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Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for giving way. A great deal is being done on exactly that point. In my own unit we have on orders all the time opportunities for operational tours and support to the regular Army in Canada.
Finally, are the careers information offices and recruiting sergeants in the right place? Do we still have a satisfied soldier scheme whereby a young NCO or soldier is given leave to recruit in his area? I learnt with some concern that certain battalions and regiments are paying out of their regimental funds to recruit. If that is the case, I hope they will be reimbursed by the Treasury for those endeavours.
I express concern that performance related pay may be introduced into the Armed Forces next year. Perhaps the Minister can confirm or deny that. We already have a perfectly good and well-tried system based on the annual confidential report system whereby merit is rewarded by promotion and, therefore, by additional pay. If it is introduced, I expect that PRP will cause friction, jealousy and rivalry. It involves commanders at all levels carrying out more what the Duke of Wellington called "quill driving". I hope the Minister can assure us that he, like the three Chiefs of Staff, will put recruitment and retention and the elimination of overstretch at the top of his agenda. And the word "agenda", I remind your Lordships, means, from the Latin, "things to be done".
Lord Glenarthur: My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, he referred to me apparently in some connection with his resignation. May I assure the noble Earl, in case he is not aware of it, that I had nothing whatever to do with his resignation? I was not connected with it in any way. Nor have I ever, sadly to my regret, been a Minister in the Ministry of Defence. So I shall read with care what the noble Earl said and will certainly consider his remarks.
Viscount Trenchard: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Trefgarne for introducing this debate today. As your Lordships are aware, we already have 5,000 troops in Bosnia and face the prospect of deploying some 9,000 troops to Kosovo in the near future. In addition, there is cause for concern about the
My only qualification to speak in this debate is nine years in the Territorial Army. I hesitate to speak in front of noble Lords with specialist military knowledge and real experience, especially the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Craig of Radley, both of whom led our Armed Forces with distinction and have tonight made such illuminating and helpful contributions to the debate. I am also very glad to follow the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, and congratulate him on his most interesting speech.
Since the ending of the Cold War the former central role of the Armed Forces to provide through NATO adequate defence against the threat of attack or invasion by the forces of the Soviet Union has disappeared. The Strategic Defence Review states that the objective today is to meet our purely national requirements and be able to make a reasonable contribution to multinational operations in support of our foreign and security policy objectives. Greater flexibility is now required of our Armed Forces to meet a wide range of perceived and unforeseen threats.
The SDR states that, in addition to providing whatever military support is required for continuing commitments such as Northern Ireland, we should be able to respond to a major international crisis, such as the Gulf War, or undertake up to two medium-sized deployments which might last up to six months. As your Lordships are aware, our deployment of troops in Bosnia has already lasted more than five years, and I expect that the situation in Kosovo will make it impossible for us to withdraw our forces, if and when deployed, within the prescribed six months.
It therefore appears that with troops committed to Bosnia and Kosovo, and given the situation in Northern Ireland, our Armed Forces would already be fully extended. Our soldiers, sailors and airmen are therefore having to spend longer periods away from home more often than was the case a decade or so ago. That, of course, has a detrimental effect on morale and on recruitment. The SDR makes clear that we cannot afford the luxury of having additional forces "just in case". A senior army officer told me this week that the Army does not want to be an army that people are reluctant to use. It likes to be used and likes to be stretched. But it is a delicate balance. The regular Armed Forces are already fully stretched, if not over-stretched.
What I find extraordinary is that in these circumstances the Government have decided to emasculate the Territorial Army in order to increase the regular establishment by 3,000. At a time when our regular forces are fully stretched, we need to maintain our reserves, or even to increase them. I am no advocate of the growing belief that we should always do things the way other countries do. The things that foreigners admire about this country, such as our Armed Forces, and your Lordships' House, are not generally things that we have copied from others. But on this occasion we
The real outcome for the TA is even worse than the cut of one-third suggests. The TA infantry is to be cut by more than half, from 16,000 to 7,200. London is set to suffer disproportionately, especially so on the basis of its daytime population.
