does not help in any situation. When you are putting a lad or a girl on a plane to go and fight for their country in Afghanistan and possibly pay the ultimate price, as quite a number of them have done, it does not particularly help for them to be told, “By the way, we really recognise what you’re doing but

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you’re not going to get any pay increase for the next two years”. Our Armed Forces should be treated differently from the rest of us in this country. Why? Because we have the covenant which says that the country will look after them. They do not have the option of just walking away, as so many other people would if they found it difficult.

A small number of the redundancies which have already been referred to were very badly handled. The problem is that that poor handling radiates out through huge numbers in the Armed Forces. The 16-year rule on pensions is that if you have been there 16 years and leave, at a certain age you can then get some of your pension. To be made redundant a few weeks before 16 years and therefore not getting it is pretty cack-handed. I do not believe that it was done deliberately—well, I hope it was not—but we must be careful of it.

On housing, in the previous Budget £100 million was announced for the upgrading of housing: £100 million in, £140 million—I gather—taken out for the upgrading of housing for 2013-15. It does not make sense. They can see through this. None of it helps the cohesion that we are looking for. A family which has been overseas in the Armed Forces cannot get a credit rating when they come back. They cannot get a mortgage. They cannot go and buy a car on hire purchase like the rest of us. They cannot buy big items, because they do not have a credit rating. The banks should be called in to help in that situation. It is not that they have been off somewhere doing nothing at all. They have been working for their country, and we should address that.

Along with the changes in their pension scheme that I mentioned, all this creates uncertainty. I very much welcome what the Minister said in his opening speech, that we will have some policy announcements over the coming months. However, they must have timelines with them. It is not good enough just to say, “This is our policy”. The policies have to be delivered. They cannot give with one hand and take with the other. When the Minister replies, please can she respond to the points about morale, which is an issue?

The austerity measures in the country do not give the Government an opt-out on the responsibility that they carry for all of us to our Armed Forces. They are a special case. No Government can ask us in a debate here to take note of their contribution and then walk away from that responsibility. One or two quotes have been given around the period of remembrance we are in at the moment. One that always strikes home to me is, “Lest we forget”. We forget at our general peril if we do not face up to our responsibility to our Armed Forces and their families.

5.17 pm

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever for bringing this debate to us today. I, too, add my welcome to my noble friend Lady Garden to the Front Bench; I have been working with her on the Front Bench in the past two years, but this is her coming home to a subject that she knows so well and a life that she has been part of for some years.

It is thanks to the contribution of the Armed Forces that I am able to stand here today and speak, a free-born English woman, a citizen of the United

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Kingdom of Great Britain and, I am delighted to say, a member of the All-Party Defence Studies Group that is so ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, where she managed to bring the leaders of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force to us so that we, in our ignorance, can learn and understand better what is needed. I fully echo her words today, certainly on those things which are needed for the families.

I come from the seafaring city of Plymouth in Devon. My family has fought, fished or traded for over 400 years. We face seaward, so it is with the Royal Navy that I am mainly familiar. I grew up during the Second World War in a frightening, fighting city of sailors, marines and commandoes; a city where the women ran everything ashore while their men were away at sea. This debate has provoked keen memories for me, including of standing as a little girl on the cliffs at Mount Batten, of the marine bands on Plymouth Hoe and of waiting to see our mighty ships, some of which were battered and scarred, arrive home. I watched with my mother in the crowded dockyards as thousands of men, some of whom were badly injured, came down the gang-planks with anxious eyes searching for loved ones. What homecomings those were. Union Street teamed with sailors on shore leave who were scooped up by Black Marias at midnight to be taken back to the safety of their ships.

I remember my grandmother’s sitting room. It was a very special room and we did not go in it very often. But when we did, that was where the pictures of the men of the family who had died in action were honoured. My grandmother talked with pride of the men our family had given while fighting for their country. As children, she told us the tales of their brave actions and showed us the maps. Geography meant something to us and we never forgot it.

Between 1939 and 1945, the enemy bombing raids searched out Plymouth docks and they devastated our city. Little of it was left, but our port was safe, the seas were ours and the war was won. The skies had become a battleground for new aircraft, and submarines, soon to be nuclear, gave us new access to our sea. It was our nation’s leaders, our Armed Forces, our use of strategy and, above all, our inventiveness and technology that brought us through. They were very different days from those of Drake and Nelson, and these are different days from Cunningham and Leach.

