§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, we now resume our debate on the Defence White Papers. The House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Arran, for introducing the Motion to take note of the White Paper on the Defence Estimates and the White Paper on Britain's Army for the 90s. I am sure that we all look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Cheshire, the noble Duke, the Duke of Westminster, and the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood.
The noble Earl has recognised that the international climate in which these documents were issued—only a short time ago—and the climate of today are substantially different. I say that with no intention to criticise. It is simply to make the point that during the long Recess events have made today's debate take on a rather different tenor to the debate that we might have had in this House at the end of July.
The noble Earl spent a good deal of time on recent history. The Soviet Union has, for the moment at 1118 least, collapsed as a repository of political power. The attempted coup against President Gorbachev moved power away from Moscow, the Kremlin, to the republics. Indeed, the question now is whether President Gorbachev has any power left at all. At the same time it has become clear that the economies of the individual republics are in a shambles. Massive aid will be required if there is not to be a complete breakdown in the period of transition from command economies to market economies with consequent potential for political upsets which themselves might well have defence implications. By "political upsets" I mean possible taking of power by people who have been encouraged simply by the move to what is called democracy to have consumer expectations which cannot be fulfilled.
The situation in other Eastern European states is not much better, as the noble Earl pointed out. Yugoslavia has effectively broken up and may never be put together again even if the present state of virtual civil war is brought under control. Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Czechoslovakia are all economically sick or at best convalescent. The Balkan problem that so plagued Europe in the last century and at the time of the First World War is with us again.
In the Middle East, instability persists. It is not a stable area. Iran has still not shown herself ready to be a full participant in the international political process; Iraq is now known to be nearing the point of nuclear capability; and there is still no easy solution in sight to the Palestinian problem. The final settlement of the difficulties that provoked the Gulf War is, to say the very least, far from clear.
Of course there have been extensive changes in the balance of forces in the Middle East. Iraq appears to have been defeated in the Gulf War but the conclusion has been uncertain and confused. We have yet to see whether any stability will come to the area as a result of the United Nations negotiations over hostages, the inspection of Iraq's true capabilities or, indeed, as a result of Secretary Baker's efforts to achieve an overall peace settlement. All are still matters of great uncertainty with defence implications for the Western world.
At the same time the organisation of the defence of Europe and of Europe's relationship with NATO has erupted as a major and contentious issue in the Community. As I understand it, it is to be high on the agenda of both the Rome NATO conference and the European Council in December at Maastricht. So since early summer all of those developments have in their own way changed the defence outlook for the West and consequently for ourselves. We must now look at that change.
First, and in a sense most importantly, perhaps I may echo the words of the noble Earl that the nuclear equation has changed yet again. On 27th September President Bush announced his intention not just to send the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty to the United States Senate for immediate approval but also to make unilateral cuts in the United States nuclear arsenal: all nuclear artillery shells and warheads for ground-based short-range missiles will be destroyed; 1119 all tactical weapons will be removed; and the nuclear short-range attack missile will be cancelled. He further proposed that there should be early agreement to eliminate all intercontinental ballistic missiles with multiple warheads. In his turn, President Gorbachev replied with enthusiasm, looking forward to a world free of nuclear weapons. Those initiatives require an early response from us.
Secondly, partly as a result of the Gulf War and of the failure of the European Community to act as a cohesive unit, there have been suggestions that the Community should take responsibility for its own defence policy. It would be wrong to pretend that there is yet a clear Community view on the matter. There is an obvious difference of opinion between those who believe—as the French and German Governments appear to believe—that the Community should have its own defence force, even to the point of its use being determined by majority vote, and those who believe—as the British and Italian Governments appear to believe—that any European defence pillar (to use the expression that is currently in vogue) should be firmly bound into NATO.
So the world has moved on rather fast since your Lordships last debated defence matters, and we are entitled to ask what we should make of it all. My first comment is that we cannot rely on what we say today being true tomorrow. As the noble Earl said, the world is moving very fast.
Nevertheless, in uncertain and fast-moving times we must try to make some sense of what is happening and determine our response, for the very simple reason that defence procurement programmes have such long lead times that decisions cannot be made from minute to minute. So we have to do our best. In that spirit I must say that I have a sneaking sympathy for the Government, in these times of great fluidity, in having to make decisions of a far-reaching nature, but that is what they are paid for as a government.
In the light of all that, and with due reservations, perhaps I might take what seem to me to be fundamental questions and attempt to express what we on these Benches see as possible ways forward. As I emphasised in an earlier debate, as an Opposition we are not, and can never hope to be, in possession of all the information necessary to make a fully considered judgment. That will have to wait until we take office. I hope noble Lords will excuse me, but that is why some of my comments may be in interrogatory form rather than as precise statements.
First, allow me to look at Britain's strategic nuclear arm. We know that President Bush is not yet ready to accept President Gorbachev's admittedly ambitious goal of a nuclear-free world. Given the Middle Eastern situation, possible proliferation elsewhere, and uncertainty in Eastern Europe, particularly in what remains of the Soviet Union, it is not difficult to understand his concerns. But Mr. Bush seems to have announced a basic principle: that the United States will content itself with the minimum deterrent necessary and halt the absurd overkill policy of the last decade or so.
1120 Obviously, until and unless Mr. Gorbachev's ideal and the ideal of all of us can be achieved, as we must hope it can, it makes sense for the United States to retain a nuclear arm as an insurance policy, and as far as we are concerned it seems sensible to keep our own—admittedly limited—nuclear arm to continue the linkage with the United States within NATO that has served us well over the years. The Trident programme should therefore be continued. However, I am bound to say that I should much prefer to put our nuclear arm into the negotiations that President Bush has launched and see—in all seriousness and genuine commitment—whether it can, in combination with much stronger non-proliferation measures, be negotiated away alongside the nuclear forces of other countries, and in that way—it may be a long way—achieve Mr. Gorbachev's ideal of a nuclear-free world. But I frankly and openly accept that that will require us to retain our nuclear capability right through those negotiations.
That programme is very ambitious, and I recognise that we are a long way from that goal. Just to make a simple point, as a matter of urgency we must be much clearer than we are now on where responsibility will lie for the Soviet nuclear arsenal in the event of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. After all, if we compile a list of nuclear powers in a league table it reads as follows: one, the United States; two, the Russian Federation; three, Kazakhstan; four, the Ukraine; five, France; and six, Great Britain. That is not a very comforting league table for us.
In spite of all the difficulties, I do not think that we should be deterred. I hope that answers to those questions will come in the course of time, but on our side we must also be honest and flexible. Even if we keep the Trident programme intact we should recognise that it is a matter of curiosity, to say the least, that while Mr. Bush is attempting to limit the United States to a minimum strategic nuclear deterrent Britain is proposing to multiply its nuclear capability by a function of up to eight by equipping Trident with multiple and independently targeted warheads.
Allow me to make our view quite clear to your Lordships. Our position is that we will deploy three Trident submarines, but if an order is placed for the fourth boat before the general election the incoming Labour Government will be faced with an important decision. That decision can be made only after a full examination of the contract and cancellation charges associated with it. But we shall cancel the current plans to increase the number of nuclear warheads on Tridents; and, as a second stage, might it not be more in keeping with the new spirit of the times to limit Trident, if we are to keep it, to single warheads?
Most importantly, however, is it not time that we got into the act of negotiating down all nuclear arms, as Mr. Bush suggests? What is wrong with that, and why do the Government from their Statement seem hostile to the idea? It must be better to talk than to stand aside.
I have spent some time on the problem of nuclear forces because it has been thrust into the forefront of 1121 defence debate by President Bush's initiative of last month. But that does not mean that it is the only matter with which we have to deal today.
The two White Papers and the current controversy within the Community are also on the agenda, and I shall now address them. Looking at the White Papers first, their importance is obvious, as the noble Earl said. Taken together, they set out the biggest changes in Britain's Armed Forces since the 1960s. They will reduce the Army to its lowest strength since 1830. The 55 infantry battalions will be reduced to 38 and the total number in the Army from 156,000 to 116,000.
We accept that it may well be possible to operate an army of that size. Certainly—and it goes almost without saying—it must be a much better equipped army that we do not have to cannibalise every unit in order to put together a credible force as we had to do for Operation "Granby". But even with the best equipped army it does mean and will mean, as night follow; the day, a reduction in our military commitments. That is where we differ from the Government who appear to believe that we can retain all our commitments and yet decimate the Army at the same time.
The point has been made publicly by the Chief of the General Staff, Sir John Chapple. What we need to know and what we do not yet know is what commitments the Government are prepared to sacrifice. Is there something in the NATO reviews which is soon to appear but about which we do not know? Do the Government really believe that Northern Ireland will be less of a military burden? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, will they please tell us and say why?
The same is true for the Navy. We still have no clear idea about what it is meant to do in its reduced form and how it is meant to do it. The only positive news that the noble Earl announced is that it now appears that a replacement has been found for HMS "Endurance" in its vital role in the South Atlantic. Even that concession was due to persistent questioning in this House led by my noble friend Lord Shackleton. Furthermore, as the noble Earl announced, it will he only temporary. We still do not know whether the replacement will exist on a permanent basis; nor do we know what it will be called. It is most important that it should be called "Endurance" and that all the associations should be continued.
Still less have we any idea of what is proposed for the reserve forces. However, it must be obvious that no rapid reaction corps in Europe will hold up an attack from the East in the unlikely event of that ever happening. If such a threat is to be met it can be done only mobilising a reserve force. But the reserve force must already be in a reasonable state of training. The warning time for an attack, whatever it may be, will certainly be less than in previous land wars. That is why the future of the Territorial Army and the Air Force Reserve is so very important.
As a result it becomes abundantly clear that we need a full and coherent statement of what the Government perceive to be our defence needs. I say frankly to the noble Earl that until that appears the 1122 suspicion will linger that Options for Change may have started as a serious review of our whole defence effort but has deteriorated into an unseemly haggle between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury with the Treasury, as always, winning. It is not a suspicion that the Government should allow to take root.
I do not propose to spend a great deal of time on the proposed reorganisation of regiments in the Army. Such changes must happen and, painful as they may be, they are best done quickly. The only point I wish to make is that it is vital to ensure that recruitment and retention levels are affected as little as possible by the changes. That is easier said than done, but I am sure that all noble Lords will agree with me. I am equally sure that many noble Lords will wish to speak today on that particular issue.
Lastly, there is the question of how the defence of Europe should be organised. Again, I recognise that opinions are strongly held and equally deeply divided. We take a pragmatic view. As long as NATO serves a function it makes sense for the European pillar, whatever form that may take, to be part of it. It does not mean that there may not be a European defence force or, indeed, an extension to the Rome Treaty allowing for a collective European defence policy. All that may be possible in the future; I wish to make only two points.
First, it is a matter of historical fact—and I offer it as such—that the last time French and German troops served and fought on the same side was at the battle of Leipzig in 1813. Since then there have been three bitter and bloody Franco-German wars which are engraved deep in the folk memory of both those countries, whatever their politicians may say. Besides, Leipzig does not really count because the German troops from Saxony and Wurttemberg rather sensibly deserted before the battle leaving the French to fend for themselves. Secondly, I cannot conceive of any British cabinet of whatever party or mixture of parties sending British troops into battle on the basis of a majority decision of the European Council where Britain had been in the minority. I may be out of date and I may in the future be persuaded, although I doubt that, but at the moment I cannot see that happening.
None of this means that we should not seek to involve ourselves as far as possible in seeking ways and means for the Community to act together in defence matters. If M. Jacques Delors' suggestion of a European superpower of 30 nations is in the end realised, it will be a mighty task to weld together a collective defence effort but one possibly worth doing. All we have to remember is that it is a long way—a very long way—from here to Tipperary and the path cannot be taken at breakneck speed.
I have taken enough of your Lordships' time. Many speeches made in the debate will be more expert than mine and will contain persuasive arguments on the subjects under review. In the words of the Chinese curse, we live in interesting times. What I have said today, as I warned your Lordships, may turn out to be irrelevant tomorrow. But of our guiding principles I am clear: we must have a proper defence of our 1123 country; we must have value for money; and, above all, we must know precisely where we are going. Your Lordships are entitled to look to the Government of whatever party to give a clear and decisive lead.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, both White Papers are controversial. Therefore I shall begin by stating a major point with which we on these Benches agree with the Government and somewhat disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams. We support the four-submarine Trident project. As has often been said in this House, we believe that the power of the Trident project, its throw weight, can be adjusted by diminishing the number of missiles and/or warheads. However, the technical advantage of four submarines over three submarines is decisive and on that point we part company with the noble Lord, Lord Williams.
It is unfortunately true that in recent years the conventional threat to this country has greatly lessened but there has not been an equivalent reduction in the possible nuclear threat. Even when Mr. Gorbachev has carried out his promise of huge reductions in the Soviet strategic and tactical nuclear capability what will remain will be a formidable nuclear capability indeed. We have now a new and worrying development; that much of the nuclear capability will not be under central control. It is not now under central control. The Ukraine has declared its independence and declared that for the moment it will keep its nuclear weapons on its own soil. The same position has been taken by Kazakhstan. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, did not mention Belorussia but that may well go the same way. That produces nightmare scenarios. It is not impossible to envisage one of the republics defending itself by nuclear blackmail. One of them, falling into anarchy or civil war, may lose control of its nuclear weapons to some totally irresponsible group, perhaps a terrorist organisation. Even more extreme but not impossible, a republic driven by bankruptcy may consider flogging some of its tactical nuclear weapons to wealthy third world dictatorships.
There is another new and alarming development. We have learnt from the experience in Iraq how difficult it is to locate and eradicate nuclear capability in a dictatorship. Even when backed by unanimous United Nations resolutions and air power the operation continues to present problems that have not yet been solved. That throws further doubt on whether or not the world can ever become nuclear free.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said that he was prepared to negotiate away the British nuclear deterrent. He spoke, I thought kindly, of an objective of a nuclear-free world which in our hearts we may all want. However, working towards that objective could easily disarm the democracies of their nuclear weapons, but not the dictatorships. It may confer a nuclear monopoly on precisely those states least fit to have it. Those new developments reinforce the view that, while other countries possess nuclear weapons or can obtain them, Britain should keep hers.
1124 Where my noble friend and I disagree with the Government is on the scale of Britain's nuclear capability. Even without is full complement of missiles and warheads, Trident its far more than a minimum deterrent; it is much more than Polaris and more than we, in our position, need. In addition, the Government are committed to developing an entirely new nuclear weapons system; that is, a £1 billion system of air-launched nuclear missiles. The Government must make clearer than they have done so far against what threat they are directed. What is the threat which TASMs are supposed to meet? What is their deterrent value additional to that of Trident?
As the prospects for peace improve and as the Americans and Russians undertake massive nuclear disarmament, the United Kingdom is going in the opposite direction. The United Kingdom is greatly increasing its nuclear capacity. It is hard to imagine a more untimely, more bizarre decision than that.
The main controversy over the White Papers has been on the proposals to reduce the size of the Army. The Government are paying the penalty for not explaining the changes in the country's defence needs earlier and more realistically. That was the view of the Commons Defence Committee in its latest report on the Defence Estimates. At paragraph 2.1 it stated:Anyone buying 'the White Paper' in order to discover the strategic rationale for the changes proposed would be sadly disappointed. What 'the White Paper' regrettably fails to do, and does not even set out to do, is to argue in any detail the rationale behind the changes proposed, or to provide a coherent strategic overview".Year after year from these Benches we have criticised successive White Papers on that count. It is hardly surprising that, when the Government announce a reduction in army manpower to 116,000, it upsets many people including many on their own Back-Benches.
It goes without saying that resources must match commitment. However, as we strongly argued on these Benches, by far the biggest defence commitment has, for the foreseeable future, disappeared. We no longer need to make provision for deterring, and if necessary defeating, a full-scale Soviet conventional attack on the West. Until recently that was overwhelmingly the purpose of our defence forces. We are told that events in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union are unpredictable. That is true; it is only too possible that there may be new outbreaks of ethnic violence and new coups. That goes without saying. However, one thing can confidently and certainly be predicted. For the foreseeable future our former enemies will not be sufficiently strong or united to present a credible conventional threat. That is the prediction that matters most for defence planning. It means that large reductions in defence resources can be made with safety. Precisely how large is not easy for the Government to decide. Frankly, it is almost impossible for outsiders to decide that delicate point of exactly how many battalions must go. I do not feel inclined to offer a firm view in that regard.
When one reviews the remaining commitments one by one it is arguable that they present problems of logistics, politics and the nature of our resources rather than of the scale of our resources. I believe that 1125 to be true. It is entirely proper and predictable that the armed services should resist reductions. They all do it, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force; they always will. It is simply a measure of the pride they take in their role and in their achievements.
Other people are entitled to emphasise the other side of the equation—the improved prospects of peace; a decline in commitment; likely help from allies; the cost of defence, and so on. Nevertheless, through their own fault the Government have been strongly attacked for their proposed reductions in army manpower. They have been strongly attacked also for their handling of the merger of regiments. In certain cases the Army Board appears to have taken the wrong decisions.
During the war I landed in Sicily with the 51st Highland Division. I do not need reminding about the fighting qualities of the Scottish regiments. However, if we are honest, we must acknowledge that, to the extent t hat we support reductions in Army manpower and the regimental system, as we should, we are bound to be faced with decisions that are agonising and cause great rain. That is so and needs to be said in the Government's defence.
On these Benches we shall watch carefully to see that the problems of officers and men facing the shock of redundancy are treated generously and sensitively. We shall watch to see that the Government fulfil their pledges that the smaller Army will be a better Army. We welcome the withdrawal of land-based tactical nuclear weapons and the end of what was always a dangerous and impracticable policy, that of flexible response. We welcome the modest moves towards European defence unity included in the Anglo-Italian agreement. We salute the victorious campaign of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, over "Endurance". However, there are still important disagreements between us on these Benches and the Government and we shall continue to press our views on Ministers until they are accepted.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Cheshire
My Lords, I feel that I cannot start my maiden speech without acknowledging the honour that I feel at being among you. For 12 years I watched my wife, Sue Ryder, make space in what I thought was already a totally full life in order to attend the debates, study the papers and prepare her speech. The warmth with which she spoke of the quality of the debates and the courtesy that she received is at least an encouragement. When she told me that her maiden speech was the easiest that she had ever made, I cannot say that that gave me great encouragement.
But as I stand here I am conscious that we ourselves stand at a critical threshold of world history. The century that we are now leaving must rate as one of the most momentous that the world has ever seen. Never have so many men, women and children been killed in war as in this century: never has state-organised tyranny so violated human dignity. Even the existence of civilisation itself has been threatened by the confrontation between two nuclear superpowers. Now, as we move through the closing years, nearly everything has changed. There is opening up a hope of 1126 a safer and better future and one that more conforms to the dignity of the individual. But whether we achieve that will depend on us. It will depend on governments primarily but also on every single person in his private capacity. So it is with the thought of what has happened in the past that I make my comments.
I look first at the mistakes. In 1914 there was euphoria in the nation. From on high there was the statement that the war would last for only a few weeks. It was said that it would end before the autumn leaves fell. Well, the leaves did fall, regiment upon regiment of them. They were not autumn leaves but green, spring leaves in the full vigour of first youth. By the time it was all over 25 million had died across the reaches of the warring countries. One would have thought that we had learnt our lesson. But we were thrown to the other end of the spectrum. There was fear of war, and disarmament and appeasement were the cries of the day. When Chamberlain took off from Croydon in 1938 it is reported that he looked down on the suburban houses and said, "If I fail in my mission these will be destroyed by bombing". But when he came into land at Munich he did not look down—or so it is reported—at Dachau, which was then in its fifth year of carrying out Hitler's oppressive extermination programme, and consider that issue.