The Secretary of State for Defence has said that the TA should be useable, relevant and better integrated into the regular Army. However, the destruction of the regimental system in the TA infantry, predicated by the replacement of battalion units by multi-cap badge regional headquarters, will do precisely the opposite, besides having a devastating effect on morale and on both TA and regular recruitment. I was proud to serve with 4th Battalion The Royal Green Jackets, the successor to, inter alia, Queen Victoria's Rifles, Queen's Westminster Rifles and the London Rifle Brigade. Two companies will survive, but they will be subsumed into the new London Regiment, which, incidentally, I doubt will ever be able to parade as a battalion; marching in step will clearly be impossible. I rather doubt whether the two surviving Green Jackets companies will possess the critical mass necessary to continue the regiment's identity, spirit, traditions and historical links with London and its boroughs.
Fourth Battalion The Royal Green Jackets has recently been seconding on a continuing basis between 10 and 20 TA soldiers to supplement the two regular Green Jackets battalions. There were around a dozen 4th Battalion TA soldiers with the 2nd Battalion in Bosnia recently; and I understand that there are 11 TA soldiers waiting to join the 1st Battalion when it moves to Northern Ireland shortly. I doubt that the London Regiment will be able to maintain the close connections and identify equally closely with all the regular Army regiments of which its predecessors currently form part. I do not think that the two regular Green Jackets battalions will be able to rely on the TA for additional support in this way in the future as they have in the past.
I am disappointed that the Army Board was prepared to sacrifice the TA for such a small benefit to the regular Army. I do not think that the closure of 180 drill halls and the resulting disappearance of much of the framework of the TA is going to help fill the 8,000 regular Army vacancies which will exist under the expanded establishment. The Minister told me that only some 7 per cent. of regular Army recruits have seen service with the TA. The proportion of former cadets is much higher. But I fear the noble Lord may not recognise the point that the cadets themselves depend heavily on the existence and co-location of TA units.
The station commander of Royal Air Force Halton told me the other day that the RAF also recruits a number of people who have seen service with the TA. Many potential Army recruits, even though they may
It was perhaps not the responsibility of the generals to take account of the social benefits that the TA provides to the community, but I am frankly amazed that the Government, who talk a great deal about social inclusiveness, have also missed this important point. In London and many other cities the TA offers much needed opportunities and a sense of belonging to disadvantaged sections of the community such as members of ethnic minorities and single parent families. Twenty one per cent. of the members of 4 RGJ are from ethnic minorities. The Government want to see a more inclusive regular Army and in this respect the TA can provide leadership. There is certainly no institutional racism in the TA.
My recollection of the TA and the extraordinary breadth of skills and experience that weekend soldiers bring to it lead me to believe that its usefulness and relevance to the regular Army are enhanced and not diminished by the changed role of the Armed Forces today.
The TA has given the nation good value for money in defence terms and also bridges the gap between civilian and military life--another of the Government's declared aims. Its emasculation removes our insurance policy that we could, at a time when our regular forces are fully stretched, nevertheless rely on reserve forces to meet an unforeseen threat or natural disaster such as a serious flood.
I hope that the Government will think again and reverse the cuts in the TA now being implemented before it is too late and the Army's footprint fades across vast areas of the country. Our fully stretched Armed Forces deserve to be complemented and backed up by adequate reserves who themselves deserve the country's full support and appreciation.
Lord Chalfont: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for giving us the opportunity once again to debate briefly issues which are close to the heart and the interests of the Armed Forces. I am sorry that the debate is taking place so late at night and in such a sparsely populated House.
I wish to concentrate my remarks this evening on the Army, although the Motion refers to the "Armed Forces". I wish particularly to speak of the Army because a long time ago I had personal experience of handling the problem in the British Army. Way back in the 1950s, I was a staff officer in the War Office, as it then was, in a branch which was, for some obscure military reason, called "staff duties". It had nothing to do with staff duties; it was entirely to do with the organisation and manpower planning of the regular Army. My task at that time was to plan, or take part in planning, the shape and size of the Armed Forces, with special reference to the requirements of the notorious 1957 White Paper. Older Members of the House will recall it with some nostalgia.
We had two golden rules when we were carrying out all the planning and number-crunching. One was that if you are faced with over-stretch in your Armed Forces you must either increase your resources or reduce your commitments. It all sounds simple but we kept it constantly in the front of our minds. The other lesson, still equally relevant today, is that if you plan an Army which is designed only for low intensity operations and peace-keeping operations, it is almost impossible to move into a high intensity situation with the same Army. However, if you plan a high intensity Army, there is no difficulty in performing low intensity tasks.