Britain is a maritime trading nation. I have spent 10 years on the board of the Port of London Authority and I know that more than 90% of our exports and imports come via the sea. In World War II, we would have starved if the Navy had not been able to protect at least some of our merchant fleet. Much of our prosperity depends on the free movement of goods and resources across the oceans. Deployed globally, the Royal Navy is constantly driving forward our interests worldwide. It has the capacity to inflict violence on the enemy through recently used effects, such as naval gunfire support. But, probably just as influential, and certainly more enduring, is the constant development of wider regional relationships in every port of call—from the Caribbean to the Far East and from South America to the Baltic Sea.

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However, much of what the Royal Navy does goes unseen and unheard as it works thousands of miles from home in distant waters. This lack of day-to-day visibility has inexorably led to a certain amount of “sea blindness” within the general public as they become increasingly divorced from any association with our maritime activities. I thank the Minister very much for the new Armed Forces day, which I believe will start next year on 29 June. I will encourage every parent and grandparent to take their children along so that they can learn and understand what our forces are doing everywhere.

This naval blindness is unfortunate because not only is the naval contribution to our collective well-being a world-wide effort, there are increasing demands on our sailors much closer to home, whether it is the 11th-hour failure of private security companies for the Olympics or threats of strike action by fuel tanker drivers or prison officers. As we have already heard from my noble friend Lord Palmer and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, the Armed Forces stand ready to step in and are becoming increasingly the nation’s insurance policy.

These emerging demands place even more strain on our sailors. While they are used to being away for long periods, they quite rightly expect a level of stability when they are back at home. Ships are generally deployed overseas for six months in every 18 months. However, preparations and training for the next operation start as soon as a unit returns.

As our country moves out of recession, our national prosperity and freedoms are increasingly vulnerable to events across the globe. The Royal Navy is uniquely able to respond in a variety of ways in line with the Government’s intent. With 40 Commando fighting in Afghanistan, as I speak, and many other naval personnel also on the front line, from airborne surveillance to bomb disposal, the contribution of the Royal Navy to United Kingdom interests is undeniable. To maintain this contribution, a wide range of capabilities will be required for the foreseeable future, from the soft effect of a warship visiting a far-flung port to develop partnerships to the higher-end war-fighting skills that are likely to be needed to ensure the freedom of movement for shipping should global events take a turn for the worse.

I welcome this debate as a means of highlighting the ongoing resolve of our Armed Forces to meet our existing and emerging commitments, at home and abroad, and to be prepared for whatever contingent activities may be required in areas such as the Arabian Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean. I am truly grateful for the freedom to speak here today, in this time of remembrance, to remember those men and women of our Armed Forces who died so that we may continue to live in safety in these green and pleasant lands, and I commend our Government for trying to do all that they can to shape and equip our Armed Forces for the future safety of us all.

5.26 pm

Lord Davies of Stamford: I start by endorsing the tributes that have already been made in this House to our Armed Forces. I know, as everybody in this House

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knows and I hope the country knows, that those tributes are not ritualistic but deeply felt on both sides of the House.

I also thank the Minister for giving us this opportunity. He is extremely conscientious and serious in his duties to the House, and he has done very well by the House today in getting us this opportunity. I am not going to allow my great respect for the Minister to muzzle the things that I am about to say, but I want to say at the outset how much we appreciate that. I also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, to her new role on the Front Bench. Those of us who knew him, and all of us today, will be very sad that her husband, who had one of the most brilliant and original military minds that I have ever encountered, cannot be with us this afternoon to see her there, sitting on the Front Bench with those new defence responsibilities.

I am going to be very frank, because the situation requires frankness. The state of our Armed Forces is very depressing and worrying. All the serving officers and men whom I have had the opportunity to speak to recently—it so happens that I have not had the opportunity to speak to any servicewomen recently—are all of one accord. They say that morale is worse than it has been for at least 20 years, since the excessive cuts undertaken by the previous Conservative Administration in the 1990s, to which the noble Lord, Lord King, has already referred. In parenthesis, I may say that I opposed those cuts at the time in a pamphlet called Facing the Future, which I published jointly with a number of then Conservative Back-Bench colleagues, including Andrew Robathan and Julian Brazier. My views on defence have not changed since they were expressed in that pamphlet.