I say that in no sense of criticism because for the most part, with some very notable exceptions, the nation thought the same. I say it because I think that we tend to be short-term and not long-term thinkers. Although as an air force man I do not like looking at other services, we do not have a crow's nest looking out at the distant horizon. We are concerned with the immediate. Much of what I have heard in the debate today is focused on the change in the perceived immediate threat.
The world has changed. The nature of war has undoubtedly changed, but human nature has not. Men of violence will still stalk the world. There is still greed for wealth and lust for power. I can see the possibility of new, strong ideological forces gathering, linked to national ambition. Technology not only gives the great state immense destructive power and high precision capability; it is going to give increasingly great power to the undercover terrorist. We do not know what lies ahead. No generation has ever before faced such an unknown, uncharted future. Therefore, I ask that we think deeply and carefully and do not jump too quickly.
I want to look at something which has not been discussed—that is to say, the full role of the Armed Forces. What the police force is on the national scene, the Armed Forces are on the international scene. There is as yet no world army so our own Armed Forces have to perform that role. We think of them as purely meeting external aggression, but we should start thinking of them as the keepers of law and order in the whole human family. That is not my own personal first thought because others have said it.
The United Nations is built on the sovereignty of the individual state. If there is one issue that all 165 members, or whatever it is, will agree on it is the necessity to respect that. But the human individual 1127 also has a sovereignty, and that sovereignty needs to be respected. If it is grossly violated in a nation either through the regime's active fault or because it cannot be bothered, then the United Nations should have the authority and the teeth to go in and do something. I realise that that is a step-by-step process but we should move towards it. If we are to move towards it we have to have Armed Forces that are capable of implementing it.
The policeman not only stops crime and keeps law and order but he helps people under certain circumstances. Now, as we sit here, Somalia is in civil strife. Only 10 or 20 per cent. of the food and aid convoys going there are getting through. I believe that there should be armed soldiers in blue United Nations berets escorting them and guaranteeing to the host country and to the donors that the aid is going exactly where it is needed and nowhere else and not being diverted into the black market.
The Armed Forces have a role to play in disaster relief which nobody else can play. They are organised and disciplined; they have communications, rapid deployment, medical and construction units and so on. They should be used more and more. We should move towards the day when there is a United Nations disaster relief force or capability. When nations are asked for a specific unit for a particular disaster, given availability, it should be sent. That means that those countries with disaster relief expertise in the military should pass that expertise on to smaller countries. Then the world would have a disaster relief capability which is far more effective and cost-effective than what we have today. Also, we need better intelligence—undercover work. I heard it said today that the initiative lies with the aggressor. If that is so it is because we lack the intelligence. We should know; we should be prepared; we should be stalking the aggressor, ready to stop him.
Only those who have served in the Armed Forces, particularly in war, know the value of tradition. When one joins one's first squadron, regiment or ship, one is a little frightened in war. But then one realises that one is walking a road that other men before you have walked. In a sense, one is in their shoes. One knows that one has to try and live up to the example they set. I am saying that the Armed Forces have a far greater role to play in the future good of mankind than we may think at present. I hope that we shall not let that opportunity go. I thank your Lordships for the courtesy of listening to my maiden speech.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I have had many great privileges in my comparatively short time in your Lordships' House, including that period when I had the great honour of being its Leader, but I do not think that I could possibly have a greater privilege than that which has been given to me this afternoon to thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cheshire, on a really remarkable maiden speech. It is very rare that one is given the chance to congratulate someone who one knows in one's heart is one of the really great men of our generation in peace and in war.
1128 We cannot be more grateful that the noble Lord has come to our House and will take part in our debates. The noble Lord said it was an honour for him to be here. I can only say to him in return that it is a very great honour for all of us to have him here. We are deeply grateful for what he said. It would be fair to say that from the number of people who have listened to the noble Lord's speech we shall be very anxious indeed to hear him again at the earliest possible opportunity. Following him I can make only the rather mundane comment that to make one's speech now is a very humbling experience indeed. I feel suitably humble in seeking to do so.
My attitude to changes in defence policy is conditioned by my experience in 1939. As a newly commissioned Army officer, much of my time was spent in training for trench warfare. We were instructed in all the details of life in the trenches; the doubts and every other aspect one could think of. Old officers who had been recalled to the colours after serving in the 1914–18 war were in their element. We younger ones—and just to get that into perspective it was, after all, 52 years ago—thought that it was all a terrible waste of time since we believed that we were being trained for the previous war and not the one in which we were about to be engaged. Within a year Hitler proved us right as his armed columns sped through Holland and Belgium, right up to the Channel coast at Dunkirk. I have never forgotten that harsh lesson. Therefore, I am an enthusiastic supporter of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in his determination to plan for the future, however difficult that may be.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, was perfectly fair in what he said. Planning for the future today is a very difficult exercise. It must be right to have your eyes on the future and to plan for the future. There can be no advantage for anyone to look back to the past and think we are going to fight the wars that have gone. Of course, the dramatic changes in Russia and Eastern Europe as a whole, leading to the end of the Warsaw Pact, demand substantial reductions in our Armed Forces. I hope that cliché will not go too far because it is very easy to say, "Of course that must be true". But there are many factors before one can just leap simply and totally to that conclusion. We have to recognise that we in Britain have substantial commitments of our own; for example, in Northern Ireland, Belize, Cyprus, Hong Kong and the Falklands. In the future we shall also have to find our contribution to the Rapid Response Corps in Europe.
In addition, there are many occasions when special forces are required to deal with sudden and totally unforeseen developments. It is well to remember how often in recent years we in Britain have had to help in such situations. Nor can any of us forget—unless we are very unwise—that we live in the most uncertain world possible; that any firm conclusions can easily be turned up the very next day. All that leads us to some very difficult answers in regard to the Government's proposals. I want to try to explain how I see it.
We have to decide whether it offers the right balance between the forces we are to retain in the future and the various commitments which we shall 1129 undoubtedly have to fulfil—those that we know about and, indeed, many that we do not know about. The trouble, of course, is that in these circumstance no one can be sure. It is one of the wisest things in life when one does not know the answer not to pretend that one does! So many people I have found in public life have failed on that score on so many occasions. They suggest that they know all the answers when it is perfectly obvious that they could not do so. One simply has to do one's best.
What I am clear about is that in the conditions that we face we must err on the side of safety. I feel that very strongly. There will be those who say that I have always erred on the side of safety too much. They are entitled to their view, but I feel sure that it is wise. I feel sure, too, that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence feels the same.
On that basis I have no reason to question many of his decisions. Indeed, I strongly support them. It seems to me that changes for the Royal Navy and the RAF ire widely accepted. Some of his recent decisions over equipment appear to be wise and, on the whole, generally welcome—though nothing can ever be wholly welcome. But when it comes to the Army there must be anxiety, particularly since his decisions are being so widely questioned. It is the Army which has to bear the brunt of the long-standing commitments such as Northern Ireland.
All these demand infantry battalions and these infantry battalions have to be found without overstretching the units concerned and without affecting the time for training which they must have and, I hope, will always be properly recognised and given. Nor must there be any question of robbing Peter to pay Paul in order to meet established commitments on a short-term basis. There have been many occasions in recent years when that has happened. I offer an example of that. It would surely be the height of folly for the Army to get into the position of having to take troops out of Northern Ireland in order to meet the requirements of the Rapid Response Corps in Europe. Such action, if it had to be taken. would give great heart to the IRA. With some experience of Irish affairs I can only tell your Lordships that if one chose to do that heart would be given to the IRA just at the moment when it needs to be presented with a particularly firm front.
On the other hand, I fully understand that there will be a substantial reduction of infantry battalions in Germ my and that as a result many extra battalions will be accommodated in the United Kingdom. That will cause some considerable administration problems for a e Army but in many other ways it will be workable. Taking all those considerations into account I simply have to admit that the reduction of 17 infantry battalions causes me real anxiety. Fortunately, however, I understand that this reduction will be phased out over a number of years and that some of the regimental amalgamations, particularly the highly contentious Scottish ones, will not be completed until 1994–95. There is, therefore, time for reflection by the Government. I hope, 1130 therefore, that there will not blow up in the Ministry of Defence an obstinate determination to cling to the present plans whatever the changes in circumstances.
Those of us who are anxious about the present reductions in infantry battalions may well be wrong. But as there are many far more knowledgeable than I am who appear to feel like this, I hope that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence will be ready at least to accept, and to consider his actions accordingly, that maybe—just maybe—we shall be proved right.
There is another important reason for avoiding too rigid a position on the plans. Regimental amalgamations once made will mean far more than a reduction in a battalion. I wish that the people who deride the regimental spirit would understand the feelings of those who have served in a regiment and who are immensely proud of what they regard as a family. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Cheshire, gave us a very good example of that this afternoon. I admit freely that I am deeply attached to the Scots Guards, in which I had the privilege to serve. Naturally, I regret our loss of a battalion, but I do not intend to argue on that score, or indeed against the decision. But I want to refer to some of the other amalgamations, and briefly to one which I understand but do not so fully appreciate as the others.
The Cheshire/Staffordshire amalgamation is deeply felt in the area and it should be looked at alongside the Scottish regimental amalgamations, which are different. The regimental family becomes part of the life not only of those who serve in it but of the area in which it recruits. The disruption of the family, therefore, not only affects the men in the regiment itself; it changes the whole attitude to the Army in the areas concerned. If I speak particularly on the feeling in Scotland it is because I am a Scotsman. I was brought up in the area closely concerned with one of the amalgamations and my wife comes from the other. Therefore I find it a little boring when people say, "You don't know anything about it. You're only an old buffer and you're much too old to have any views". I mind that because I do not think it is wholly fair. I know the feelings aroused in these parts of Scotland because I am frequently there and know the people very well. I have seen how the people there have provided generations to serve in those regiments, both in peace and in war.
Whatever the cynics may say, many of those connected with these regiments at all levels feel betrayed and disillusioned. I say specifically "at all levels" because I have heard the excuse that these protests are all officer led; I must tell anyone who thinks that that he is totally wrong, I believe in local pride and local loyalties, and therefore I hate to see such hard feelings aroused in people who feel proud of the British Army and all that goes with it. If, therefore, in the years immediately ahead there is a good reason to change some of these plans, I hope the opportunity will be taken to do so, for the future of the Army will be much improved if regimental spirit can be fully maintained and some of the feelings inevitably aroused by what, as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, are very difficult decisions can be overcome. 1131 These considerations, although on the fringe of the big decisions, need to be voiced for they are held by many people and in my view have real importance for our future.
In conclusion, I return, as is right and proper, to the basic strategy. As I have made clear throughout my speech, on that I strongly support my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and I applaud his considerable courage in facing up to many difficult decisions.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, the noble Viscount need provide no explanation as to his authority to speak with great knowledge. We fully accept that his knowledge is based on experience. Furthermore, he had the most difficult job I have known anyone in your Lordships' House to have—namely, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cheshire. The practice in our House is that only the noble Lord who follows a maiden speaker congratulates him on his speech, but it will be very difficult for your Lordships not to take note of a remarkable achievement. It emphasises a point that I should like to make.
It is difficult in your Lordships' House to get through 40 speakers in a couple of hours. We damage our activities in trying to do so. I do not know whether we should have continued the debate on a Friday or whether there is some other way we could have done it. I do not blame the leadership. If I blame anyone, I blame all the leaders. We are in danger of damaging our activities. Here we have the most expert community. We have noble and gallant Lords of great authority who will speak in the course of a debate in which 40 others have put down their names to speak. I recall that in the Commons—this may be remembered by those who were there in 1945—we used to have a mini-debate in the course of the Estimates. It did not work very well. On one occasion I was due to make my maiden speech when the Speaker got up to return the House to the main debate. I did know whether I should get up. I left the Chamber suffering from the worst of all frustrated speeches, a frustrated maiden speech. However, there is something to be said for setting time aside. I ask for consideration to be given to that suggestion.
The theme on which I wish to speak is HMS "Endurance" and I shall do so briefly. First, I shall do something very strange for me. I shall congratulate the Government. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, has had a difficult time in your Lordships' House when we have bombarded him with questions to which, through no fault of his own, he did not know the answer. I am grateful to noble Lords and noble Baronesses, including the noble Lords, Lord Callaghan, Lord Chalfont and Lord Boyd-Carpenter, who put across the case for a successor to HMS "Endurance". Now we know that there is a splendid ship, the "Polar Circle", which was first mentioned in your Lordships' House. We urged the Government to look at it and finally, rather slowly and rather reluctantly, they did. Now, this ship—I offer this information to the noble Earl—is coming into Portsmouth tomorrow morning. 1132 I do not know whether he can confirm that. He is not always told these things, I fear. The Ministry of Defence is the most secretive body I know, but I shall not go on with that because I want to say some nice things about the "Polar Circle".
Will the noble Earl arrange for a description of the "Polar Circle" to be placed in the Library. A number of noble Lords have asked me whether this Norwegian ship is any good. I should like to say that it is outstandingly good. It is the best ship available in the world for the purpose of peace in the Antarctic. The "Endurance" has fulfilled a peacekeeping role down there. It is important not just to the Falklands. It is used for maintaining the Antarctic Treaty and for carrying out hydrography. By the way, I say to the House that there is not the slightest danger for a good many years of anyone mining through 1,000 feet of ice. Ships do go down there and "Endurance" has rescued many people who otherwise would have been drowned when ships have hit unidentified rocks.
"Endurance" was originally brought on by the Hydrographer, Admiral Sir Edmund Irving, who was well known to many of us. She has done a wonderful job. Can the Minister say what the procedures are for the switch from HMS "Endurance" to the "Polar Circle"? Will there be a decommissioning ceremony? When the old lady "Endurance" goes, we ought to say goodbye to her in style. She has done a wonderful job down there. I believe that many people have great affection for her.
Indeed, the commissioning of the new ship is also important because she will carry many responsibilities. For example, there is the maintenance of the Antarctic Treaty and the continuation of the scientific work. I shall give your Lordships a whole list of activities. She is well equipped as a ship. She is an ice-breaker, which HMS "Endurance" never was. She can ram a piece of ice three feet thick at three knots and break it. No other British ship can do that. She also has splendid passenger accommodation. In fact we have got a snip. My only complaint is that we ought to have bought her or taken her on a long lease. However, the Ministry of Defence was so nervous about the whole thing that it has taken her the most expensive way, on short-term charter. But thank goodness we have her. A decision will have to be made some time soon as regards the future.
I should like to ask the noble Earl—although he may not know the answer—what arrangements have been made for members of the press to see the new ship so that they can realise what her role will be. The crew are already on board in Norway. The captain is ready to return to England. I hope that the Ministry of Defence finally order him back. I do not know the reason for the delay, although perhaps he may know. It is one of the mysteries.
I believe that the cost of hiring the ship for one season is far more than it would have been had we hired her for five years. The Minister in another place in a winding-up speech (made late at night so that the press never received it) gave a sort of half promise that the Government were determined—the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong—to continue the 1133 programme of HMS "Endurance" which is supporting British Antarctic Surveys and many other things. In January when a final decision has to be taken, I hope that the option which the Government now have to acquire the "Polar Circle" will be activated. The best thing would be to buy the ship. She is cheap at the price—cheaper, I am sorry to say, than anything we could build ourselves.
Perhaps I may mention one further point—the name of the ship. I feel a slight embarrassment in urging the name of HMS "Endurance" because of the family connection. But it is such a well-known name and well identified in the Falklands. I should stress that the new ship is not going down to defend the Falklands because they are already adequately defended. She is a symbol and a symbol to other countries down there. It is important that she should have a name which is recognisable. I hope that HMS "Endurance" will be the name. Many people have advocated this. All the captains of HMS "Endurance" and the crews want it.
In conclusion, can the Minister, who has had quite a lot to cope with in the past—I promised that I would be kind to him today, not that he needs anyone to be kind to him because he can look after himself—take note of the following? If we take the name HMS "Endurance", there is a bit of money to be saved—for example, the cap ribbons, the ship's badges, life-belts, stationery and stores. All those could be moved across from one ship to the other. As the Admiralty's purpose these days seems to be largely to save money rather than spend it, that should be a strong argument.
If in the end, as I hope, the Government honour their undertaking to continue the work of HMS "Endurance"—and that is what they said in the other place—I trust that all my colleagues, including those in the House of Lords, will give firm support to the reappointment of the "Polar Circle" in January. I hope that she will continue for many years. We shall get excellent value for money and the world will get excellent value from her.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ The Duke of Westminster
My Lords, I am deeply grateful and, indeed, honoured to have been given the opportunity to speak in this immensely important debate, especially as it is my debut.
Perhaps I may turn your Lordships' attention to the Territorial Army. I am compelled to do so because I have served as a Territorial Army officer for some 19 years. I am presently second-in-command of my regiment and, God willing, due to command it early next year.
Along with many thousands of other men and women, we in the TA have spent some of the happiest and most rewarding moments of our lives on regimental duty; otherwise, frankly, we would not do it. By and large, we believe in service not for reward but because service in itself is a fine thing. Some sections of opinion have referred to us as the "army of the unemployed". That is not so, and clearly and demonstrably not so. For example, my own regiment, which recruits in the North East, the North West and in Scotland, has 83 per cent. in full-time work. This, 1134 alongside some of the public misconceptions as to our dedication and sense of duty, is frankly an insult to the soldiers and their families who have given up so much.
We fundamentally believe that what we are doing is right. We believe that we are making a contribution to society within the limitations of our family and business lives, and we believe that the unique spirit of the volunteer is good for the individual and the nation.
My regiment, as well as others, has had to face change before and we will face change again with understanding and maturity. However, it is my hope that out of change we can achieve better things and emerge with a stronger, more flexible and better trained reserve force. Otherwise the exercise of change is fruitless and will have a subsequent effect on morale, recruiting and retention—bearing in mind that we also provide a constant stream of well-trained soldiers and officers for the Regular Army.
The TA soldier serves for different and more complicated reasons than his regular counterpart. However, he has exactly the same hopes and aspirations for the well-being of his regiment or battalion. The loyalties that stretch back some 300 years are still as strong now and indeed as vibrant as they were on formation. Therefore, out of change it is crucial that we are able to maintain many of these links of loyalty and preserve our identities and our traditions.
The Army that I joined some 19 years ago as Trooper Grosvenor has changed over the ensuing years out of all proportion. We are better equipped, better trained and infinitely more professional in our outlook and in our attitudes; and for over 20 years we have provided the substantial part of the NATO reserve and the defence of the home base. I have to pose the question—at what cost? In the 1990–91 Defence Budget, it is estimated at some 2 per cent. of the whole.
We have trained our soldiers to a high standard, at considerable cost in terms of family and business life—notwithstanding the substantial investment of taxpayers' money. We have built an esprit de corps based on the traditions of the volunteer—those being loyalty, self-sacrifice, courage and above all a sense of fun. In terms of self-sacrifice, who is this person who will leave or change jobs because his or her employers will not allow time off for regimental duties? Who is this person who takes unpaid holidays to attend courses or annual camp? Who is this person who turns up on a Friday evening, straight from work, and returns late on Sunday night in order to return to the workplace on a Monday morning? It is that conundrum which is the TA soldier. I hope that we shall never waste these spiritual and material ingredients. I feel that they are crucial for us.
I believe that the TA commands a very special place in the hearts and minds of local communities, as do its regular counterparts. The TA centre plays an important pivotal role in terms of the social and regimental life of the soldiers and the community as a whole. The best methods of recruiting, despite the substantial sums of money spent on advertising, are still by word of mouth and through friendships at home or in the workplace. That is demonstrably so.