Most contributors to the debate this evening have, quite rightly, spoken of the need to maximise resources. I should like to place greater emphasis on what we do about our commitments. At the moment it is unrealistic, especially so shortly after the Strategic Defence Review, to expect any substantial increase in military resources. I mention the Strategic Defence Review because it was, as at least one other noble Lord has said, a serious and imaginative attempt to plan a post-Cold War army and match commitments with our resources. Of course there was Treasury involvement in it. It would be foolish to expect that there should not be Treasury involvement in a spending department of this kind.
However, generally speaking, it is true that the shape and size of the forces brought about by the Strategic Defence Review was based on the views and operational analysis of the General Staff. One cannot want much more than that. We heard that later all three Chiefs of Staff told the Defence Select Committee of another place that each individually signed up to the Strategic Defence Review. What results from that very careful, constructive and effective review is that now we have an Army--I shall not go into the details of its deployment--that is able to solve the high intensity/low intensity problem. We have an Army which, although small, is designed for high-intensity operations and is also trained for other forms of activity short of war.
General Wheeler, Chief of the General Staff, who has already been referred to this evening, said recently that in his view the Army was better balanced and nearer the manpower need than it was three or four years ago. Incidentally, for those noble Lords who are especially interested in this area of national policy--I imagine that that includes all noble Lords who are in the House at the moment--there is a fascinating interview with General Wheeler in the current issue of Jane's Defence Weekly. There he gives his views on overstretch, commitments and resources. That is an extraordinarily upbeat and confident article that I believe will provide considerable comfort to a good number of people.
But as to resources and commitments, perhaps we have not quite solved the problem. Other noble Lords have already mentioned this, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and, specifically in relation to retention, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who made the very important point that this was a vicious circle. If one has overstretch and loss of morale not only recruitment but retention of the forces that one already has also suffers.
It would be foolish to expect any great increase in defence resources at this moment. To ask what may sound a rather crass question, can we reduce our commitments? I believe that we must consider that question although it may not be a matter for the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, himself to answer. We should bear in mind that armed forces are basically for military purposes. The following are perhaps the three most important roles for our Armed Forces: first, the defence of the realm; secondly, as a contribution to alliances; and, thirdly, as backing for our foreign policy. But it now appears that we expect our Armed Forces to become involved in a broad range of other rather dubious commitments. I mean "dubious" in the sense that the problems do not always seem to me to be ones with which the British Army should deal.
There may be a case for peacekeeping operations but there is often a far less strong case for British forces being involved in humanitarian activities. I am not entirely sure about demands that are often made on our Armed Forces in the area of disaster relief. It is possible that some of those activities are justifiable and are a necessary demand on our resources. But I suggest that the British Armed Forces should not be expected to act as the world's policeman or the world's welfare officer, intervening in crisis after crisis--not always military crises. It seems to me that sometimes--I slide now into the field of foreign policy--we are intervening perilously near the internal affairs of other states. However, I leave that for the moment. We should not expect to take a disproportionate share of military responsibilities.
The noble Lord, Lord Hardy, mentioned our allies. It is true that we have close to us France and Germany and, not so close, the United States. France has an army of over 200,000; Germany has an army of nearly a quarter of a million; and the United States has an army of 480,000, nearly half a million. Yet we are expected apparently to take on the heaviest share of Kosovo operations. Eight thousand to 9,000 troops have been mentioned today.
I leave it there. I only ask the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, who I know has the welfare and efficiency of the Armed Forces very much at the centre of his attention, whether it is still the policy of Her Majesty's Government to ensure that we do not take on more commitments than we can match with our resources.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, for initiating the debate, enabling us to have a discussion, effectively, on defence matters. He has, of course, laid himself open to contributions from this side of the House as well as from his own side.
I need not elaborate on the interesting contribution of my noble friend Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld. He pointed out the enormous reductions in defence capability under the Conservatives. My noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath also picked up that point. It is worth considering how the Conservative government did that. There were two major reductions in defence expenditure. Many believe that the first, at the beginning of the 1980s, resulted directly in the Falklands campaign. The second, in the early 1990s, resulted in a horrendous situation for those members of the Armed Forces who were subject to it. Both were easily seen to be completely Treasury driven. They were nothing to do with foreign or defence commitments.