I used to think that the Conservative Party among all British political parties was the one with the best understanding of the importance of defence and the greatest sympathy for the needs of our Armed Forces. That was certainly true when I joined the Tory Party in 1974 and remained indubitably true, in my view, for quite a number of years after that. But in the 1990s, I began to wonder whether that was still true, and I wondered even more when I read the Defence White Paper of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, in 1998. It is very difficult indeed to imagine that anybody would come to the conclusion that it is true today.

As the Minister said, the Government have made some tough choices; the trouble is that in my view those choices were completely wrong. For example, the Government decided to continue to give India £300 million in aid a year, a country that is building aircraft carriers and buying aircraft to fly off those carriers, while deciding that we could not afford to have a carrier strike force at all for the next 10 years. I think that was profoundly wrong. It might have been tough but it was absolutely wrong and a betrayal of the national interest. The Government have produced a situation in which our Army is now being reduced by 20%. That means that we can now deploy on a sustainable basis only something of the order of a brigade—say, 2,000 men and women with full supporting arms, as opposed to the 10,000 we have deployed in Afghanistan for many years past. That is a good example of the negative gearing effect of cutting your defence forces.

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I fear that our defence forces have now been cut to a point where they would simply not be able to respond to a whole range of all too easily conceivable scenarios.

The other problem with doing this is that you send quite the wrong signal to those people around the world who might be tempted to breach the international peace or even have designs on our own territory. I do not suppose for a moment that the Argentinians are at this moment planning to attack the Falklands. Cristina Fernández or Cristina Kirchner—I do not know which she prefers to be called—has said that she wishes to resolve the matter peacefully, but aggressors always have a way of saying at the outset that they intend to resolve the problem peacefully. I equally have no doubt at all that the raising of this issue in Argentina, and the terms in which it has been raised over the past couple of years, has not been coincidental. It is not unlinked to the fact that it is now clear that for 10 years we will not have a carrier strike force which would be required if ever the Argentinians succeeded in taking over the Falklands again. We would now be incapable of retaking the Falkland Islands in the way we did in 1982. It is a very serious matter which the whole country needs to take very seriously. That is why I am not muzzling the words that I am using this afternoon, as I believe that they are entirely justified.

The question arises of what you do about a situation like that. It is very easy for me to say, “Vote Labour at the next election and get rid of this awful Government”. I have said that and will continue to say it. However, I recognise that in reality you cannot entirely go back. It would be absurd to make a promise that we could entirely reverse the cuts that have been introduced and go back to square one. You can never entirely go back in history; we all recognise that. We need to think very carefully about what we do to try to make sure that we have the means to continue to make a positive contribution to the world’s peace. As several speakers have mentioned —I would say almost a majority of those who have spoken on both sides of the House this afternoon—we have played a decisive part in that in these many operations and difficulties over the past 60 or 70 years since the Second World War.

As I contemplate this matter, I think increasingly that the solution must be to do something which I know is counterintuitive for some people and would not be welcome to many distinguished members of our Armed Forces, but they might prefer it to having no effective defence at all: that is, to take very seriously the prospect of a European common defence policy. If such a policy is ever to produce any real savings and address the financial issues, which, of course, are real issues, it would have to be based on defence specialisation. You would no longer have everybody, including ourselves, having MBTs, light tanks, reconnaissance vehicles and utility vehicles or large helicopters, medium helicopters, small helicopters and so forth. There would have to be a degree of defence specialisation. That means that you would have to be certain in advance that everybody who was required would be there on the day when you needed to deploy within one coherent command and control system, which, of course, requires common foreign policy. These things are difficult pills to swallow for a lot of people and impossible, I think, for the Conservative Party because it is incapable of taking

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rational, pragmatic decisions on this subject as it is so imprisoned by its own emotional and ideological opposition to anything European.

Lord Dobbs: Will the noble Lord speculate on whether this European defence force that he is so keen on could under any circumstances defend the Falklands if there were another crisis?