1135 I have already referred to the fact that if change is to take place, we should look for better things to emerge. Perhaps I may be bold enough to share a few quick thoughts with your Lordships. First, I believe that the future of the TA lies in a general purpose role, against a background of an ill-defined threat. I further suggest that to meet that role both TA cavalry and infantry battalions should be issued with the same equipment respectively in order to give us a flexibility and the ability to rotate to provide interest and opportunity.
Secondly, Options for Change suggests a better and smaller Army. However, I urge that for the TA we need a proper level of sustainable funding to provide the training, aids and facilities that we require. Furthermore, perhaps a contract of service should be considered with, say, some 40 to 42 training days per man. The difficulty that my regiment faced, alongside many others, during the current training year, having been given 46 training days per man and having planned its training programme accordingly, was that the days were cut to 36 at four months' notice, and then to 35, but six months later reinstated to 40. To say that I have difficulty in training a regiment under those conditions is perhaps an understatement of British proportions.
Thirdly, there are our terms of service. The current system—waiting for Queen's Order to be signed before call up—reduces our credibility. They should be reviewed to meet the ill-defined threat and national emergencies; in other words, call up when required. It is interesting to note that under our current terms of service the volunteer had to volunteer once again for service in the Gulf—he had to volunteer twice.
Fourthly, I am aware that much effort has been made to strengthen the links between the TA and employers, with some success in terms of TA soldiers being allowed time off for regimental duty. However, the situation is still not satisfactory, and I urge the Government to address their minds further to that crucial problem against the background that the culture and understanding of service in the Armed Forces among employers is not as strong now as it has been.
Finally, the changes will be traumatic for many soldiers, especially the senior ranks with long and distinguished service. I suggest that there should be a transitional phase of three to five years so that they may readjust and replan their lives just as our regular counterparts have to readjust and replan their lives.
Bearing in mind convention on these occasions, I have been able to give your Lordships only a thumbnail sketch of the hopes and aspirations of some 75,000 men and women who constitute our reserve—who serve without fuss or flamboyancy under sometimes trying conditions at home and in the workplace. Our hopes are now in the hands of those managing our change and our trust lies in the fact that they understand us. I thank your Lordships for the courtesy that you have extended to me. I thank you for listening.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Lord Bramall
My Lords, I am delighted to be following the noble Duke, the Duke of Westminster, and to have an opportunity to congratulate him on his most telling and excellent speech. He contributes enormously to the community in a number of ways, but no more so than in the reserve forces and the Territorial Army, which he leads from in front. As your Lordships have heard, he will shortly be commanding a regiment. I sincerely hope that after Options for Change, which has announced plans for the Territorial Army, he will still have a regiment to command.
§ Lord Bramall
My Lords, I am sure that he will. His contribution to the debate has greatly enriched it. We hope that we shall have the benefit of his informed wisdom in the months ahead. Perhaps I may also say how inspiring it was for me to listen to the maiden speech of my noble, and I feel I should say gallant, friend Lord Cheshire, who knows war so well in all its aspects and has done so much for mankind in peace as well. His words will long remain in our minds.
This is an important debate, because what the Government intend in Options for Change is bound to have an effect, long after Ministers have gone from the scene, on this country's influence and interests abroad; on the general security of the United Kingdom and perhaps the world; and on the performance and professionalism of the Armed Forces, to say nothing of the well-being of 63,000 servicemen and their families from the Army alone who will be returning to civilian life between now and the spring of 1995, 17,000 of whom will have been made redundant.
It is important to get the end product as right as possible. I do not have to remind your Lordships that there is in the Armed Forces a widespread feeling that, far from having got it right, those who have served the country so steadfastly in peace and war have been badly let down; and that the cuts, although in many cases inevitable and sensible, have now gone too deep. They especially resent the final few turns of the screw on manpower which they attribute almost entirely to Treasury pressure about which their Ministers and senior officers can of course only advise and have been unable to resist as they would have wished. Over that, they are of course right. If the Minister continues to refute that, I can easily produce chapter and verse.
Of course some will say, "They would say that, wouldn't they?", but, as someone who can perhaps more easily distance himself from the raw emotions of those who in the prime of their service can expect to find themselves redundant and facing a most adverse labour market, I too view the exercise with sadness and considerable scepticism: sadness that this Government should have found it necessary to reduce a great national asset quite so greatly when the world is still an uncertain and dangerous place; and scepticism that, as presently funded, the Government will be able to deliver all the rhetoric on page 40 of the White Paper and in the Minister's speech about the dangers that still lurk and forces which, although 1137 smaller, are somehow better and able to meet efficiently and without the present overstretch the day-to-day commitments that invariably keep coming their way and that in the event have had little to do with the possibility, or now impossibility, of an attack in central Europe.
That the Secretary of State had to do something, there was of course no doubt. The disappearance of any imminent credible threat of a general European war galled for some significant political gesture at least, and perhaps as much, if not more, as regards what I believe remains our belt and braces nuclear capability. With defence expenditure having already declined by 11 per cent. in real terms over the past five years while force structures remained largely unchanged and, according to the Chancellor's Statement of last November, due to fall a further 6 per cent. over the next two to three years whatever emerged from the Options exercise, decisions on the size and shape of the Armed Forces were urgently needed. Without them the defence programme would have drifted even more out of alignment and would have faced arbitrary "salami" cuts and a return to the 1930s, when, as many in your Lordships' House will remember, there were men but no equipment or ammunition and no ability to train and everything was done with gas rattles.
From that starting point, I welcome the review and accept that some of the force reductions were necessary, merely to put the programme into better balance. There is sadness nonetheless that continuing financial pressures have forced those cuts to go as deep as they have when we consider not just the contribution made by the Armed Forces to the country's general life but also those ongoing commitments which have been mentioned and which are unique compared with other European countries.
It is no good saying, "We must be doing the right thing because everyone else is doing it". Our commitments and responsibilities are unique in Europe. Other than the forward defence along the inner German border—the forces for which were in any case doubly earmarked for Northern Ireland and other emergencies—the commitments and responsibilities show little sign of change in the time period we are talking of. In Hong Kong 1997 is still a long way off.
Certainly, the Soviet Union, as it was, is down and out, though whether more so than the Germans in the 19203 under the Weimar Republic, I do not know. However, a mixture of rampant ethnic rivalries throughout Europe, suspect and inexperienced governments struggling with unaccustomed democracy and a number of hard-line and ambitious activists either on the march or sulking in their tents makes it far too early to say how the balance of power and stability in Europe and the Mediterranean will be affected five, 10 or 15 years ahead. Look what happened between 1919 and 1939.
In any case, even at the height of the cold war when I was a chief of staff, I was always conscious that events outside NATO were more likely to involve this country in the deployment of military force in some capacity than the more obvious threat which was 1138 largely taken care of by the stability of NATO and the balance of terror. This was historically borne out by such crises as required us to dig deep into our total military resources—the Gulf was a good case in point, with the Rhine Army completely grounded—occurring with unfailing regularity every nine to 10 years.
In all of these, whatever the conventional wisdom before or since, the government of the day felt obliged to become involved in military terms. With many unresolved problems in the Middle East and elsewhere and with man's propensity—about which my noble friend Lord Cheshire spoke—to resort to violence at the drop of a hat, there is little reason to believe that the sequence will be broken.
Yet the professionalism and quality that was seen in the Falklands and again in the Gulf and to which the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, drew attention cannot be turned off and on again at the drop of a hat. It must be nurtured over the years from a basis of confidence, self-respect, esprit de corps and commitment which is now being put under strain. Thus the sadness tinged with apprehension is all too understandable.
However, much will depend on what these reduced forces will be capable of at the end of the day. If they turn out to be truly differently organised, fully recruited and funded, better equipped and thus able to maintain operational capability and, with the help of the Territorial Army and other reserves (much more easily mobilised than they are at present), to expand rapidly in any emergency, then we could just get by for a bit. Some of the strategic thinking which has emerged in the review seems admirable. I refer to the British-led rapid reaction force, which, apart from its value for and in NATO, is still the cornerstone of European collective security, as the Prime Minister said. It would give us, from within the United Kingdom components, the capability to operate outside Europe with allies, if the need arose, or to operate in support of the United Nations as was suggested, or in disaster relief.
I also welcome the Government's statement about not turning away volunteers for the Territorial Army and the other reserve forces which, at extremely low cost, provide not only much needed reserves and reinforcements but also valuable roots for the regular forces in the civilian community—something which is more than ever needed now.
I should like an assurance from the Minister that the 63,000 to 65,000 personnel announced as the new and proper figure for the Territorial Army will be funded at that strength. Otherwise, there is no incentive to recruit to the maximum, and no ability for commanding officers to train a full establishment.
This is where my scepticism comes in. In making these claims an important point seems to have been overlooked or swept under the carpet. It is tilt physical changes of this magnitude require a great del of money up front if the requirements are to be properly met in the timescale allotted: money to ray for the necessary redeployment, movement cots, 1139 alteration and rebuilding of accommodation and above all the good employer measures relating to redundancy—vital resettlement and housing.
Nothing to speak of had actually been done about houses for service people as opposed to it being talked about and studied endlessly over the past 10 years. As a result, through no fault of their own, particularly in the Army, such people have one of the poorest levels of home ownership of any group in the country. If they continue to be so immensely disadvantaged in this way, it will impose an additional strain on those facing redundancy and trying to resettle in civilian life and on their families. I hope that the Secretary of State's statement about preferential mortgage made in the other place will be a start to a more specific commitment on home ownership as part of a resettlement package. I hope that there will not just be further promises of yet more studies. However, this will all need more money up front. It does not seem to be there; as the Minister well knows, the shortfall is still colossal.
Then, with a strong armoured division remaining in Germany, I strongly question—indeed I know it is impossible—whether 116,000 men (which means 104,000 trained men) will be sufficient to support both operationally and logistically not only those forces at proper unit strength but all the Army's other commitments. As the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, said, that includes particularly the Northern Ireland commitment, which shows no sign of diminishing and from time to time has a nasty habit of sucking in more troops.
The 116,000 (or perhaps I should say 104,000) figure is now doubly suspect. Not only has the military advice been consistently set at around or even just above the original figure of 120,000, with only the Treasury dissenting, but since the reduced figure was released two extra battalions have, for whatever reason, been retained without any extra manpower or money to sustain them. Thus either equally important parts of the programme will have to suffer or all units will have to be made correspondingly weaker. Such cheeseparing over unit strength will greatly reduce motivation as well as efficiency and make a mockery of the "smaller but better" image.
There are similar question marks over the equipment programme, which is already slipping for financial reasons, although some good decisions have been taken. That could have a serious effect on the operational capability and viability of all three services. However, I shall leave other noble Lords to talk about it. For the moment, it is manpower, particularly for the Army, and the funding to support it that concerns me most. Unless the Secretary of State wins the Prime Minister's backing in order to obtain more money out of the Treasury in the short term—which must include some alleviation of the manpower ceiling—the aspirations of the White Paper will be meaningless. We shall end up for sure with smaller forces, equally overstretched and under-funded and with considerably less operational capability for any emergency. The flaws in the Options for Change exercise will then be there for all to see.
1140 There is much to do before anyone can be really satisfied with the outcome of Options for Change and before the Government can live up to their promises and keep faith with the splendid men and women who serve in our Armed Forces and who, we must trust, will continue to do so. I hope therefore that Ministers will show a degree of flexibility and use the next few months to correct the review's more obvious flaws which their professional advisers, who are quoted when it suits Ministers and not when it does not suit them, will be only too ready to point out to them.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Wedgwood
My Lords, I feel thoroughly humble at being included among the maiden speakers who are to speak in this debate in your Lordships' House today, especially in view of the fact that for a moment I thought I would have to use my parade ground voice.
Sometimes referred to as Pontius Pilate's bodyguard, but undoubtedly raised by Royal Warrant in 1633, the Royal Scots, who are the Royal Regiment, the 1st of Foot and Right of the Line have been included among other famous regiments for proposed amalgamation. They will therefore be lost at the stroke of a pen. As a past serving regular soldier with the Royal Scots I declare a special interest. However, the possible demise of this and other great regiments that have protected and fought for this nation for a combined total of many hundreds of years is more than an emotive subject of precedence based on heritage.
I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for granting me an early interview. Although sympathetic to my point of view he was unable to agree with me. I am sure other noble Lords have found that to be the case. However, the implications of the proposed reductions are extremely serious and I am bound to stand before noble Lords and raise them today.
The ability of Her Majesty's Armed Forces to react to the deployment in the Gulf during the recent crisis was a credit to the leadership, training and professionalism of those forces. The crucial role that all units played in supporting the United States' offensive and effectively cementing the precarious coalition was admired and applauded around the world. But troops had to be mustered, primarily from Germany. It is argued that the threat in Europe at that time had sufficiently decreased so as to make this a natural option. If it was not clear before it must be abundantly clear today that the balance of power in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union is not stable. The threat today is conceivably more dangerous than it was during the so-called Cold War.
Not only did "Desert Storm" leave the forces in BAOR shamefully depleted but it greatly reduced our ability to react to any other call to arms. On the home front there may be a desire to bury heads in the sand over Northern Ireland. The force levels there are low and at any time regiments may be required to reinforce them. Where will they come from? Civil disturbances or crises will not go away. Who goes to clear the rat-infested streets of Glasgow and man ambulances 1141 or ancient fire-fighting machines, as I did in the mid-1970s with raw recruits? We obviously did not have adequate forces then and we certainly shall not have them in the future on the basis of the reductions.
It is admirable for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence to seek ways to reduce the defence budget. That is his responsibility. It is also most considerate that he consulted,widely within the Army on how the restructuring should be achieved".On 23rd July in this House the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, expressed his anxiety about the remaining number of units. He said of the proposed Army strength of 116,000,as far as I know the professional advice has never deviated from tie figure of 120,000".—[Official Report, 23/7/91; col. 674.]Further anxiety was shown when the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, asked what "magic calculation" had led to the statement. It seems that the Army Board's professional advice was not sufficient and other figures were required in the magic calculation. It is no wonder that there is considerable anxiety throughout the nation on the subject of our defence.
Perhaps that anxiety is most poignant in Scotland, where the injustice, and more specifically, the inequities of the proposed amalgamations have outraged the population, who do not like to see their military history and traditions decimated here in Westminster without due cause. The loyal serving officers and men of the Scottish regiments are required to support these reductions while personally feeling immense betrayal.
Wales has escaped the hammer on any of its cap badge; and although collectively in England five are to be lost, including one close to the heart of my kinsman, the potters of Staffordshire, none is going from the King's Division; yet just to the north of this division, the Scottish Division will lose four cap badges, creating misery for us all. Of course there is anger and outrage. These regiments are well recruited, with a proven potential to sustain strength in the future. This is most significant in the Lowland area, where the Royal Scots are headquartered and excess recruits are taken by the Highland regiments. The added pain is that such a well recruited regiment will increase, through certain redundancies, the already desperate unemployment situation in Edinburgh and the Lothians.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence said at the end of his Statement:Everyone who recognises the great benefits that flow from regimental loyalty and tradition understands that, as with amalgamations in the past, that same spirit is carried forward into lb; reformed Regiments".Again, one of the great benefits of the British Army is that loyal officers and men act on and obey orders. Of course that spirit will be carried forward. Many noble Lords will remember the amalgamation that took place in 1959 between the Highland Light Infantry and the Royal Scots Fusiliers. Members of the amalgamated regiment, the Royal Highland Fusiliers, are still asking each other which side of the family they 1142 are from. That division has not healed in 32 years. Those fine regiments have lost their identity in their respective regimental areas.
Edinburgh will be even further angered in losing its regiment after cementing its 350-year association with the Royal Scots by allowing them to march through the streets of the city with drums beating, bayonets fixed and colours flying. Clearly that spirit will never be carried forward through this form of disbandment.
In any theatre of conflict, whether it is a crisis at home, protecting our interests abroad or in support of our allies, the infantry must play a role and most often bears the brunt of all activity. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence said in his Statement on the Defence Estimates that the strategy for future defence policy,is based on the ability to adapt to change both internationally and in NATO; the maintenance of force structures with the flexibility to respond to new circumstances".That is admirable rhetoric but how can this be done? The infantry battalions are and will be outnumbered by commitments.
The figures simply do not add up. The ACE rapid reaction force—we have heard a great deal about that today—will have an allocation of 19 infantry battalions. In order to be effective this force must train and work together from top to bottom and front to rear in a very close relationship. As we initiated the idea of such an organisation, it would be futile to steal units from this force for other operations. Our overseas garrisons will occupy a further five battalions.
Fifteen battalions remain for the direct defence of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. A meagre two and a half battalions will be available for roulement in the Province, which makes that programme impossible, even if Royal Marines are loaned from the Admiralty. It also means that there will be no available battalions for public duties or any form of exercise or training, even the special training which is an absolute requirement for service in Northern Ireland. Under these circumstances the much valued and respected professionalism of our troops will be hopelessly diminished. The Army will chase its own tail, deaf even to the bark of a small-time despot.
In summary, the Army Board suggested a strength of 120,000, which was dismissed for the figure of 116,000. We should deduct from this 12,000 non-combatants, recruits or others not at arms. A new figure of 104,000 makes a mockery of the July Statement and would leave this country perilously short of a vital link in the already overstretched chain of defence.
Prior to the Statement it was announced that two infantry battalions, one of which was incongruously a parachute battalion would be "added back". That is another indication that the magic calculation was imprecise. It is not too late to remove the "magic" and provide realistic numbers in this vitally important calculation.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence may talk about "smaller but better". However, until we are assured of a less volatile world 1143 and the ACE rapid reaction force is well established and fully supported by our allies there will be many deserving regiments included in additional "add-backs". At the top of the list will be a well-recruited Lowland Scottish regiment, raised in 1633, standing at the right of the line.
It is worth remembering that the motto of the First of Foot is also that of the ancient kings of Scotland: nemo me impune lacessit.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, on behalf of the whole House I have great pleasure in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, on his maiden speech. Noble Lords will probably be aware that I did not agree entirely with every word of it, but the noble Lord expressed his point of view with such clarity and persuasiveness that I am sure that we shall all listen to what he has to say in future whether or not we agree with every word. I am not entirely without sympathy for his argument, as I hope I shall make clear.
Following an earlier debate on a White Paper a colleague said to me, "You really ought not to do that". I said, "To do what?" He said, "To talk about the White Paper in the debate about the White Paper because it is really not done. It is not the thing. You can refer to it and talk around it but not talk about the White Paper". I thought that that was a lot of nonsense and I propose once again to refer to the White Paper. However, I shall do so only briefly because, for reasons which I shall make clear, the Defence White Paper which we are discussing tonight has been rendered out of date by events.
The speech of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, today was very much more to the point than the White Paper. The noble Earl has at least moved to a considerable degree with events. In fact, I am tempted to welcome him as a nuclear disarmer. He suggested in the course of his speech that a large quantity of nuclear arms would be disposed of. It is true that the Government are trailing behind the United States of America and certainly behind Mr. Gorbachev, who talks of a nuclear-free world—something I have hoped to see—but for the first time we are beginning to see a movement in that direction. That movement, supported by the main sources of arms—the United States and the USSR—has become so strong that we in this country are also moving in that direction. Therefore, for the first time—and I did not expect it—we have heard the noble Earl, Lord Arran, say openly that he wants to get rid of a large number of nuclear weapons. He has reached a conclusion with which I do not agree, but nevertheless that conclusion is very much better than some conclusions which he has reached on earlier occasions.