Let us compare that situation with what has happened since the advent of the new Labour Government. The Strategic Defence Review received plaudits from all parts of society and the Armed Forces in this country. It was also recognised as being sensible by others outside the United Kingdom. We need to say "Well done" to the Government for their Strategic Defence Review.
It has been a fascinating debate. One of the advantages of speaking late is that many of the points have already been made so I do not need to repeat them. However, it gives one the opportunity to highlight and pick up points already made. I was impressed by the contribution from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. He pointed out that overstretch was better than understretch. Perhaps we should push the Treasury in the direction that the Armed Forces would wish.
I was fascinated by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, who pointed out that his old regiment spent 130 nights out of barracks. I suddenly remembered that, on average, Members of the House of Lords spend 134 days away from home; that is, if they are regular attenders and live outside London. That puts the issue in perspective.
We need to recognise that there are serious problems for individual units in the Armed Forces which are required to do tour after tour of duty, whether in Northern Ireland or Bosnia, which take them away from their families for a number of consecutive Christmases. I hope that my noble friend Lord Gilbert will assure us that individual units will not be subjected to that dislocation of family life which is so distressing.
Much has been said about recruitment and retention. The overall figures suggest that recruitment is on the increase and we have heard that the Government are taking action on a number of fronts in respect of retention. I am sure that my noble friend will comment on that. The previous government first introduced the higher activity levels of women in the Armed Forces and I pay tribute to them for that. This Government have continued the policy and have also sought a higher level of recruitment of the black and Asian members of our society who are under-represented in the Armed Forces. I am sure that my noble friend will reassure us on those issues and recognise that one of the pleasant aspects of such a debate is that it gives Members on all sides of
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, first, I apologise to your Lordships and to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in particular for being absent at the beginning of the debate. I was scribbling away upstairs and did not look at the monitor. I was therefore unaware that the previous debate on the Statement had finished.
I must declare an interest in that I have recently completed an Industry and Parliament Trust fellowship with Shorts Bombardier which manufactures some defence systems and some aircraft which may be used in the military world.
I have seen the overstretch at first hand over a considerable length of time. I was in the armed services for 23 years, 17 of which were spent in Northern Ireland with the Ulster Defence Regiment and later the Royal Irish Regiment. We saw many units coming in under-strength which provided more work for us. I am not saying that it was as hard as it might seem. We were part-time, so the more work we did the more we were paid. However, there were shortfalls in the strength.
I thank this Government and the previous government for the way in which they resourced the equipment we had. We were never short of it at any stage, and in the fight against terrorism that is most important.
My noble friend Lord Allenby spoke about unpredictability and the invasion of Kuwait. I remember that we were on an All-Party Defence Study Group trip to SHAPE during the week prior to the invasion. We asked the Deputy Supreme Commander about the various threats. When we dealt with the southern flank, which included Turkey and Kuwait, he said, "Don't worry about that. We have got far bigger problems elsewhere". So the world is very unpredictable!
We were led to understand in the SDR that, although there would be a reduction in total manpower of reserves and regulars, that would be compensated for by directing more resources into fully equipping our services. Does the Minister accept that in some key areas the Government are failing to do that? That is not to say that they are the only culprits; it applies to the previous government as well. Things have not improved a great deal and perhaps not as much as the Government would like to think.
For example, I should like to turn to my recent experience with Shorts. The short-range anti-aircraft capability includes the Shorts-built self-propelled, high-velocity missile Starstreak, which is new in service. This is a revolutionary short-range anti-helicopter and anti-aircraft system. Without encroaching on confidential information, I can say that it transforms the time taken from acquisition to a hit on the target and that it has an unsurpassed percentage rate of hits. It has ground-to-air and air-to-air capability. In testing in the US in November it achieved a 100 per cent. success rate when fired from an Apache attack helicopter.
I believe that, since the Government introduced the 3 per cent. year-on-year budget reduction, it has been decided to equip fewer Royal Artillery sub-units with the system than was originally envisaged. In effect, that is a cancellation which is in the public domain. It means two things. First, there will be a reduction of high-tech support for the soldiers on the ground and for friendly aircraft in the air, contrary to the Government's stated policy. Secondly, it is not a good message for exports when we are seen to be slightly less supportive than previously of our own British systems. It will also mean a higher unit cost, and any orders lost overseas may mean a net loss to the Exchequer of more than it would have cost to equip an additional sub-unit.