Lord Davies of Stamford: Yes, indeed. First, it would not be a common defence force in the sense that you would have people from different countries serving in the same unit. That would be absurd. However, a common defence policy would require a guarantee on the part of all the other members of the EU with regard to all our domestic territories, including overseas territories. That would apply to the French, the Dutch and others who have overseas territories. That would be an essential part of the deal. I have no doubt about that at all. The noble Lord realises that that raises all sorts of issues but all of us need to look at these matters with a greater degree of realism because the alternative is impotence. We will all be spending a lot. The total defence spending in the European Union is in the order of about €200 billion, which sounds a lot but is very small compared with the United States. It must be something like a quarter of the United States defence spending. I cannot get the arithmetic completely right while speaking on my feet but it is a large amount of money. A lot of it is being spent completely ineffectively for the simple reason of the negative gearing effect to which I have already referred. These matters need to be considered. I cannot go into the detail this afternoon but we need to go into the detail on these matters. We need to consider them. I realise that this is considered in some quarters a revolutionary and, indeed, very obnoxious suggestion, but I have put it to the House that the alternative will be impotence, and that cannot be the right solution for Europe as a whole and for the future of a civilised world.

I would like to say a word or two about defence procurement. I say frankly to the Minister that I was pretty astounded by one of the things he said. I am sure that he was loyally mouthing the current government propaganda on the subject; that is what you have to do sometimes when you are a Minister, as I know. He referred to new equipment. I think that he said there would be new submarines, new ISTAR and new helicopters. What did he mean by that? As regards new submarines, as far as I know the Government—thank God—are continuing with the Astute programmes and the Successor-class submarine programme but are delaying both. That is not exactly new equipment. I suppose that by new helicopters the Minister means Wildcat and Chinook. It so happens that I was responsible for promoting, pushing through, negotiating and concluding both those projects. They are not new in any way. Far from adding to them, the Government are actually reducing them. They cancelled 10 of the 22 Chinooks that I ordered, so it is pretty rich to describe that as new equipment and put it to the credit side of the Government. I suppose that by new ISTAR the Minister meant the Predator system, for example, which we bought more of, and Watchkeeper, which

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again goes back to Labour’s time in office. One needs to be cautious about listening to some of the extraordinary government propaganda that comes out on this subject. We need a reality check from time to time.

We particularly need a reality check as regards the great deficit that the previous Labour Government are supposed to have left behind—the so-called £37 billion or £38 billion black hole. My next comment has been said before but it needs to be said again, because we continue to hear this dreadful piece of black propaganda. There is no such thing as the figures I have mentioned. You get to figures of that kind only if you make two assumptions which you cannot possibly make in good faith. One is that everything on our prospective procurement list would be procured. That never happens. I cancelled several things myself. I cancelled the medium helicopter project in order to finance the Chinooks, as the noble Lord no doubt knows. I cancelled the MARS tanker programme. One is always cancelling things for good military reason and switching to higher priorities in defence procurement.

The second thing which one can accept in good faith even less is the assumption, which has to be made to get to the figure that I have mentioned, that there would have been no cash increase. In other words, there would have been an enormous real-terms reduction in our military budget and our procurement budget for 10 whole years. In fact, the previous Labour Government increased defence spending by 1.5% per annum in real terms after inflation. Although the coalition will hold defence spending within a cash ceiling for the first five years it has always said that in the second five years it would increase the cash spending, so even the coalition is not pursuing a policy which would have led to the £37 billion or £38 billion figure. Therefore, it is time that we ceased to hear about the £37 billion or £38 billion.

I want to say something positive and helpful. I mean that sincerely. I hope it will be in the interests of the country that I say it now. You can always improve the defence procurement process. I think that we did so in my time, working very closely with General Sir Kevin O’Donoghue. We reduced the bureaucracy substantially, particularly the assurance process, and developed new models of open-book co-operation with some of our major defence suppliers, but you can always go further. However, there is one big problem that I identified which I was not able to resolve: namely, that we do not do procurement spending and procurement evaluation on a present-value basis. Noble Lords who have experience in the private sector will know that, in all significant-sized companies, investment appraisal and procurement is done on a present-value basis. In other words, what counts is the present value of the future stream of expenditure or the future return from investment and you compare that present value with alternative approaches or solutions to the same problem. That is not done in defence spending. In defence spending certain amounts of money are allocated to certain years and you have a limit you can spend within a particular year, which means you completely lack flexibility.