The White Paper is an attractive package of charts, words and colour pictures. There is a picture of a mountain rescue team and of Archie Hamilton talking to the kiddiwinks in a London nursery, but not a word about killing anyone, although the object of the exercise in war is to kill more of them than they do of us. Nevertheless, it is a well-produced document. I had intended to talk quite a bit about it but I have since 1144 decided that that would be futile because we are no longer talking about that document; we are talking about subsequent events.
The Government are not as wholehearted as I would wish in their move towards nuclear disarmament, but we must be thankful for small mercies. The requirement for nuclear weapons in Europe now is nil, as Bush and Gorbachev have perceived. That perception has not yet dawned upon Her Majesty's Government but I think that it will. I expect that it will eventually be realised that the boss in Washington is turning unilateralist and that all the money that we intend to spend on Trident will be wasted, as all the money that the world has spent on nuclear weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki has been wasted. Perhaps the money spent on the weapons used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was not entirely wasted. Tens of thousands of people were killed and injured, cities were razed and our civilisation entered into what may be, if we are not very careful, its final stage.
The intense danger, the inevitable catastrophe, of nuclear proliferation has at last been grasped by the two main sources of nuclear weapons. They intend to reduce the danger by moving back to the status quo post bellum and the days when the world was dominated by the two great stocks of strategic ballistic missiles—that is, back to mutually assured destruction (MAD). It is better to go back to MAD than to continue on our present path of proliferation which, as I shall show in a moment, cannot be stopped for reasons which I believe are incontrovertible.
It has been realised at last that one cannot stand still. One either goes forward to the end of the process upon which one has embarked or one retreats to a safer position. I believe that Gorbachev and Bush have concluded that we must now retreat to a safer position. I want to go back beyond that position, but it will undoubtedly be an improvement to return to two large stocks of strategic ballistic missiles rather than have a proliferation of nuclear weapons all over the face of the globe.
Although I attacked the policy of mutually assured destruction—as, incidentally, did Neil Kinnock by my side from the same platform more than once—one would have to be really insane not to appreciate that MAD plus proliferation equals nuclear war. That is a proposition which it is hard to refute.
In turn, proliferation cannot be stopped while the major powers deploy some strategic nukes all over the world and proliferate vertically themselves all the time. That is only one reason why the decision to retain Trident is so wrong.
The division of states into nuclear and pre-nuclear nationalities warring with each other enhances the danger, as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, pointed out. However, he did not carry that perception to the proper conclusion. If the present effort by the two great nuclear states—the USA and the USSR, as I still call it from habit—involves the sacrifice of our Trident, that is a price which the Americans will be willing to pay. Therefore, it is not much good talking about putting the unfinished Tridents into the negotiations when the big boys have gone unilateral.
1145 As I have said, the White Paper was written before that and the penny had not dropped when the Labour Party was in Brighton the week before last. With the Liberals it has still not dropped apparently. The nuclear disarmament bandwagon has at last begun to roll. Alas, the Labour leadership has chosen this moment to jump off. Sooner or later it will have to climb on again because everyone else is getting on. The wagon is moving, so I hope that Labour will jump on quickly even if it involves an exchange of duties by some slow-coach shadows.
The White Paper refers to our strategic nuclear force as,the cornerstone of our defence capability".It is a good job that it is not. What building could exist long with such a grotty, rust-ridden and collapsible cornerstone? We might as well get rid of it and keep some regiments for a while. That may be sentimental, but I AM rather persuaded by the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, that it is not all sentimental. In many cases it is better to be sentimental about the past than to blow the world to pieces in the present. If we are within sight of a non-nuclear world, is it not better to have the Royal Scots than the alternative? Of course it is. They could even march through the City of London doing whatever it is that they do.
TASM now seems likely to be another massive waste of money. As for the European Fighter Aircraft, who is going to attack Europe—Africa or Asia? Surely it will not be America. I view with some alarm the proposed Rapid Reaction Corps, as I do the spectacle of NATO thrashing about the Continent looking for an enemy. The adoption of the Western European Union as a military cloak also seems to be rather an oddity.
Is it true, as the White Paper states, that Britain is leading endeavours to stop chemical proliferation? I thought it was, but there now seems to be some evidence to the contrary. This matter wants looking into if the Government's intention, as I believe it to be, to take the lead in avoiding chemical proliferation is being got round. I understand that the Government are looking into this question. I am glad that they are because if we are to take the lead the Government must not only do that, but they must not allow economic considerations to get round their own intentions in the matter.
The Defence White Paper died the day after it was published. It is now no more than an interesting and well-produced historic document. However, it was nice to see a picture of Archie and the kiddies.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Lord Carver
My Lords, I am well aware that it is a convention of the House that only those speakers who follow the maiden speakers act on behalf of the whole House to express their congratulations, but I find it impossible not to express my admiration for the eloquence of all three maiden speakers and for the obviously genuine strong feelings which lay behind their speeches. It was a particularly nice concatenation of circumstances—I do not think that it was a coincidence—that my noble friend Lord Cheshire, 1146 whom I find it rather difficult not to call gallant, made his maiden speech on the same day that my noble friend Lord Craig of Radley was introduced, thus restoring a little degree of joint service balance to the group of noble and gallant ex-Chiefs of Defence Staff in this House.
I am not joining the chorus of those old and bold types who protest that the reductions in the Armed Forces, originally announced in July 1990 and confirmed with some minor changes in the two Defence White Papers that we are discussing today, have gone too far; and that, in the light of the Gulf war, the uncertain situation in the Soviet Union and events in Yugoslavia, the Government should have revised their proposals and been more cautious in the reductions that they propose over the next five years. That view was taken by the Defence Committee and others in another place, influenced no doubt by pressure from representatives, mostly retired, of the organisations that were to be seriously affected by the reductions.
I do not take that line and I have not changed the views that I expressed in this House when we debated this paper's predecessor on 17th July last year and again in the debate on the Address on 13th November. I believe that the Government have produced a sensible plan for about the next five years. It does not involve very radical changes either in NATO or in our own Armed Forces—reductions, yes, but not basic changes. It is an interim plan to cover a period in which there will be profound political changes in Europe, largely dependent on what happens within the Soviet Union. Until we can see more clearly than we can today where they are leading us, it is right for the Government to be comparatively cautious and to rely on existing institutions—NATO in the military and the European Community in the political and economic field, whatever the current disagreements within the latter.
The Government's critics have complained that the proposals were not based on any strategic rationale and that there had not been any formal review of strategy. But what did they expect—a list of all the forces available to everyone and a catalogue of all the things that could go wrong? Over centuries this country's strategy or defence policy—whatever you like to call it—has had to meet two demands which have always been in conflict with each other. The first was to protect by armed force our possessions overseas and the trading interests which were the original reason for having those possessions. Those had been transformed into responsibilities which, in the last half-century, were only remotely, if at all, connected with trade. The second was to ensure that no single power or group of powers hostile to our interests dominated Europe and especially Western Europe. We have never been able to ensure that by ourselves. It has always involved an alliance.
The first of those strategic imperatives has virtually disappeared. There are vestigial traces in Gibraltar, the Falklands, Hong Kong and Belize, but Gibraltar's garrison is now raised from the colony itself; Hong Kong will soon cease to be a commitment; the Falklands are likely to remain at their present low 1147 level for some time; and it is surely high time that some other more local solution was found to preserve the security of Belize, which has been independent for 10 years, against threats from Guatemala. Northern Ireland has been mentioned and is, of course, one of the main justifications for the number of infantry battalions in the Army, but I do not regard the present number of battalions in Northern Ireland as sacrosanct. The RUC has had primary responsibility for law and order for a long time. I realise that it always causes the most immense political rumpus to reduce the number of battalions at any time, but I suggest that we do not regard the number of battalions there now as fixed for ever.
No one now suggests that, save in some very exceptional circumstances, armed force is the way to protect our trading interests. If it has to be used, as it was in the Gulf war, we could not act on our own. We share those interests with many other countries. If force has to be used, it will be as a contribution, probably to a force led by the United States. That is what, so far as the Army is concerned, the European reaction force is intended to be. It is the purpose of much of the proposed strength of the Royal Navy and of a fair proportion of that of the Royal Air Force.
As the noble Earl made clear in introducing the debate, the most far-reaching change in our strategic commitment is in Europe. There appear to be some members of the Conservative Party who believe that there is a group of powers hostile to our interests attempting to dominate the Continent and intent on having its own armed forces in order to be able to do so—that it is the European Community and that Jacques Delors is its Bonaparte. That is hardly realistic in strategic terms. The threat that has hung over Western Europe since 1945—which led to the formation of NATO and which has provided the rationale for the organisation, equipment and training of all three Armed Forces since then—has virtually disappeared. Can anyone now seriously envisage a major Soviet invasion of Europe by land, a naval campaign in the Atlantic or other oceans, or a major air or missile attack, conventional or nuclear? Trouble with neighbours on the Soviet borders—yes, perhaps—but not the major offensive, launched from the centre of Europe, which NATO was designed to deter or, if that failed, to stop.
In any case, NATO's forces, whatever was written in its own documents or our defence White Papers, were not based on any strategic review. That was tried once in 1952 and it came up with a demand for 100 divisions. Nobody was going to produce those. NATO's forces were based on a political estimate by its European members of how much they had to do to keep the United States committed to the defence of Western Europe and to sheltering the continent with its nuclear umbrella. Our own forces were based on that and on the need to ensure that our influence within the alliance was not eclipsed by that of the Federal Republic of Germany. That has been the strategy of successive British governments of both political persuasions ever since Winston Churchill embraced it when Dunkirk, in May 1940, signalled the 1148 failure of our attempt to protect our interests and maintain our security by a European alliance. The Government's proposals are based on much the same strategy.
But times are changing. I believe that it would be foolish, and indeed undesirable, to continue to rely too strongly on American support for whatever security organisation is needed in Europe in the longer term; that is, beyond the next five years. We must rely on an alliance which is more truly European and less dominated by the Americans, in the way that NATO now is and always has been. That means that France must play a full part. I believe that we should advance in that direction by stages.
The first stage is that on which the Government are engaged. I congratulate the Ministry of Defence on having achieved agreement within NATO to the British contribution to the rapid reaction force and on accepting that it could also in certain circumstances—with French participation, one hopes—act as a European reaction force outside NATO.
I congratulate the Government also on their belated conversion to the concept of strengthening the Western European Union, even though the reason for the change of heart is to avoid letting the European Commission have anything to do with defence. During this first stage, which could last about five years, I should expect to see a significant reduction in the United States forces stationed in Europe and the withdrawal of all Soviet forces behind their own borders, as well as major reductions in nuclear weapons and their delivery systems, which we are already seeing as a result of President Bush's initiative and Mr. Gorbachev's response. Sooner or later, the Government themselves will have to do something, such as cancelling the fourth Trident submarine.
The second stage would then, I suggest, see a radical change in NATO back to the pattern of its original conception. That was a treaty arrangement by which the United States and Canada gave support to an integrated European defence community, not necessarily by stationing their forces on the continent. If one looks back at the record, it will be found that that was the original concept.
In that second stage the Western European Union should be converted into such a community and the NATO command system, with its American supreme commanders and their subordinate regional international commanders-in-chief, should in my opinion be abolished. By then I hope that the current bickering about the relation of that community to the Economic Community would have been settled. But in the first stage, while NATO remained much as it is at present, I believe that the two communities should be separate. In the second stage, therefore, there would be developed a strong European defence and security organisation which in stage three would have to be converted into, or associated with, whatever security organisation was by then thought appropriate for Europe as a whole.
At present it is not possible to say whether that would still take the form of conventional forces—sea, land and air—more or less like those of NATO today, or be something much more like a peace-keeping 1149 force, or a combination of the two. What is certain is that in all those stages most nuclear weapons and their delivery systems will be irrelevant to the security problems of Europe and other places in the world. The main problem will be to bring about an orderly reduction to a level at which, if they are retained, they will cancel each other out and be no longer considered to be keeping us "on the brink of the abyss", as Lord Mountbatten described it in his much quoted speech at Strasbourg in 1979.
Therefore, I welcome the Government's proposals but offer a word of warning. Having made their decisions and persuaded the Armed Forces to accept them and get on with them as a programme for the next five years, the Government must stick to them. There are already rumours that pressure from the Treasury is leading to suggestions for modifying them downwards. If the Government or their successor start monkeying about with the programme in that way they will forfeit the trust of the Armed Forces in changes which, for many of the individual sailors, soldiers and airmen, involve very hard personal decisions.
while implementing the changes the Government must turn the mind of the Ministry of Defence, and the minds of its fellow members of NATO, to consideration of the sort of security organisation which will be needed in the longer term, to a closer relationship with Europe in defence matters, not least in arms procurement, and to less reliance on an organisation dominated by the United States. If my picture of the future pattern of Europe's security is even approximately correct it will involve much more radical changes than those outlined in the defence White Paper. The Armed Forces, and particularly the infantry and cavalry elements of the Royal Armoured Corps, must organise themselves so that every change does not lead to screams of anguish, putting pressure on politicians and others to favour tradition-bound special interests against the real requirement of the nation's security.
I congratulate the Government on having stood firm against the clamour. Had they given way they would not only have been favouring those whose eyes are fixed firmly on the past at the expense of those who look to the future but they would also have incurred the resentment of those elements of the Armed Forces—the great majority—which did not try to exploit sentimentality, political sensitivity and connections in high places to preserve their own outfit.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I have had the privilege of speaking in your Lordships' House on this topic over a number of years and from different places in the Chamber, most often from the Government Dispatch Box. On a number of those occasions I have had to reply to a speech from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. I am bound to say that I found his speech today as perplexing as I have found them on earlier occasions. I have no idea what advice the noble and gallant Lord tended to Ministers when he was Chief of the Defence Staff. But if it was as incomprehensible as some of his speeches to your 1150 Lordships have been—incomprehensible to me at least—I am not surprised that the policy of that Government was such as it was.
Be that as it may, I want also to make reference to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and to the policy of the Opposition. It was not so long ago that the Labour Party was wholly opposed to the Trident programme and everything for which it stood. We were told that what we should do was cling on to Polaris for ever, or at least for as long as was necessary. It was a kind of rust-away policy rather than a give-away policy, which seems to be more in line with Labour's present thinking. I believe I am right when I say that the party is now in favour of Trident. If so, I am glad to hear it, although the noble Lord, Lord Williams, referred to doubt about the need for a fourth Trident submarine, a matter to which I shall venture to return in a moment. The need for that submarine seems to be a doubt assailing the mind of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, also. I shall attempt to deal with that in a moment.
Of course, I accept the need for change. The wor1d, especially the Eastern bloc, has changed out of all recognition in the past two or three years. But thesize of our armed forces required to meet whatever threat remains must surely be calculated not by reference to the amount of money which the Treasury is prepared to make available but to the nature and extent of the threat.
We have seen a sea change in Soviet political motivation for aggression and lesser mischief such as subversion, but for the moment the size of the Soviet military machine is still pretty formidable. It is many times that of our own. I recall reciting the extent of the Soviet threat, as it then was, from the Government Dispatch Box—85 divisions (was it?) confronting u on the central front, and 55,000 main battle tanks, in, my memory serves me right. I have forgotten the number of nuclear powered and nuclear armed submarines and the exact detail of the formidable array of nuclear tipped missiles that confronted us, not to mention the vast arsenal of other nuclear warheads of every kind.
What exactly is left now of that formidable threat? When my noble friend Lord Arran replies, I hope that he will be able to tell us in more detail to what extent that physical military threat remains. As we have starkly learned so recently, the threat is not confined to whatever is left of the Soviet bloc. The world is full of crackpots and tyrants whose names will come easily to your Lordships' minds. We therefore need to maintain the capability—as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, explained so clearly—to deploy our forces outside the NATO area, sometimes on a purely national basis, as in 1982, but more often in conjunction with allies, as in the Gulf.
While the Government are entitled to say that the world has changed, as indeed it has, they ought to be more forthcoming as to exactly what the threat now is, as they see it, and how our forces, sometimes in conjunction with allies and sometimes not, will meet it. I fear that we have had too little information on this new threat to enable us outside Government to reach an informed view on Options for Change. I hope that 1151 my noble friend will be able to say more about that tonight. I recognise that some information cannot be deployed in a public forum. However, I am sure that certain facts can be made available and I hope that my noble friend will take this opportunity to do so.
I now turn to a related subject; namely, the possibility of an enhanced role for the European Community in defence matters—a topic that has been much discussed recently. I am not much attracted to the various options so far canvassed—for example, an extended role for the Western European Union—at least not as I have heard them described so far. I would much prefer to change the existing NATO treaty to enable the organisation to operate out of area. That is not so simple as it sounds. Some members of NATO, for example our German friends, are constitutionally prevented from deploying forces outside the NATO area and a way will have to be found to accommodate that difficulty. But there may be other countries, for example the Republic of Ireland, which are not members of NATO but would like to take part in such operations if the opportunity arose and would be willing to do so. We may need to find an opt-in and an opt-out formula if that is to be theway forward. I do not believe that such difficulties would be insuperable.
Whatever changes may now be appropriate to the level of our conventional forces, I believe with total conviction that we must remain an independent nuclear power. I am in no doubt that our possession o a credible independent nuclear deterrent over the past 40 years or more has contributed to our place at the world's top table, so to speak, but, much more importantly, has contributed greatly to the peace that Europe has enjoyed by and large over that time.
Our nuclear weapons are primarily assigned to NATO. However, by reserving the right, as we have, to use our nuclear weapons for our own purposes when our supreme national interest so requires, we have succeeded in sowing the seeds of doubt sufficiently firmly in the mind of a potential aggressor to ensure that no major attack, certainly no nuclear attack, has been launched on us or the alliance.
I therefore very much agree with the Government's decision to maintain the Trident programme and to maintain it at a level of four submarines as proposed. While there may be various ways of increasing or decreasing the effectiveness of the Trident system, the one thing you cannot do is to reduce the number of submarines. If you do that, you are no longer able to guarantee one submarine at sea at all times; and when you cannot do that, you are, in short, no longer a serious nuclear player. The potential aggressor must know that whenever he launches his aggression he runs the risk of a nuclear response. That means four Trident submarines. I hope that my noble friend will today confirm Her Majesty's Government's commitment to the submarine fleet.
The main thrust of Her Majesty's Government's proposals is probably right. But the Government have not yet succeeded in persuading many of us that their plans are not Treasury led rather than threat led. I invite my noble friend to do so tonight.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, defence policy is essentially about protecting people. It is important that defence programmes should be subject to high standards of economic efficiency and performance as are other areas of public activity. However, if it is to be effective defence policy, it must be tailored to meet careful strategic analysis of the dangers.
Where, on the part of the Government, is the evidence for that post cold war strategic analysis? Options for Change began the necessary response to the tumbling cold war barriers. But change has swept on with increasing rapidity. New problems have emerged—or old problems have re-emerged—to pose new threats to peace: racial and national hatreds such as have dragged Europe into past wars; the instability created by oppression, poverty and despair; and civil conflicts. Those are the new challenges to peace, underlined, as they are, by the disturbing techniques of terrorism. Our new world order is paradoxically more volatile and insecure and less predictable than ever before. For many the challenge to peace is certainly as great as ever and with it the challenge to us all to respond intelligently and imaginatively to the new dangers. My noble friend Lord Williams is right. The need for careful strategic analysis has never been greater.
Nevertheless, I wish to follow the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cheshire, in his wise and challenging maiden speech, and to deal primarily with the role of our defence forces in disaster relief—a role sadly conspicuous in Options for Change only by its absence.
Disasters come in all shapes and sizes—man made or from natural causes, suddenly or as a result of long-term failure of governments to act, as in the present situation in Africa. In all cases we need to consider how to streamline our own internal capacity to respond effectively and how our national response can be part of an effective international effort.