We have recently been introduced to the phrase, "joined up government", or co-operation between departments. Can the Minister tell us whether the reduction in units to be supplied with this system is permanent and, if not, how soon the position will be rectified? In addition, I believe that the MoD has delayed any requirement for air-to-air capability of this system on the UK Apache fleet until 2005.
In order to reduce the effect of overstretch and lack of manpower, we must complete essential programmes taken on and not leave them half-finished. Here we have the most sophisticated attack helicopter but we deny it the most effective weapons system to support those on the ground.
The Government are fully aware of the importance of air superiority, which as the years go on becomes the major issue in the modern field of conflict, as has been proved in the Gulf War and the no-fly zone over Iraq and Bosnia. Can the Minister tell us whether this serious delay can be shortened to ensure that our forces are sent into operational areas with the most up-to-date equipment, especially when it is British?
I have a question relating to this system and its export to America. It is far superior to any system there in the short-range field. What are the Government doing to help overcome US protectionism, when additional sales overseas would reduce the unit cost to the MoD? Her Majesty's Government could then afford more systems, thus reducing the effect of overstretch.
I wish to talk for a moment about another programme in which Shorts is involved. Astor is a long-distance, airborne surveillance system, which the MoD has indicated that it will purchase. It is of use in both peaceful and war-time environments. In fact, 95 per cent. of surveillance takes place in peace-time. The system will be mounted on one of two long-range, converted intercontinental executive jets. Operationally, it could be tasked from this country to central Africa and back without refuelling.
I believe that a couple of years ago over 50,000 refugees were lost, having fled their homes in central Africa. It took some days or weeks for aid workers on the ground to find them. It could have been done with Astor in a day or two.
I have two questions to ask the Minister. First, opinion is that the optimum number of aircraft is five or six to ensure that enough are operational at all times. However, there is a feeling that only four may be
Secondly, the two aircraft involved are the Gulf Stream 5 and the Shorts Bombardier Global Express. Of course there is a question of jobs in Ulster, but I do not want to be too parochial about it. From a long-term point of view, Gulf Stream 5 is an older design and airframe, perhaps coming to the limit of future modifications which it can withstand. It is also much smaller and only just large enough to carry this equipment. An Astor will use the maximum amount of inboard electronic power that can be carried.
No doubt in the future there will be developments to that on-board surveillance equipment and any requirement for additional power, which is almost a certainty, or additional manpower could be catered for only in an aircraft the size of the Global Express, which is brand new and can therefore be modified more easily in the future. Can the Minister tell us which way he sees things going?
Lord Chesham: My Lords, I was slightly surprised by some of the speeches from the Benches opposite, which tried to make party political capital from what has happened in the past. I believed this debate to be about the future. Towards the end of another long day I shall not detain the House for many minutes, but I should like to make a few brief points some of which have been referred to already this evening.
In the main, service personnel are superbly trained. However, it is clear that the standard of training is at risk as a result of the frequency of operational tasks. I am sure the whole House will join me in not wanting inadequately trained personnel to be put at risk through a lack of training.
I understand that there is a great problem from poaching in relation to retention, particularly in relation to signals, helicopters and pilots. I throw in as a thought: should we look to longer-term "contracts of employment" for the major categories at risk who have, after all, been trained extensively and expensively by the taxpayer? I have been advised that there is also a problem with retention payments; that the reward for signing on for a further period of service is greater at three years than at six years. Someone who has been trained for three years is of great use thereafter; but someone trained for six years is a trainer and has much greater experience. Why should he receive less in the way of retention payment than someone with three years' experience? I find that extremely difficult to understand.
My next remarks are directed to the training corps. I believe the position is increasingly difficult, as painted by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath. Will the Minister give a commitment to continue the funding and backing of the cadets, particularly maintaining, if not
I should like to refer briefly to Astor, the Short aeroplane. I had not intended to do so but the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, mentioned it. I am sure that it is absolutely fine, but is he aware that the radar capability in Astor is already 16 years-old and upgraded, whereas the other team Astor has brand new radar developed by Racal? Two hundred people have been employed on it. The Government have already spent over £100 million on this development.
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