Victims of any disaster share immediate common needs: food, water, medical care and shelter. Aid agencies and governments alike have done much sterling work to try to meet those needs, but the supply and demand situation in a disaster is not simple. The first priority is always for reconnaissance. Equally important to the provision of supplies and services is the means to get them where the need is and to ensure their speedy distribution. Those are not tasks which voluntary agencies are always best equipped to fulfil but they are very much part of the basic training of the armed services. Our servicemen and women have participated in relief work increasingly often in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and most recently in the aftermath of the Gulf war where they rapidly established an impressive relationship with the Kurdish refugees.
Our armed services have capacities, skills and resources which can be highly useful in disaster emergencies. Field hospitals, ambulances, burns units and field hygiene sections, the Royal Marines Medical Squadron and Logistics Unit, the RN Fleet Clearance Diving Team, Royal Engineer squadrons, the RAF Air Evacuation Squadron and the Tactical 1153 Communications Wing are just a few of the units with relevant skills. But many have never been approached to help in cases where they might have made a valuable contribution. My list ignores the skills of command and control so essential to emergency relief operations. Many service personnel would welcome an increased role in that field and see it as potentially beneficial to their own training, providing, as it does, hands-on experience, the opportunity to apply specialist experiences in an overseas situation, and an additional element of job satisfaction which can help to recruit and retain the best skilled manpower.
The major problem seems to be that the Ministry of Defence has not yet been allocated a formal role. It can only respond when asked to do so by the Overseas Development Administration, and evidence indicates that ODA has not always been aware of all that the Ministry of Defence can offer. There is now a strong case for establishing an effective permanent structure to replace the ad hoc situation which has prevailed to date. Implementation of the following priorities could be a useful start.
The Ministry of Defence should be asked to take the initiative in identifying units which could contribute to disaster relief and organise stand-by arrangements. The necessary relevant additional skills training should be built into the current MoD training programme. A desk should be established within MoD with a uniformed officer who would liaise both with the ODA unit and with voluntary agencies in order to identify and implement training needs and to alert commands when the need for assistance arises. The current iniquitous charging procedures which the Treasury forces MoD to adopt when dealing with the ODA—almost £6.5 million, I understand, for help with the Kurdish relief programme—should be urgently reviewed.
Mere significantly, the ending of the cold war superpower confrontation has brought with it a new opportunity for nations to work together through the framework of the United Nations. The old bipolar collective security of the great power blocs represented by NATO and the Warsaw Pact has been radically trimmed and slimmed. Yet the need for concerted effort against aggression seems highly likely to remain in a world where huge investment has been made in dangerous modern technology of destruction.
How can that best be organised? What lessons can be learnt from the Gulf war, with its failures as well as its military successes? How seriously are we now taking the need to train our forces for a role in ever wider collective security? And how can we together find the political will and military means to deal with civil conflict and with the difficult but essential problem of protecting people from their own governments or from terrorist inflicted anarchy? It is disturbing to note that in the Second World War 52 per cent. of the recorded war-related deaths were of civilians but that today, by the most professional calculations, the proportion is almost 90 per cent.
To meet this huge humanitarian challenge the international community must determine to improve access to, and protection of, people in danger. The Iraqi situation has led to a gradual acceptance that 1154 sovereignty, particularly when claimed by governments with no democratic legitimacy, should not be used as an excuse for inaction. The United Nations, with its considerable experience of working in conflict situations, has increased its role in establishing greater access to protect people in dire need. We must build on those UN successes in establishing peace corridors and cross-border operations, monitoring peace and relief arrangements, and becoming directly involved in helping to negotiate peace agreements as a vital element to improve relief operations. Mechanisms must be set up to bring any acute civil war or emergency to the attention of the Secretary General and the Security Council, obliging them to consider action. If the right of the UN to access to protect life is to be more firmly established, the UN must act consistently in response to emergencies, using humanitarian criteria as the trigger for action and not the foreign policy considerations of any one nation, however powerful.
Defence is about security, and security can be achieved only in a firm cohesion of effective national and international, social, educational, agricultural, health, economic, industrial, trade, employment and carefully integrated military policies. It is about the quality of governance and the fulfilment of economic, social and political rights of children, women and men everywhere. It is about freedom and justice. Only by our success in building the total fabric of a humane, decent and fair world society can we hope to achieve enduring peace and security.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Lord Holderness
My Lords, in view of the fact that almost twice as many noble Lords are waiting to take part than have so far spoken in the debate, I suspect that it would be welcome if I—dare I suggest it to other noble Lords too?—compress my speech into the shortest available period.
Nothing I have heard today or in the past few weeks is likely to remove the anxiety which I have been feeling and which I believe is shared by soldiers and civilians about the future shape of both the Regular and the Territorial Army and even more about its likely morale. Naturally I speak with diffidence about the Regular Army after service only in wartime nearly 50 years ago, but I have seen a great deal of the Territorial Army and I am greatly concerned about the future facing the volunteer services.
I was much cheered by the force and power of the maiden speech of my noble friend the Duke of Westminster. My noble friend Lord Arran has promised another Statement this year about the Territorial Army, which I gather is likely to be within the next few weeks. I do not know whether it will concentrate on details of reorganisation or range more widely over general matters, but this is neither the time nor the place to comment on the agonising discussions now taking place to reduce territorial strength in London or elsewhere.
Several other probable detailed changes worry me, including reductions in the help that regulars will be able to give to territorial battalions. It may certainly make mathematical sense to reduce the number of 1155 regulars training a smaller territorial force, but a strong case can be made against that on practical grounds, both in raising still further the efficiency of the Territorial Army and in reducing redundancies among senior regular NCOs who have invaluable experience. Furthermore, if territorial strength is likely to settle down to between 60,000 and 65,000, as the Government expect, I beg my noble friend to give the assurance which my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall requested that the budget for that strength will be fully met in both manpower and equipment.
We are now nearing the end of the rather peculiar half century since the war, when it is to be hoped that a combination of nuclear weapons and political developments has made a third world war very much less likely. In these circumstances it is not unnatural for many to question the basis of the Territorial Army and to ask whether that force, part civilian and part soldier, is ever likely to be fully used except in the sort of situation that we faced in 1914 and 1939. I suppose that the most honest answer is that we do not know. However, we know that the Territorial Army offers the only sensible means rapidly to expand the Regular Army if such expansion ever becomes necessary. At a time when the Regular Army is to be reduced by 40,000 during the next four years, the case for an efficient, well-trained and cost-effective volunteer force is stronger than ever.
If Her Majesty's Government accept that argument, as I hope they will, they have a big job ahead. First, they must convince volunteers that they enjoy the Government's full confidence. At present I find the strong feeling in the Territorial Army that whatever the Government say, they do not appear to care much whether it thrives or even exists. Therefore, the morale of volunteers is the first priority. Close behind comes public opinion. The Territorial Army cannot possibly thrive unless it stands high in general esteem. Why should recruits join? Why should employers cooperate in respect of training and annual camps? At present I have the impression that the proposed reductions are going through with relatively little public interest. For obvious reasons that may suit Her Majesty's Government. However, once they have got their way it is clearly in their interest to build up the strength and morale of the Territorial Army and the esteem in which it is held. I hope that that is the course which my noble friends will do their best to follow.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Lord Ironside
My Lords, first, I congratulate our maiden speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Cheshire, mentioned disaster relief but is not now present in the Chamber to hear my comments. Around the world defence exhibitions are showing more of the police and security services. They are basically emergency services dealing with disasters. The Defence Manufacturers Association in this country, of which I am a council member, is trying to discover whether there is a customer and supplier base for equipments and systems which are used in the field so that the trade association can look at the business of disasters, if one can call it that.
1156 Of the 90 pages of this year's Statement on the Defence Estimates only 10 are devoted to what I call the muscle on the defence body for the 1990s; that is, the new management strategy. Perhaps as the strategy has been in place only since 1st April this year not much more can be said. However, the glossary and index in the SDE occupy 10 pages and I believe that the new management strategy rates a little more. It represents the biggest change across the spectrum of options.
Our defence forces will be smaller and it follows that they must be better managed to achieve the same results and respond rapidly. In the recent crisis it was interesting to see that only ourselves and America were contributors to all parts of the Gulf war coalition effort. In a war in which logistical support played an important part it was a well deserved tribute to Fleet Support, RAF Support Command and the Quartermaster General that the success of Operation Granby depended so much on their efforts. Above all, Granby showed that money spent on international exercises is money well spent. I hope that the Government will not cut back on such exercises even if the ability to respond with our own resources is still a reality. More and more we shall have to consider joint action, and joint exercises help us to succeed better if a crisis arises.
No one can place the defence requirements for the future in proper prospective without reading the plethora of statements and announcements made by the Government since July 1990. I was greatly assisted by the aide mémoire in the report of the Defence Select Committee of another place, which brought me up-to-date or nearly so. Even the statement which was presented on 9th July is not the hottest piece of news. The Navy support review of 16th July and the Army restructuring statement of 23rd July are hotter.
The Defence Select Committee of another place criticised the Government for not giving a rationale for the important decision being made and the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, felt that there was no rationale for the decision making. However, I believe that he is wrong. The Secretary of State has clearly stated what it is. In his foreword to the Statement on the Defence Estimates he said that the strategy was based on:the ability to adapt to change both internationally and within NATO; the maintenance of force structures with flexibility and mobility to respond to new circumstances".Since publication we have had to do just that. It is hoped that short-range tactical nuclear weapons are to go. An EC defence posture may surface at Maastricht. Developments in the USSR and Iraq may go off course disastrously. It is difficult to have a rationale for decisions when circumstances are changing rapidly. The best rationale is what was stated by the Secretary of State.
Export control may prevent excess defence equipment build-up elsewhere but we still rate third in the world defence export stakes. We do not want to lose that position. The approach being taken by the Government to base change on the ability to adapt to it surely offers the best value for money. I also believe that the changes cannot proceed effectively without the new management strategy being in place. Raising the quality of equipment simplifies logistics and 1157 contractorisation is another valuable tool in the process of adapting to change, with Next Steps principles being applied to the defence support agencies now being established. Some have been announced, but will my noble friend Lord Arran say what further progress is being made to create more of these? A large number of people in the Ministry of Defence are involved and are waiting for those decisions.
Thy contractorisation of AWE is now going forward. I supported that in debate in this Chamber as a logical follow up to the privatisation of the SSN reactor design and supply and the commercial management in the Royal Dockyards of the SSN refits. In saying that, I naturally declare my interest as a council member of the Defence Manufacturers Association and as a consultant to a group with a significant original equipment contribution to the Trident programme in the broadest sense of design, supply and support. Trident, as the way forward in submarine warfare and as the deterrent to the very advanced Russian nuclear boats still patrolling the oceans, makes sound sense. I am very glad that it is to be retained.
As regards the number of boats and warheads, it is important to ensure that we have four boats. We have seen how difficult it is to keep one nuclear submarine at sea when considerable engineering repairs have to be carried out on some of the others, as is happening at present. Therefore, it is important to have four boats in order to ensure that one is on patrol at sea at any one time. Surely no potential opponents will ever know how many warheads each submarine is equipped with. The deterrent still remains effective and the important point is to ensure that we have enough boats.
In this debate I shall touch on only one other issue—the defence industrial base and MoD's dialogue with industry. The UK industry has been shocked into a no-holds barred competition policy as regards defence procurement of platforms, weapons and services. It has been shocked into the race for quality. It is no longer an arms race; it is a race for quality. At the same time it is caught up in worldwide defence cutbacks, recession and overcapacity. I should like my noble friend to give me assurances as to how those realities fit in with MoD's new management strategy and its procurement policy for the rest of the nineties and beyond.
Should the Ministry of Defence expect so much more value for money from industry than ever before, and continue to do so, then the dialogue between customer and contractors ought to be much smoother and more constructive; yet it is not. I listen to comments made by many of my colleagues in industry which indicate that they are disturbed that their efforts to improve relationships with the Ministry of Defence are being frustrated. Perhaps that is part of the price we are paying for change. Perhaps the dialogue will improve as we want it to. UK industry needs to be taken much more into MoD's confidence. Again and again the Government have said that they intend to follow the high-tech equipment trail, yet the 11,000 contractors on the Ministry of Defence's unpublished 1158 list of contractors who form the defence industrial base, are wondering where the trail is heading and whether it will bypass the shop-floors of this country.
I am encouraged by what the Minister of State in another place said yesterday regarding the Government's intention to retain the technological edge in defence, which is so vital to fighting capability, and to seek to improve communications with industry in these uncertain times. Should that be linked with the Department of Trade and Industry's new initiative to bring chief executives of small and medium-sized companies together at the seminar table to assess strategic issues arising from worldwide shrinkages in defence spending, it means facing the realities of opting out rather than searching for ways of staying in the defence business. I hope that the intentions of the Ministry of Defence are to find ways of strengthening the UK defence industrial base in the face of foreign competition, rather than telling industry to look for other markets; that they will be helped as much as possible to find them but not in defence.
The start-up of the project definition phase on the "Fearless" and "Intrepid" replacements—the amphibious warfare capability replacement—is perhaps a sign that UK contractors can look forward to being better placed to compete for business in the UK defence market.
I hope that my noble friend Lord Arran can give assurances in this Chamber that the Government's endeavours to encourage industry will not be at the expense of getting the last ounce out of competition policy. We need the last ounce out of British industry in defence.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, I hope to be brief, if only because the recent debate in another place seems to indicate that on the subject of defence policy the Government are not a listening government. They seem reluctant to listen even to their own military advisers or the Select Committee in another place. I venture to say that they do not listen to anyone very much except the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Their response to any dissenting voice seems to be the classic reply: "My mind is made up; pray do not confuse me with the facts".
It pains me to say these things, but it is clear that our defence arrangements need to be reassessed in the light of new strategic realities. It is equally clear that the Labour Party's reported solution of reducing our defence spending on the basis of some spurious European average is totally irresponsible. I was pleased that that idea found no place in the thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel.
Since the present Government have been in office I have rarely found myself in serious disagreement with their policies, especially in their handling of national security. However, on this occasion I find it impossible to offer my support. The first duty of any government of a democratic sovereign state is the long-term safety and security of its people. By that criterion I am driven to the conclusion that on this occasion the Government have, quite simply, got it wrong. Here I tend to agree with my noble and gallant friend Lord 1159 Bramall rather than with my noble and gallant friend Lord Carver. I believe that the Government have got it wrong not only over such relatively detailed though important matters as the number of infantry battalions, aircraft or submarines needed for our national defence. After all, they are decisions which can be reversed, with difficulty, should a new threat to our national security emerge.
I should here make my usual declaration of interest as chairman of VSEL. Due to that interest I do not intend to comment on such matters as the independent nuclear deterrent or the strength of the submarine force. It would clearly be improper for me to do so. My comments are of a more general kind.
The fundamental weakness of the current defence proposals seems to me to be of a profoundly serious kind and one which goes to the heart of this country's long-term place in the structure of international relations. The Secretary of State for Defence and the noble Earl may well protest that Options for Change is not a Treasury-led exercise. It would be surprising if they said anything else. But if it is not a Treasury-led exercise, or, as it seems to me more likely, a Treasury-ambushed exercise, I ask the Government the one fundamental question being asked wherever these matters are seriously discussed. Where is the evidence that the measures proposed under Options for Change are based on a rigorous assessment of all the relevant geopolitical and strategic factors?
The first of those factors in any serious assessment of defence policy is the military threat, actual or potential. The Government understandably concluded that one important element in the threat has receded or even disappeared. With the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact and the unification of Germany the danger of a concerted land/air attack on Western Europe has for all practical purposes disappeared. Certainly no conventional attack could be mounted without substantial political and military warning. On the other hand, the Government concluded that a nuclear threat from the Soviet Union remains, including the threat of a surprise attack.
So far so good. But that is not the whole story, even in relation to the Soviet threat. Huge conventional forces remain in being in many of the republics of what is now the Soviet Union rather than the USSR. Military procurement programmes continue virtually unabated. The modernisation of the armed forces continues. There are nuclear weapons on the soil of several of the republics, including the Ukraine, Russia, Belorussia and Kazakhstan. No one—I dare to say "no one"—in London, Washington, Brussels or even Moscow can have the remotest idea of what will happen in the coming months and years. All that we can be certain of is that there will be massive instability. Should history have taught us anything, it is that internal instability often leads to external adventures.
Of course the residual Soviet capability is not the only threat to our national interests. Until 1997 we hold the responsibility for the security of Hong Kong; we hold interests in the South Atlantic; we have not seen by any means the last of terrorism, either of the 1160 home-grown kind in Northern Ireland or the international kind. It may have gone into temporary recession, partly due to the disappearance of the Soviet Union as a world power, but no one should believe it has disappeared for ever. I am surprised that the point has not been made earlier in the debate that it would be foolish to ignore the possibility that one day we may be subjected for some political reason or other to blackmail by nuclear or chemical threat by some unpredictable third world adventurer.
The Government will say, and have said, that they have taken all these threats into account. But there is not much evidence that I can see that they have had any great effect on the minds of the planners. In any case, the threat to national security in the narrow sense of the defence of the realm is only one of our concerns. If we are to play a responsible role in world affairs commensurate with our history and traditions, there are other factors as well which have to be taken into account.
The world is undergoing great paroxysms of revolution. We tend to focus our attention, understandably, on the dramatic failure of Soviet communism and to push into the background some of the other great rearrangements which are taking place in the world power structure. There is the revolution of rising aspirations in Southern Africa; the terrible and explosive mixture in the Middle East of post-colonial bitterness, nationalism and religious fanaticism. There is the precarious balance of conflicting forces in the People's Republic of China which I believe before too long may lead to a major conflagration in that part of the world. There is also the growth of Japan as a world power dominating the most powerful economic region of the world. Over-arching all this there is the growing pressure of isolationism in the United States.
What role is Britain to play as this epic drama unfolds? Are we to be leading players, supporting actors or just spear carriers? Are we to give in to the fashionable self-deprecating whining that we are no longer a great power and we had better get used to it, or are we, as we have always done, to make an effective contribution to the construction of a new world order? Yes, of course, we are members of NATO, but what precisely does that mean at this moment in our history? NATO's operations, as we know, are confined by artificial geographical limits. The whole role and strategy of the Atlantic alliance is in a state of flux. I seem to be in a minority in believing that the so-called rapid reaction force is not even a paper tiger. It is a mythical animal of dubious political parentage with not much military reality.
Who is to be our role model in Europe or in the Western world as all these changes take place? Is it to be France, which is self-centred and self-sufficient? Is it to be Germany, which is Euro-centric and introverted? Are we to support the idea of a separate Western European force according to the Franco-German pattern and separate from NATO, or are we to have perhaps a role of our own in which we are deeply involved in the protection of free nations against aggression and the defence of the values of the free world wherever they may be under threat?
1161 I am sorry to have to say this, but I suspect that these ire questions which in Options for Change the Government have not really asked. If they had, it is very unlikely that Options for Change would have been the answer. Tinkering and fiddling with the three services on the basis of equal misery for all, or nearly equal misery for all because some are more miserable than others, and chipping away at the defence programmes in order to save X per cent. on the defence budget without any apparent consistent strategic pattern are no substitute for a systematic and long-term defence review.
It is not so much that great infantry regiments disappear, although that is sad; or that shipyards and aircraft factories close down, with thousands of men and women being made redundant and thrown onto the labour market, which is also tragic. In my view the real shame is that all this is being done without any clear vision of the kind of Armed Forces that this country will need either to discharge its responsibilities as a member of the community of free nations or to ensure its own national security in the 21st century.
However, the Government have made it clear that the cuts are to be made over a period of several years. Perhaps I may therefore ask them, and in the most constructive spirit, before the really serious and irreversible changes begin to bite, to undertake a radical review of our defence needs driven by geopolitical and strategic considerations as well as by the inhibition of resources, but not the other way round.
It may be that I am on the wrong side of a generation gap which separates me from our present leaders, but I believe that this country, with all its unique qualities and capabilities, is not yet ready to be relegated to a tame or minor role in world affairs.
Damon Runyon, the American humorist, once said that although the race is not always to the swift or the battle always to the strong, that is where the smart money goes. Strong, well-equipped armed forces may not be the only ingredient of political influence in the world But without them no country can take its place in the front rank of the international community. The Government's current defence policy suggests that they have not made up their mind whether they want Britain to continue to be a great nation, exercising a decisive influence on the emergence of a new world order. I believe that it can be and that it should be.
It has often been said that political leaders may be relied on to make wise, intelligent and statesmanlike decisions—having first exhausted all other alternatives. Options for Change looks to me very much like one of the alternatives.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Lord Middleton
My Lords, as always I shall pay heed to the very good advice of my noble friend Lord Holderness and keep this short. In the debate on 12th June many noble Lords expressed anxiety about the Government's defence policy. In the debate today it is clear that much anxiety remains and it has not been allayed by the two White Papers that have appeared since. I always listen with enormous respect to what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has to say. Having 1162 heard what he has said, I wonder whether the anxiety which I share can be allayed by recent events in Russia.
In the June debate my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth referred graphically to the situation in the Soviet Union as,a loose cannon if ever there was one".That was before the August putsch in Moscow. With great perspicacity she described the situation as,fragile, volatile, chaotic and potentially fissiparous, in which the whole position including military intentions, could be reversed overnight".—[Official Report, 12/6/91; col.1133.]I believe that to be even more true today. Although the position did change dramatically there is infinite scope for further change and reversal.
I was in Russia in September purely as a sightseer, but I heard what Russians had to say. I was made well aware of the appalling difficulties in the path of economic reform, the urgent need to recreate some kind of confederation of states and, above all, the threat of famine this coming winter. The effect of the hiving-off of the Moslem republics on an already disturbed Middle East has yet to be assessed. In such a situation should we really be in such a hurry to disarm?
Of course, the Government have to keep the strength of our Armed Forces under review and they are right to do so in the light of the current extraordinary developments in the world. The volatility and uncertainty of the international situation and the possible military threats have been rightly spelt out today by my noble friend Lord Arran. However, to conclude that Britain's Army for the 1990s is therefore to be reduced seems to me to be a non-sequitur. The Government are rightly committed both to the continued defence of Europe and to preparedness for other eventualities. It is the ability of a reduced Army—I leave air and naval matters to others—to fulfil these commitments that I question. I have a feeling that the real area where the pinch will be felt is in our continuing to fulfil our peacetime commitments with what are substantially reduced force levels, particularly in those areas where traditionally the capability is found; that is, the infantry. Thirty-eight battalions must be insufficient and I share the anxiety of my noble friend Lord Whitelaw.
In the days when, with TA responsibilities, I had the privilege of watching one or two NATO exercises I had the gut feeling that levels of sustainability were probably inadequate to allow the 1st British Corps to maintain operations in war. I believe that this inherent weakness is likely to be perpetuated in the new structure through inadequate resource provision. The statement on Defence Estimates describes the Gulf war in some detail. It does not describe what happened to the British NATO forces remaining in Germany, though that has been referred to briefly this evening.
At that time there were, and still are, some 17 Russian divisions in East Germany, plus the other Soviet forces facing west in considerable and probably overwhelming strength. Also at that time the 1st British Corps was denuded of all its Challenger tanks and much of its artillery. Many officers and men were 1163 deployed away from their parent units to reinforce those in the Gulf. The effect was to render our NATO contribution virtually non-operational.
If it took the vital components and material of an Army of 144,000 to bring one armoured division onto a war footing—that is, before slashing our Army by nearly 30 per cent.—how can we possibly believe in an effective rapid reaction force after the Government have had their way? My noble friend the Minister told us that in future we shall maintain one strong armoured division in Germany and another division, the third, in the UK. We are told that this division is also to provide a national strategic reserve capable of undertaking a range of operations beyond the NATO area. Indeed, with the experience in the Falklands and the Gulf who can argue against such a requirement?
However, given the Gulf experience which I have described these two components of the rapid reaction force are unlikely ever both to be on a viable war footing at the same time. Either the third division will be needed to reinforce the first armoured division, or vice versa. I hope I am wrong. No doubt I shall be told that I am impossibly out of date in applying to this argument my own memory of the speed at which men, weapons and ammunition are used up when it comes to a fight. If I am not wrong then it is essential—here I am in total agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Williams—that a very great deal of thought will have to be given to the constitution and role of our reserve forces, both regular reserves and the TA.
I have tried to avoid that which makes these proposals so unpopular in the country—the fate of the regiments that are to be disbanded. However, I have to ask the Minister to tell me what is to be the future role of the Foot Guards? By tradition these regiments have first and foremost been fighting soldiers and their reputation as such is second to none. At the same time they have the enormous privilege of guarding the Sovereign. Even after being chopped in the 1950s they have maintained their dual role. Three battalions are deployed operationally outside London at any one time while the other five carry out public duties in London. I believe that of these five one is usually either training, or earmarked for any emergency overseas. Now the Grenadier, Coldstream and the Scots Guards are to lose their second battalions and so there will remain five battalions of Foot Guards. I ask the Government whether these remaining five battalions are to be confined permanently on public duties in London, or are they to be trained to be fit to fight? As things are now they certainly cannot do both.
In order to sustain the military effectiveness and high standards of the Foot Guards it will presumably be necessary to provide the same opportunities for training and operational deployment as hitherto. That leads me to conclude that the current level of public duties will need to be reduced. I am aware of the sensitivity of the subject, but I hope to hear from the Minister that it is being urgently addressed.
In common with so many other noble Lords I am deeply disturbed by these proposals. It may well be necessary, in co-operation with other nations, to 1164 redeploy our troops in Germany but I cannot believe it right to pay lip service to the very unstable world situation and then to propose reducing our small but highly professional Army by nearly 30 per cent. To reduce the Army to a size which probably makes it no longer attractive as a career option to those potential regular officers and NCOs who are vital to its continued efficiency seems to me—and I wish I could be as moderate in my language as my noble friend Lord Whitelaw—to be so unwise as to be verging on lunacy.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Lord Wynford
My Lords, I wish to address the matter of overstretch as it affects the infantry. Long before Options for Change the infantry in particular was certainly suffering overstretch despite its 55 battalions then available. Any senior serving officer in the 1970s and 1980s would bear me out on that point. In addition yesterday we had the admirable clarity of Brigadier Rhoderick-Jones's leading letter in The Times. He explained that five years ago he was a brigadier at the headquarters of the United Kingdom land forces. As such he was required then by the C-in-C Home Forces to study overstretch. He did so. I shall quote two very brief comments that he makes in the letter to which I refer. He says that "unacceptably high levels of turbulence" were created and that commitments substantially outweighing resources had to be undertaken.
The running sore of Ulster is really most grievous, but I would not want to say that we cannot contain it. It is a repetitive engagement and is being coped with extremely well. My own regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, has served there nine times; three times on long duty and six times on short tours. However, the repetitive grind of those short tours, unaccompanied as they are, must be watched with the greatest care. Overstretch causes slip; and by "slip" I mean that the short tours come at more irregular and generally shorter intervals. That has unfortunate effects. I need not go into the detail.
With the advent of Options for Change came the threat of reduction to 38 battalions. Here, then, is overstretch piled on overstretch. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place assures us that the new deployment between mainland Europe and the United Kingdom can somehow see us through difficulties. Several noble Lords have pointed to the danger of this reliance. I emphasise that point. It is not a way to provide reserves. Noble Lords may remember an article in The Times of last July by the noble Lord, Lord Wyatt. It was a fairly long article but the short heading read like this: "When cutting forces we should prepare for the unexpected". That wisdom simply points to the absolute necessity of reserves in an increasingly volatile and disturbed world situation; and since last July things have certainly not improved. So it seems that we could suddenly have a deficit of deployable battalions.
It is the progression from the present day, through 1992 with 50 battalions to 39 by 1995, which seems so dangerous. At this point—1995—provision for the unexpected and the lack of a sizeable reserve signals 1165 danger. Surely the worst aspect of the present proposals is the relegation to "suspended animation" of three battalions of Foot Guards. My noble friend Lord Middleton has just mentioned this point but I have perhaps a slightly different slant on it. I certainly would not want it to be missed. The disciplined excellence, the incomparable standards and the expert performance in every conceivable activity of ceremonial, demonstration or fighting of any kind—for all those the Household Brigade has worldwide acclaim. Why must we really lean over so far backwards as to deny ourselves, even temporarily, even a small part of this incomparable asset. That is my point.
The second battalions of the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards and the Scots Guards should be retained in full active service. To my mind, one-battalion regiments are a nonsense. In the West Country we call it something or nothing. Wherever and whenever it is found that events are getting beyond our present hopes—the hopes upon which the White Paper suggests we should rely—I recommend a properly allocated reserve. When new battalions are needed I recommend, first, that the Irish Guards and the Welsh Guards should form second battalions; and, secondly, that the strongest recruiters and best "retainers" among our line regiments should form second battalions, as they may be needed, not excluding those which have already been amalgamated with others. Those can be activated according to the unpredictable needs of the moment.
It may be that it would be prudent to proceed to the planning of the second battalions at once and then to put them in suspended animation. It is for the staffs to discover a way. I am quite sure that the operation will have to be quick and cheap.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, the Options for Change proposals planned for a reduction of 14 battalion tasks by 1997, but the Secretary of State wants to cut 17 battalions by 1994. Nineteen of the 38 battalions remaining in the Army will form part of the ace Rapid Reaction Corps, which the United Kingdom will command. The remaining 19 battalions will have to fill our commitments in Hong Kong until 1997—that is, two battalions; in Belize, one battalion; in Brunei, one battalion; in Cyprus, two battalions; in the Falkland Islands, half a battalion plus half in reserve; and in Northern Ireland, 10 battalions. Only two battalions will be left over at home and to meet the unexpected.
The Northern Ireland force currently consists of six resident battalions and four roulement battalions. Three times in the past 18 months Northern Ireland has had to be reinforced by a fifth roulement battalion. It is the stated aim of the Ministry of Defence that the gap between tours of duty in Northern Ireland should be two years. In order to achieve that, a minimum of five battalions is required for each roulement slot. Even if units committed to ARRC are used—they should not be—the figures do not make sense. No defence review has taken place. No statement of how the Army can sustain the anticipated level of activities has been made. Only this 1166 morning we heard—I heard anyway—that a new EC defence force is under consideration. It may or may not be formed, but if it is, how are we going to find infantry battalions to make our contribution to it? Or are we not going to find them?
Since the proposals for cuts in defence were made, a coup has taken place in the USSR which failed. The union itself is creaking at the joints and its future is uncertain. It is in a state of disarray, politically and economically, and some of its component states are proposing to form their own private armies. No permanent settlement has yet been reached in the Middle East, between Israel and Palestine in particular. Nor does it seem likely that one will be. Yugoslavia has broken apart and civil war rages there. If her neighbours are flooded with refugees, it may well be that NATO forces will be required to assist in restoring peace in the region. The world has become a much more unstable place, and instability is always dangerous.
That is looking to the present and the future. Looking to the past, no one foresaw that the murder of an Austrian archduke in 1914 would trigger the First World War, of which the noble, and perhaps I may also say gallant, Lord, Lord Cheshire, spoke so movingly in a poetic and beautiful maiden speech. In 1969, no one foresaw that terrorism in Northern Ireland would reach anything like the scale that it has. No one foresaw the Falklands war in 1982. No one foresaw the Gulf war last year. I believe that both of the latter were foreseeable. But that is beside the point; they were not foreseen. Therefore, we cannot say that there is now no unexpected source of danger to us or to the territories we are committed to defend. We must be prepared always for the unexpected—for what we have not foreseen.
Even with the Army at its present strength of 55 battalions, we were hard-pressed to find and train sufficient units for the Gulf war. In order to send two brigades, men as well as material were taken from virtually every element of the Army, leaving the remainder unfit for war. Lack of joint warfare experience was only rectified by a period of intensive work-up training. Units deployed in the early phases knew that no replacements existed should the campaign be prolonged. The emergency tour interval was reduced dramatically and for some individual units a second operational deployment was starting within eight months of returning from a previous tour. The current proposals would leave the UK unable to deal with another such emergency, whatever the Secretary of State may say.
I see in the proposed cuts an aspect of the present Tory ethos which is not always wise—the principle that everyone must be over-working the whole time or they are not considered to be earning their pay, and that therefore the Army must be reduced in size until that state of affairs and the resulting economies are achieved. Where the Army is concerned, this is just not sensible. Soldiers, unlike civil servants, serve for six months at a time away from their wives and families, with few comforts, often in unpleasant conditions and often in danger. Being a soldier on active service is a stressful occupation and not like being a civil servant 1167 sitting in a ministry in Whitehall. They and their families badly need the recuperation time which is provided by such postings as Berlin, which is to cease.
Two major problems which have faced the infantry for the past 20 years have been job satisfaction and separation from family. Loyal and devoted as they are, there comes a time when, because of lack of opportunity to obtain qualification for advancement, coupled with separation and stress for all concerned, officers and other ranks leave. If this has been the case with more battalions available for commitments than there are to be in the future, it does not require abnormal brain power to see that unit training will suffer, efficiency will drop, individual qualifications will be lower and separation from families will increase.
The Secretary of State did his national service in the Somerset Light Infantry for about two years when he was a very young and unmarried man. So he has no first-hand experience of what it is like to be a regular soldier on active service with a wife and children. If the Secretary of State wants to have attractive careers for high quality people and units fully manned, there is only one answer: more battalions before it is too late. He should go back to the original figure of 120,000 for army manpower. He must remember that our soldiers are not conscripts; they are voluntary employees. They do not have to join the Army and, if they dislike it enough, they can leave it. Even before Operation "Granby", the frequency of tours overseas, particularly in Northern Ireland, was a cause of discontent among wives. Many experienced and highly trained men were leaving, with the result that the turnover in the training organisation increased and the expertise of units diminished.
I turn now to the Scottish regiments. I am sorry not to see more Scots Peers here to speak for those regiments. I live in Grampian region, the recruiting ground of the Gordon Highlanders with which my father and two of my uncles served in the First World War. I shall therefore speak for them.
It was made plain when considering cuts in the Army that regiments with a good recruiting record would be retained in preference to those which had difficulty in maintaining their strength. The Scottish division has maintained all its battalions at full strength and has been able to provide reinforcements for battalions from other divisions when required to bring them to a viable strength. None of the Scottish regiments has any problem either recruiting or retaining personnel. There are 35 British infantry battalions at present undermanned by a total of nearly 3,000 men: not one is a Scottish battalion.
A cardinal principle of war is that you reinforce strength. Why, therefore, reduce the Scottish regiments by three battalions? For that will be the effect of the proposed amalgamations of the Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Queen's Own with the Gordon Highlanders, together with the abolition (for what else can "suspended animation" mean?) of the 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards. That is a 33 per cent. cut in Scotland, as opposed to a 30 per cent. cut in the rest of the United 1168 Kingdom. What is the sense in destroying the individual identities of four magnificent regiments, one of which, the Queen's Own, is already an amalgam of two regiments—namely, the Camerons and the Seaforths—in order to keep two battalions in some English regiments, some of which have difficulty in recruiting and retaining their full complement of soldiers? From the point of view of the defence of the realm, it is so senseless that I am driven to suspect that there is a political reason for it.
I suspect that the Government, with the impending election in mind and knowing how poor their chances are of even retaining the seats that they have in Scotland, have decided to let the brunt of the cuts fall where they think things are politically so bad that they could not be any worse and to try to preserve a few votes in England where they think they have more votes to lose. For make no mistake, the Scots are up in arms about the proposed amalgamations, and about the loss of over 3,500 jobs which will come on top of those in the steel and mining industries in recent years. Such a scale of redundancies will not apply in other parts of the country where the battalions to be cut have not been at their full strength.
The noble Earl, Lord Arran, referred to the reawakening of nationalism in the world. The fire of Scottish nationalism is burning very brightly. Surely the Government realise that what they intend to do will add fuel to it. Or are their claims to be a unionist party false? Do they really want Scotland to leave the union?
We are told that the Secretary of State has consulted widely. That is as may be. Receiving advice is not the same as taking it. Clearly the only advice he has taken is that of the Treasury. I wonder whether those in the Treasury have remembered that the savings made in soldiers' pay will be to a great extent offset by increased social security payments. Experienced generals, retired field marshals and noble and gallant Lords have all begged him not to reduce the Army below 41 battalions. Why does he not listen to the people who really know? Why does he make up his mind before he has heard what either Members of another place or this House have to say? That is not democracy; that is dictatorship.
§ 7.57 p.m.
My Lords, in the interests of brevity I shall not enter into the wider issues of strategy. However, perhaps I may just express a word of appreciation for the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cheshire. I found his speech about stability and peace for mankind to be deeply moving. He emphasised the question of individuality which I think was very much the guiding principle of the school which we both attended many years ago. I believe that both our lives were somewhat affected by what happened thereafter. It is possible that the end of the Second World War came about faster than it might otherwise have done thanks to the fact that the opposition appointed a corporal to be their commander in chief.
When my noble friend the Minister wrote to me last spring about the need for a reduction in our armed 1169 forces in the wake of the break up of the Warsaw Pact, it appeared to me at first sight that there were no grounds for criticism, especially in view of the need to equip and modernise a small elite army. However, when a number of past GOCs of Scottish Command wrote to the press questioning the wisdom of the cuts, I realised that there was a case to be made against them, especially in Scotland. As all Scottish regiments are at full strength, they will suffer more redundancies per battalion than other regiments which are below strength. There is a greater percentage of cuts to Scottish battalions compared with infantry as a whole, while there are to be no cuts to battalions in the north of England or Wales.
When the Scottish generals and colonels of regiments came out strongly against the proposals, it was clear that there had been a lack of communication between the Government and the Army. That generated a certain amount of ill will in the Army and among local authority officials. It takes a great deal of abuse to bring local authority councillors on to the same platform with retired generals to speak with one voice. I confess that I am a borderer and will be sad indeed to lose the King's Own Scottish Borderers. I am proud to have served in a Scottish regiment—the Royal Scots Greys. It was amalgamated with the Carabiniers, whose catchment area is in Wales. Both regiments knew that there were difficulties to be overcome, and they were. The two formed one united regiment for the sake of the Army and the country. The same will apply today, wherever it is necessary and right to do so; but there are questions which must be asked about the rightness of making those harsh cuts to the infantry in Scotland, where so many young men per head of the population are employed in it. Their skills and guts were recognised during the recent conflict in the Gulf. They have not been altogether recognised in the present proposals.
Whatever my noble friend the Minister may say, there is a real danger that there will be insufficient troops to carry out the tasks set out in the Government White Paper on Britain's Army for the 90s. In addition to our various commitments in Northern Ireland, Europe and garrisons throughout the world, there is a need for protection in the fact of unexpected hazards such as the firemen's strike in 1977.
Infantry battalions are already overstretched, and as a result many families are in difficulties. That applies to the regiment of my noble friend Lord Whitelaw, the Scots Guards, even before any reduction. One of its battalions which served in the Gulf is in Germany for six months and is due to move to Northern Ireland next year. As a result, families will have been separated three times in four years.
In addition to our military commitments, we should not forget the needs of tourism and visitors who attend ceremonial occasions at Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and elsewhere, which are so much a part of our history.
With regard to redundancies, however generous redundancy payments may be, the effects will be painful Options for Change envisages the redundancy of some 1,800 men in the Scottish Division. There will 1170 be a need to look after those men, and it will be the special concern of the Royal British Legion and the Haig Fund to do everything possible to help. Due to the recession and shortage of jobs, there will be a need for close co-operation nationally between the Government and the legion. Special measures may have to be taken to enable local authorities to give preference to ex-servicemen. Men who served their country in the Falklands, Northern Ireland and the Gulf should enter civilian life with a chance to work and to be useful members of society. They should be treated with fairness and justice and, if they are, they will help to enhance the life of their communities.
Things are easier than they were in 1919, when there were over 250,000 unemployed ex-servicemen, but the pattern is similar today. We should remember that the legion was formed to help with those problems and was able to bring home to the Government, employers and the trade unions the needs of the unemployed. I hope that its expertise and experience will be as useful today. Unemployed and ill-housed ex-servicemen would have a bad effect on local communities with a long history of deprivation. Some of those communities in the central belt of Scotland, for example, have a good recruitment record. It would be sad to see those loyal citizens put into dole queues. My noble friend the Minister, with his Scottish military ancestry, must have a special understanding of conditions in Scotland. I thank him for his speech. I give him my support for the changes that the Government are planning. I recognise the Government's undertaking to preserve the regimental system, but I am dubious as to whether they really will preserve the Territorial Army. In view of the criticisms expressed by military experts, I hope that my noble friend will be willing to listen to what has been said, especially in regard to Scotland, and in regard to jobs and housing.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, the vote in another place last night more or less destroyed the options in Options for Change, at least so far as the regular forces are concerned. But I believe final decisions on the reserve forces have yet to be made and there may still be options in that field for us to consider. As your Lordships are aware, it has been announced that the TA will be reduced from its present strength of 71,000 to 63,000 men and some women. On the face of it, that does not sound to be a drastic cut, but we must compare like with like. Those simple figures are somewhat misleading. The actual cut is much greater. The TA's present establishment is 91,000. To reduce the establishment to 63,000, even according to my mathematics, means that there will be a 33 per cent. cut. If, as is probable, recruiting does not reach establishment—it never has in peacetime—or, as is equally possible, several units disappear, we shall be lucky to end up with a TA of more than 50,000 in practice.
It has been reported that once again the infantry will bear the brunt and that the number of TA battalions—now 41, with 169 rifle companies—will be reduced to 33 battalions with 99 companies. That will 1171 be at a time when, as the Minister said today, the increased need for the reserves is recognised, and in particular, when the regular Army will require the assistance of the TA in home defence to the tune of five battalions.
Everyone accepts that some reductions are necessary if they can be achieved. I wish to suggest another way of achieving them—a compromise, if one likes. Let us try to keep the 41 battalions that we now have but let us have only three companies in each. That would give 123 companies as against the present 169. There are several advantages. First, we might maintain a presence in many more cities and counties which would otherwise have no TA or other military presence. Three of the east Midland counties expect to have no army presence of any kind in large populated areas. Secondly, as they would all continue to exist none of the anguish and potential political fallout which we have seen with the regular Army reorganisation—what the gallant and noble Lord, Lord Carver, called "the regimental rumpus"—will happen, because they will all still exist.
Thirdly, in time of need it would be much easier to expand those battalions with an additional company or more. That could be done much more easily and quickly than starting new battalions from scratch. It would of course cost less—about £12 million per annum—than the present system and what we are paying for the TA infantry. There may be other disadvantages, however. It might be that the new battalions would be top heavy with too many chiefs and sergeant majors and not enough soldiers and Indians, but of course as they are part-timers the cost would not be great. Though it would cost more to have 41 battalions than 33, as we have already heard, the total costs of the TA are so trivial that to achieve this change within the ceiling seems to be perfectly possible and would have no noticeable effect on the estimates.
We should be increasing the establishment figure from 63,000 to about 68,000, but this does not seem to me to be a severe price to pay for what I have suggested. However, whatever figure is decided upon, I beg the Government to look at a much more important point: that the reserves are properly paid and equipped. There must be no more of the shortages of pay, ammunition, fuel and so forth which have been plaguing the reserves for so long.
Tonight we have heard what happens in graphic detail from the noble Duke, the Duke of Westminster, in his splendid maiden speech. We heard it from the front line. Here perhaps I may be permitted to break the rules. Having had the privilege of being an honorary colonel of the regiment that he is about to command, I know what a tremendous contribution he has made to the TA and to the regiment. I am certain that they are all delighted that he will shortly become Lieutenant-Colonel Grosvenor and not Trooper Grosvenor. He will achieve even more.
I wish to turn to something quite different: the human aspects of Options for Change. I am sure that we all welcome the statement made by Mr. Hamilton in another place late last night on resettlement and 1172 rehousing. I hope that the House is aware that in all the three services approximately 64,000 people over and above those who might normally be expected to leave the services will be put into a difficult labour market fairly quickly as a result of Options for Change. Only 16,500 of those will receive the redundancy package which was announced. The problem is therefore sizeable and, if it is mishandled, it may have a drastic effect on the morale of those who remain.
It is a particular pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Haig, in mentioning the thoroughly excellent and important ex-service organisations, the British Legion and SSAFA, which are very concerned about this problem. They held a seminar 10 days ago in London to discuss it. I am delighted to hear that the Government have decided to consult them. I stress how urgent it is to do so in full and to realise how much they are concerned not only with the short-term aspects of the problem but with those of the long term as well.
An important priority must be realistic retraining for jobs so that ex-servicemen and women can compete on an equal footing with their civilian counterparts. Remember, many will have lived abroad for years. I have even heard that in some cases children of forces in Germany speak better German than English because they have been at school there all the time.
Mr. Hamilton said last night that with careful planning the system would cope. However, we must realise it will cost far more than careful planning; it will cost a great deal in resources to get this right. Temporary housing is the first aspect of the problem and I hope we can use the large number of empty dwellings already in the Government's possession.
Last but not least, we come to the permanent housing of these people. I am particularly grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who mentioned this in some detail. Your Lordships will be aware that in the past we have discussed the suggestion that soldiers and other servicemen might contribute while they were serving to a fund to allow them to obtain a mortgage theoretically on a house, and more important, to receive tax relief on the sum, even though they had no house. Despite many promises and much talk, this has not happened. It must now be brought about and it would have been a great help if it had been done because people would have been in a much better position to find a house. I hope that the Government will realise that they must pay to put this right. It is clear that local authorities are not at the moment in a position to offer much. Let us hope that housing associations can fill the gap. We received much encouragement from the statement last night.
I wish to make the final point that all this will cost a great deal of money over a long period. It is estimated that in this country 16 million people regard themselves as in one way or another members of the ex-service community. They will watch carefully what happens. We owe nothing less than a total commitment, a totally generous and thoroughly supportive treatment to all these people who have 1173 served us loyally as members of the forces over the years and whose careers will be drastically and suddenly altered.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Murton of Lindisfarne
My Lords, in both political and military terms it was a perilous 72 hours for the United States and its Western allies when on 18th August this year the Soviet eight-man committee attempted to seize control of the central government of the USSR. We were to learn later from the press that when President Gorbachev was held incommunicado in his Crimean dacha even his red telephone linking him to his military commanders was cut off. Presumably too he was deprived of the codes controlling the Soviet offensive/defensive nuclear capability.
That crisis has now passed, but we now know that at the time the port of Vladivostok, the base of the Soviet Pacific fleet, with its nuclear armed submarines, came out in support of the eight-man committee. To think in intelligence terms, capabilities are always easier to assess than intentions. Although for the time being the situation may appear reasonably quiescent militarily within the Soviet state—or perhaps it is now "states"—it is a brave man indeed who would be prepared to say that there will not be another politico-military adventure.
The reports of the formation of national guards in the Russian republic, in Kazakhstan and in the Baltic republics will not have been noted with enthusiasm by the senior commanders of the central Soviet armed forces. National armies do not like private armies.
Now there is civil war in Yugoslavia, where Croats and, I believe, Slovenes have raised national guards against the Yugoslav federal army and in which both the air force and the navy are engaged. Elements of the European Community have even been canvassing some form of military intervention, fortunately without wide agreement.
Where does all this leave Options for Change and, more significantly, the statement on Britain's Army for the 90s? I find it almost inconceivable that the Army Board can have agreed voluntarily to these most drastic cuts now proposed which will pare the Army to the veritable bone. It has all the hallmarks, I believe, of a Treasury-led exercise and it is greatly to be deplored if that is the case. The morale of the Army will suffer in consequence over the four years of indecision which now face it.
The unexpected has an uncanny habit of arising like a monster from the deep. Let us not forget that there was little planned capability to meet the unforeseen emergencies of Korea, Suez, the Falklands and indeed the Gulf. Now we are assured that the restructured Army as planned has taken full account of the Gulf experience, demonstrating clearly, we are told, the greater value of all professional forces and the flexibility they offer vis-à-vis other forces and conscript armies.
If this statement is to have any validity, the proposed contribution by the United Kingdom to the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps must be up to full operational establishment at all times, apart from 1174 personnel missing on courses, and must remain thus. Likewise, these formations must have their full complement of armour, other tracked vehicles and APCs and their full and complete A and B echelon transport. Moreover, there will have to be a less restrictive regime as regards fuel, ammunition expenditure for training and spare parts.
It is understood that for Operation "Granby", comprising one armoured division of two armoured brigades with divisional troops under command, virtually every serviceable tank on the strengths of all armoured regiments in BAOR had to be deployed to the Gulf and many others less reliable in Germany and the United Kingdom had to be cannibalised for spares.
The manpower situation also left much to be desired. As a positive example, let us take the third battalion of my regiment, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, based in Germany. Initially, under the original Operation "Granby 1", one-third of the battalion was earmarked as a pool of reinforcements for the 7th Armoured Brigade. In addition some fusiliers were also required as individuals to fill deficiencies in other units for Warrior crewmen. Under "Granby 2" another rifle company from the battalion was earmarked to reinforce 1st Battalion the Royal Scots, who were under strength.
When "Granby 1/" superseded "Granby 2" on the decision to send another armoured brigade to the Gulf (that is 4th Armoured Brigade), the 3rd Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers had all its former orders cancelled and it was instructed to reform as an armoured infantry battalion in its original role and then be prepared to deploy to the Gulf. This time the 3rd Battalion had itself to be reinforced to bring it up to operational establishment. This was done by providing elements of 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards and 1st Battalion the Queen's Own Highlanders.
Why was this necessary? The answer is that the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers had twice in recent times had its recruiting capped. That was done because the Queen's Division, of which it is part, was better placed in the manpower table than other divisions. Therefore recruits were diverted elsewhere.
One could not run a successful business in this manner. It is an administrative nightmare. Only the resourcefulness of a highly dedicated and uncomplaining professional service could overcome such obstacles. If the Army is to be 25 per cent. smaller by 1995 I hope most sincerely that it will then be fully up to strength and that it will be kept that way.
I hope I may be allowed briefly to indulge in a reminiscence, however antediluvian it may appear to be from my appearance. I wish to reflect on the most extraordinary changes that have occurred in the composition of the Army over the past 46 years. In 1945 I happened to be in the War Office. Among other matters I was charged with preparing preliminary studies for the composition of the post-war Army. I well remember the minutes of the first CIGS conference in October of that year held at the Staff 1175 College, Camberley. I remember the minutes as it was my duty to write them. It was a hard task and I have kept the notes.
To meet the then commitments worldwide it was estimated that we would need a Regular Army of 275,000 soldiers, bolstered by a National Service element of 133,000, plus a women's service of 2,000. There would also be a volunteer or TA element of some 210,000. That makes a total of 620,000. With all reservists embodied on mobilisation the Army could have fielded a grand total of 1,370,000. That of course was the position in 1945. By the following year the draft plans had been modified considerably, principally because of a change of government. National Service remained but overseas commitments began to shrink and by 1947 the need for British forces in India had disappeared. The rest is history.
In passing, let us examine the regression over the years in terms just of armour and infantry. In 1945 the planners envisaged 30 RAC regiments and 138 infantry battalions. Now in 1991 there are 20 RAC regiments and 55 infantry battalions. By 1995 it is proposed that there shall be 12 RAC regiments and 38 infantry battalions. Based on the present establishment there will be a reduction by 1995 in RAC regiments of 40 per cent. and in infantry battalions of 31 per cent. Those figures are fairly devastating and the proposed reductions highlight the fate of famous regiments in the rundown of the Regular Army to only 116,000 men and women. In the infantry in particular, because of its county connections, there is deep concern. In this round of cuts no fewer than 22 regiments, if one includes the Brigade of Gurkhas, are to suffer by amalgamation or reduction.
I shall describe the position in my own regiment as an example. The first round of cuts was made in 1958. It was hoped in the Infantry Directorate of that time that by forming an English Fusilier Brigade of four battalions, comprising the old 5th, 6th, 7th and 20th Foot—they were all fusilier regiments—each would keep its own identity and positive geographical connection with Northumberland, Warwickshire, Greater London and Lancashire respectively. That was an example of one of the original proposals mooted in the 1945 plans for the post-war Army when certain regiments might be grouped but for administrative convenience only.
Unfortunately some 10 years later it was decided by the Army Board to move to the large regiment. My own regiment, the 5th Fusiliers, virtually disappeared as such on becoming 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. In due course there was a further cut and 3rd Battalion, the Lancashire Fusilier battalion, had to go. That battalion was the most junior in the Army List of the four battalions in the regiment.
In the present plans another battalion has to disappear and the regiment, which originally had four battalions, will consist of only two. This is another form of death by a thousand cuts. The same fate is to befall the other large regiments, for example the Royal Anglian, the Light Infantry and the Royal Green Jackets. It is interesting that this possibility was foreseen by the CIGS Conference in 1945 when it was 1176 considered undesirable to move into large regiments principally because of the danger of regiments losing their identity in their traditional recruiting areas.
To be quite fair, however, there has always been a body of opinion which has advocated a closer grouping of regiments than the present six administrative divisions. It is always possible that if there had been more large regiments and rather fewer single battalion regiments the present painful decisions would not have been felt so intensely, nor such anger generated in certain counties of England and the traditional recruiting regions of Scotland.
I make one final plea, which is for the Territorial Army. I understand that it is to be reduced by one-third, to about 63,000 men and women. As a pre-1939 Territorial myself I have always recognised the importance of the close affinity which binds the volunteer unit to its regular counterpart. With the amalgamation of yet more regiments, the Territorial unit will have increased importance because it will wear the badges of the regiment in the area from which its regular counterpart recruits. It will also remain an important link between the regiment and the general public, whose good will is vital if young men are to be encouraged to join the colours. Every effort should be made to maintain at least one company of a Territorial battalion in an area from which its regular counterpart recruits.
Northumberland is fortunate in having a well-founded battalion which is almost at full strength. That battalion, together with its affiliated battalion of the Army Cadet Force, are a useful source for regular enlistment. I mention those units in particular as that is where my military background lies. I ask my noble friend not to allow such important links as these between the Territorial Army and the Regular Army to be in any way diminished.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, for 40 years we have had a certain world political structure and a certain technology of weaponry around the world. We have had the Cold War and we have had nuclear weapons. The world political structure has given way but the weapons have not. They are still there, and it is not at all clear what they are supposed to do or what is the best thing to do with them. The weapons are still with us and they are still secret. They are still an undeniable threat and deterrent and they are still determining our political actions in ways that we are not aware of. They are still shaping the world scene.
Attempts over the past 40 years to remove the weapons have failed and will probably continue to fail. We proceed from milestone to milestone in our attempts at disarmament, but they are not true milestones. The latest attempt to get rid of strategic nuclear weapons—START—is not nuclear disarmament. The nuclear warheads are not to be destroyed or recycled; they are to be retained. Why is that? It is because the United States' warhead material installations were closed down two years ago on environmental grounds. Therefore the Americans are not yet willing to destroy the warheads of those strategic missiles. The missiles themselves are being 1177 retained for possible alternative use. There is no disarmament in that instance, simply some mothballing or some provisional unscrewing. Nevertheless, it count; as disarmament, and in international treaty law it will figure as disarmament of a sort.
We in Britain have to ask ourselves at what point the American-Soviet agreed reductions, which amount almost to a reduction race, will strike the United Kingdom's proposed increase in nuclear weapons—the acquisition of the Trident submarine missiles. We must remember more than ever, as we have been saying for five or eight years, that those missiles come to the United Kingdom only on the personal whim of the President of the United States. There is no treaty, and Congress is not involved. It is a mere administrative arrangement between individuals. The President can say no if he ever chooses to do so.
Meanwhile, all sorts of strange chimeras are stirring in the undergrowth—if that is what chimeras do. What is the United States' military and industrial complex doing trying to sell anti-ballistic missile defence in the Soviet Union? In the past three days newspapers have been full of what appears to be some form of agreement between certain persons in the Russian military establishment and certain persons in the United States whereby Russia would acquire a Star Wars strategic defence capacity of its own.
I wonder what the Government think about that. Supposing it were to work, and a sale from California to Russia were to be effected which would help to defend Russia against stray minor nuclear strikes, not only from Iraq or a future nuclear armed Iran, but from the Ukraine, Kazakhstan or other Soviet republics, where we know there are nuclear weapons? That would constitute a Russian-American defensive alliance against everyone in the world, would it not, including France and Britain? Do we want the United States to sell ABM equipment to Russia, or indeed to the Soviet Union, supposing by some outside chance the Soviet Union does not fall apart?
Let us look further ahead. The Soviet Union has fallen apart because its constituent peoples cannot bear to live together any longer. The Russian republic itself is also a federal republic. It consists of 30 or 40 separate peoples. It is easy to forecast that within five or 10 years they too will find it difficult to live together and the RSFSR, as it used to be known, will also break up. Who will then have the Soviet nuclear weapons which now exist, and the American anti-missile equipment which some people evidently want Russia to have?
We must also recognise that the nuclear armament of Iraq, which has been filling the press recently, was brought about not solely by the original sin and remarkable individual wickedness of President Saddarn, though God knows that is real enough, but also by the Israeli attack on the Iraqi nuclear establishment eight or 10 years ago, which went unpunished by the world. It had the inevitable effect that the Iraqis started again with a more secret nuclear development programme, the extent of which is only now being revealed.
1178 I do not know what the moral to all this is. Perhaps it is that governments such as ours, and the French and German Governments are in much the same boat, have to look a great deal further ahead than I believe they are doing. I do not see any of those thoughts or dangers reflected in the document before us—Options for Change. I do not believe that the Government are yet thinking on the right level. What is the right posture for a country such as this in a world scene such as I have described? Are the Government capable of finding it? They have better information than anyone else, and we must all, party or no party, hope that they find it and get it right.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, I have not spoken in a defence debate since December 1977. I was originally motivated to speak in this debate because I learned that my regiment, the Royal Scots—the oldest regular regiment in the regular Army—was to become extinct by amalgamation. My noble friend Lord Wedgwood, in an excellent maiden speech, went into detail on that matter earlier. I was confirmed in my desire to speak by the fact that a number of people, not only service people and ex service people but even more civilians who had never served in any of our forces, spoke to me about Options for Change and told me that they were deeply concerned that the Government cuts were going too far. Of course, it is important to me that my regiment is to go. It is certainly the oldest regiment in the regular British Army and probably the oldest in the world because before it became part of the British Army it provided a regular fighting force for the Swedes for at least a hundred years before that.
I do not want to take up too much of your Lordships' time. However, I wonder whether my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will take the trouble to read the report of the proceedings in your Lordships' House and, more importantly, to take note of them. I understand that when proposals were put before him concerning the units which were to move out to the Gulf he agreed a list verbally, but when a list was typed out one infantry battalion was missed off that list. Later, when my right honourable friend was given a revised list which included that infantry battalion he said, "No, they are not to go". On that occasion my right honourable friend was in an awkward position because the kit of the battalion in question had already been sent off by sea and its advance party was already in the Gulf. Without his knowledge the Army had to smuggle the rest of the battalion out. They had more sense than he had. That incident makes me think that my right honourable friend is a stubborn individual who does not pay a great deal of attention to other people and their advice. This evening he has been given a great deal of good advice which is not necessarily to his liking.
I understand from those who are better informed on these matters than I am that what is proposed is already likely to result in a shortfall of three infantry battalions in relation to our present commitments. That allows for no sudden, unexpected demands on the Army.
1179 How much warning did we have of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands? I believe that the first warning was when they came ashore. How much warning did we get of the trouble in the Gulf? There was certainly not time to raise and train units to send out there. How much warning will we get of any other potential conflict?
Before the attempt to depose Mr. Gorbachev we were in a logjam. We were stuck. We were in a position of stalemate. Everyone knew that if the USSR moved the West would throw nuclear weapons at it, and the USSR knew that if we were to move it would throw nuclear weapons at us. At present we are going through life as nations pitching and tossing on a violent stream, not knowing what is happening. Yugoslavia is a case in point. We do not know what will happen in the old USSR. Anything could happen. Armies can get out of control. We can see that happening in Yugoslavia.
We should be extremely careful about what we are doing to reduce our Armed Forces. It is essential that we keep sufficient forces of a good enough quality and well enough recruited to act as a proper insurance against troubles ahead. I wonder whether the right units will be done away with. Are they possibly units that are well recruited with the potential to recruit in the future and with a high retention rate? I suspect that some that are to be retained are not. That matter may need considering.
The infantry is extremely versatile and can be used to do many jobs. As the noble Lord, Lord Cheshire, said, they can be used in many forms for relief in times of trouble that do not require a strictly military commitment.
What is the position with the RAF regiment? Do we need special Royal Air Force units to guard our airfields? Could that not be done by regular infantry battalions, possibly strengthened with a troop of properly trained artillery? It would certainly improve future co-operation between the RAF and the infantry for any time when they need to operate together.
What is the point of keeping the Gurkhas? They have a lead increment which means that they have to have a higher number of men in each battalion than a British battalion. That will cost more. We have to fly their families away from Nepal to wherever the battalion is stationed. Can we go on using mercenary units? Should we use mercenary units at the cost of our own infantry regiments, particularly regiments that are recruited in areas of high unemployment? I should have thought that it would be cheaper and just as effective to send to Nepal the money that is returned home by the Gurkhas. That can be in the form of aid to help Nepal to stand on its own two feet.
I am worried about what will happen to the soldiers who are discharged as a result of the reductions. Those leaving the Armed Forces should be given an effective and comprehensive resettlement service to enable them to plan and to manage their life and career change so that they resolve their future, especially as regards obtaining a job in civilian life. Will my noble friend therefore reassure me that the Tri-Service Resettlement Organisation, as the effective service 1180 organisation, will be given the freedom to provide a resettlement service? Will he further reassure me that adequate outplacement and employment assistance services will be delivered to the Tri-Service Resettlement Organisation during the vital six months prior to discharge, ensuring that at least equivalent treatment is given to soldiers as to civilians who face similar changes in their lives? I wonder whether the Education Corps is able to cope with the resettlement training that is needed. Somehow I doubt it.
I understand that my noble friend Lord Arran is producing a task force paper on housing for those leaving the services. Will that be made available to the three services and to the public at large to help in planning? With reference to paragraphs 1020 and 1021 of the third edition of the 1991 Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, when will the DOE and Welsh Office circular 54/75, which was written before the right to buy came into operation with regard to housing for ex-servicemen, be withdrawn and rewritten to bring it into line with current housing policy?
Finally, has sufficient funding been allocated to ensure that the home headquarters of regiments due for amalgamation or disbandment are kept open and manned for at least three years following that amalgamation or disbandment to assist and support the resettlement, rehousing and employment of the servicemen affected?
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Viscount Allenby of Megiddo
My Lords, as far as the regular Army, the Navy and the Air Force are concerned, Options for Change are no longer options. They are now decisions which our Armed Forces have to implement by becoming smaller but better, which, we are told by the Minister, is no catchphrase. Few of us doubt that the changed international situation demands a review and a different balance between and within the three armed services.
Sadly, there has been widespread criticism of the Government's performance on defence in another place, in the media and within the Armed Forces themselves. After the two major conflicts, the Government have got away with it by the most slender of margins. The inescapable truth is that to make two brigades operational in the Gulf, it was necessary to make the remainder of three divisions in the Rhine Army virtually non-operational. I question whether that could be done in an explosive and potentially hostile East, Central or Southern European climate—a perfectly possible scenario for the future.
There is an upsurge within the ranks of the Army of frustration, uncertainty and disillusionment, caused by the lack of manpower within the existing structure, overstretch and lack of money, so often wrongly attributed to the introduction of the new management strategy referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ironside.
Today, as the Army moves towards the implementation of Options for Change, most units are now well below strength, making tours such as Northern Ireland extremely difficult due to the shortage of men. We have heard a great deal about that already today. Often, additional companies have to be posted in from 1181 battalions which are themselves overstretched. There is a need to avoid the present almost permanent overstretch. One looks in vain for any match of actual and potential commitments to the proposed size of an army of a strength of 116,000 men—an army within which: here is to be a massive reduction of the combat units which must carry out the future front-line commitments.
Over the past few weeks I have heard by letter and telephone call from serving officers both in the infantry and the armoured corps saying, "We need another 30 men to make this new structure work if the battalion or regiment is to function efficiently". One wonders whether such calls are getting through to the service chiefs and what they are doing about it. I am convinced that the Army needs to be increased by about 5,000 to 7,000 men and women above the proposed 116,000 and that it must include at least four additional infantry battalions on whom the bulk of the peacetime commitments fall. Like many noble Lords, I could expound on the infantry being at the forefront and therefore the most important people of the future.
I referred earlier to a feeling of uncertainty because of the knowledge that in the future many men and women must leave the Army. These are young people, often in their mid-forties and with families, who have suddenly begun to realise that their six, nine or 12-year option will not be extended to 22 years as they could reasonably have considered would happen in the past. Because they have been encouraged to follow the flag, they have no home and now have no job. While I welcome the package of measures to help with redundancy and housing, I ask the Government whether serious consideration has been or could be given t) direct transfer of some of those redundant servicemen to, say, the police, the prison service, the fire brigade or ambulance service. These men and women are all well trained, mid-career people who deserve a future. It may be that some of the forces around this country would accept direct transfers.
I turn to the Territorial Army and make no apology for declaring a personal involvement. In Cm. Paper 1595, entitled Britain's Army for the 90s, the Government states at paragraph 37:We are giving careful consideration to its future and to the size and number of TA units".The paper goes on to state that the strength will settle at between 60,000 and 65,000. It is all rather woolly and certainly leaves one in considerable doubt as to the size and shape of the Territorial Army in the future.
We now learn that proposals are up for discussion to culminate in a government decision just before Christmas. These proposals will virtually eliminate all infantry TA from the counties of Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. I wonder what the Lord Lieutenants of those counties will think when they learn that they will have no Territorial Army in their counties. They are proposals which include the virtual disbandment of the senior and most experienced Territorial Army armoured recce regiment (the Royal Yeomanry) and the oldest regiment (the Wiltshire Yeomanry) by the removal of their armoured cars and changing what remains of a 1182 decimated regiment to the role of Land Rover mounted recce. Of course the Territorial Army will respond to the changes in role.
However, there is one matter to which the Government need to give serious consideration in the future; namely, the call-out and mobilisation of reserves. Unlike the national guard counterparts in the USA, our system is complex and difficult to operate. The noble Duke, the Duke of Westminster, referred to the problem in his speech. I should like briefly to quote from the 10th report of the Defence Committee in another place, which says:The current general review of Reserve forces provides an opportunity for reconsidering how best to ensure that … the legal and military framework within which their services arc to be required is sensibly framed and operated, enabling Reservists to be called up short of a general mobilisation".I make no apology for mentioning that again. It is a problem that must be tackled. I hope that the study which is currently taking place will point the way ahead and that the Government will find time to introduce the necessary legislation.
I make just one plea to the Government. Will they please consider most carefully the 563 TA centres and drill halls and not dispose of any of them in the interests of saving money? Those drill halls are an essential network, as was described by the noble Duke. They play an important pivotal role throughout the country. It is easy enough to knock them down or sell them off but it is not so easy to replace them when an emergency arises and we need to expand further our reserves, as we hope to be able to do in future.
Both in the Territorial Army and the regular Army the sense of belonging to a family is of paramount importance. Throughout a long history and many changes, that has enabled young men to play their part in many areas of the world. They will not let the family down. The Government are to be congratulated on standing firm on the abandonment of the regimental system, which we abandon at our peril and which rightly is the envy of every other army in the world. It is rigid, bloody-minded, individualistic, over-protective and stubborn—all that and more is true. But those are the strengths and not the weaknesses of our Army. Regiments will adapt and change—even the Royal Scots—given time. If it is clear that the Government have fully made out the long-term case, they will then work as hard for the new as they did for the old.
As a staff officer at the Ministry of Defence told me, life in the Ministry of Defence today is like lying on a billiard table with all the balls above your head waiting for them to drop. I hope that they drop in the right pockets and fit snugly, with not too many balls in one pocket and not enough in another.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, I have to confess that I have no military experience whatsoever beyond remaining stuck at the rank of private in the Eton College Combined Cadet Force some 30 years ago. However, I hope that my comments will not be considered any the less objective for that. I should like to comment briefly on three aspects of Options for 1183 Change and ask my noble friend the Minister a few questions. Those areas are, first, his claim that the cuts are not Treasury led; secondly, the suggestion that they have been carefully thought through; and thirdly, the inappropriate secrecy in which that thinking has taken place.
First, as to my noble friend's denial that the cuts have been more inspired by the Treasury than may be good for the future defence of the realm, I have two questions by way of example. Does he accept that the Treasury instructed the Ministry of Defence to budget on an inflation rate of some 4.5 per cent. for the years 1988 to 1990? If so, must there not have been a bit of a gap in the budget when inflation turned out to be nearer 11 per cent?
Can he tell us whether there is any truth in the rumour that the diminishing threat from the Soviet Union in those years led defence contractors to finish some contracts early, fearing that they might otherwise be cancelled? Did the resultant earlier payment for those contracts make another hole in the budget? I wonder whether my noble friend can put a figure on those two holes in our defence budgeting, if they existed, and explain how the shortfalls cannot have inspired the Treasury to cut costs to cover them.
In my second point I come to the claim that the cuts have been properly thought through. My noble friend seems to agree with other noble Lords, and perhaps particularly with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that there has not been a proper strategic defence review as such. But, even if there had been such a review, things have changed so much internationally in the past two years that it is doubtful whether it could have reached the right conclusions. After all, Options for Change was conceived in March 1990 and published in July of that year. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait a couple of weeks later. Since then we have seen the events of August this year in the Soviet Union, leaving much uncertainty behind them, and we have the present conflict in Yugoslavia. Ethnic unrest and nuclear proliferation now face us on a scale that was inconceivable when these cuts were supposedly being thought through. So I fear that we must be unlikely to have got right the broad sweep of the strategy.
However, it is when we come to the detail of some of the proposed cuts that we can see that we have clearly got some of them badly wrong. I shall refer to some details of the infantry cuts.
Most people seem to accept that it may be sensible to cut nine infantry battalions to reflect the withdrawals from Germany. But to disband five more battalions without reducing commitments does not seem prudent. Let us look for example at the planned fate of the Brigade of Guards, to be cut from eight battalions to five. At the moment the Foot Guards have three battalions abroad and the remaining five on very profitable duty in London. The proposed cuts will mean either committing almost the entire remaining elements to London duties on a permanent basis, which will not work because men join the Brigade of Guards for the excellence of its overseas service rather than for its ceremonial duties in London, or a drastic reduction of those very profitable 1184 ceremonial duties. To be faced with such a dilemma surely cannot be right. It certainly shows an almost complete lack of accurate, detailed planning. My noble friend may suggest that perhaps the Brigade of Guards' contribution to the Exchequer from its ceremonial duties is not all that great. Have the Government attempted to quantify that element? Whether or not they have, the Director of the London Tourist Board wrote in yesterday's Daily Telegraph that tourism brings more than £5 billion per annum to London alone. He said that 40 per cent. of all visitors watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and that no less than 66 per cent. visited the Tower of London. Twenty per cent. of all long-haul visitors give pageantry as the main reason for their visit.
If one goes into still finer detail, the result of these cuts can look even more ill advised. For instance, one Guards officer and 22 men guard the Crown jewels at the Tower of London. If, as is being suggested, they are to be replaced by uniformed policemen, the cost will at least double, and—with all due respect to our police—I doubt whether they will provide quite the same tourist attraction.
There is one further more general point relating to these cuts. They seem to fall equally on the best and on the not so good regiments. Everyone who has had the great unpleasantness of having to make redundancies in commerce or industry knows that one keeps the best and lets the less good go. Can my noble friend inform us why the Government are not following that philosophy for such an important matter as the defence of the realm?
I turn now to the inappropriate secrecy about Options for Change which the Ministry of Defence appears to have imposed on very senior serving officers over the past 15 months or so. I have to suggest to my noble friend that this gagging of the people who presumably know more about their duties than just about everyone in the Treasury, and more than many in the Ministry of Defence, must have seriously reduced the chances of a proper outcome to the debate. I am of course aware of the Official Secrets Act but I am referring to the discussion of facts which were and are already in the public domain. The prohibition of discussion of these matters appears to have been an abuse by the Ministry of Defence of Queen's Regulations. I refer my noble friend to Part 14 of Queen's Regulations, paragraph J5.581, which restricts the political activities of service personnel. Paragraph (a) states:Regular personnel are not to take any active part in the affairs of any political organization, party or movement. They are not to participate in political marches or demonstrations".That seems clear and reasonable enough. The trouble is that the Ministry of Defence has issued written orders to all serving personnel to the effect that the prohibition against taking,any active part in the affairs of any political organization, party or movement",includes the lobbying of Members of Parliament, even their own Member of Parliament, which has therefore been expressly forbidden by the Ministry. Will my noble friend let me know whether I have got that right, 1185 and, if so, whether he will make sure that the Ministry does not improperly stifle this vital source of wisdom in future?
I end by reminding the Government that the dark side of human nature is always with us and that it did not crumble with the Berlin Wall. Saddam Hussein, the events in the Soviet Union of 18th August, and Yugoslavia today should all confirm that eternal fact. I fear that there may be too much optimism that the countries and republics of the former Warsaw Pact are all moving towards democracy and capitalism as fast as possible. As one of the few of your Lordships who has opened an office in Warsaw, and who is also close to the growing ethnic unrest between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Russia and the Ukraine, and between other republics which used to be part of the Soviet Union, I have to say that I am not so sure. I do not see how the Government can be sure either. I therefore join other noble Lords in asking the Government to consider again and to reduce the savagery of these intended cuts.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I rise hesitantly to speak in support of the Government. We have heard many speeches today stating that they are going too far too fast and getting rid of a number of famous regiments, and so on. We have also heard from a number of noble Lords who have said in effect that the Government are doing the right thing and are on the right course. I am one who says that they are not going far enough fast enough. It is curious to state that in the context of asking the Government to take a long-term view of the situation—not to react just to the current situation but to think in terms of the future for the benefit of the country.
One of the advantages of speaking late in the debate is that one has heard some notable contributions. It was good that the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, reminded us that there is a tremendous tendency for the Armed Forces to plan on the basis of the last war that they fought rather than wars that they may have to fight in the future.
However, we also need to remember that the way to succeed in war and conflicts is by pulling together. I am concerned that some members or ex-members of the Armed Forces feel isolated and threatened because of apparent attacks on their regiments. I understand that.
We have only to look at what has happened over the past 20 or 30 years in industry. Some famous household names have disappeared from our ken. If I mention a handful of them noble Lords will understand what I am talking about. Riley, Triumph, Wolselcy, Morris and Austin are famous names of motor cars that we can no longer buy but which workers were once proud to produce. The famous names which we are left with in the British motor industry are Rover and Jaguar.
But those companies are no longer British and their names are not where they should be on the roll of honour. The people who worked for those companies 1186 had just as much pride and esprit de corps as the soldiers who served in the famous regiments about which we have heard this afternoon.
I would say to the soldiers in the regiments who may be worried about their famous names disappearing and being merged with others that life goes on and we survive. The famous names will survive in memories and in the history books, and maybe that is for the best. Some of those names are associated with the populous counties that used to exist 100 or 200 years ago but which are no longer populous. People now live in cities and there are no longer so many agricultural workers in the big shire counties, so perhaps we should think in terms of an Army structure based on the large conurbations. Let us make it a people's army.
I should like to touch on the contribution made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. He gave a very interesting and thought-provoking analysis. I was a little sad that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, could not understand it, but perhaps that says more about his intelligence than the intellect of the noble and gallant Lord.
Defence diversification has been mentioned in this debate in a positive way. This has been discussed quite a lot in the trade union movement because of the need for workers to protect their jobs and for defence manufacturers to diversify into peaceful production capacity. We have heard from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cheshire, and from the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others, of the need for the Armed Forces to diversify their operations and in particular to provide support in disaster situations. That has much to commend it, and I hope that the Government will consider the contributions that have been made by noble Lords much more illustrious than I, and I should like to support that point of view.
We must recognise that over the past 30 or 40 years countries that have not spent a lot of their gross domestic product on defence are now stronger and wealthier and their people are healthier and better educated than those in countries that have spent a high proportion of their gross domestic product on defence. If one looks at the performance in world terms of Japan and Germany, if one looks at the success of Austria and to a lesser extent Sweden, one can see the tremendous benefits that have accrued to the people in countries that have spent less on defence and more on education, health services and housing and more in supporting peaceful manufacturing capacity.
Over the next 15 years we must transform our nation, our society, so that we can strengthen our economy and improve the living standards of all our people. We can do that only by reducing defence spending at least to the level of our peer countries in Europe, and in the long term we may have to spend less on defence than they do. But it is not just a question of money but of the tremendous intellectual and energy capability of the people who currently work in the defence industry and who serve in the Armed Forces. Those tremendous human abilities 1187 must be used to the advantage of the people in a more positive way than serving in the Armed Forces and absorbing defence expenditure.
One of the other actions that we must take in the longer term, as has been mentioned by other noble Lords, is to work to rid the world of nuclear weapons. We should not do that solely on the basis of altruism, horror or morality, although all of those factors should come into the equation. I hope that the decision will be made on defence criteria. It must be realised that nuclear weapons do not contribute to the defence of our realm; they do not contribute to the defence of France, the United States, the Soviet Union, China or India. One must look at other countries around the world. If not having nuclear weapons makes countries vulnerable, why has not France, for example, taken over Germany? Why does Italy still remain an independent country? There are many countries which do not have nuclear weapons.
Those are some of the long-term objectives at which we must aim. I return to a point that I made at the beginning of my contribution—sympathy for those who face redundancy, the loss of famous names and the feeling that they will lose the esprit de corps that has existed for a long time. I say to them, "Yes, the rest of the country, the people who are not in the Armed Forces, have sympathy for you, but at the end of the day we must all move forward together to make progress in the best interests of all the British people".
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ The Earl of Carnarvon
My Lords, I had the honour to serve for five years in the Household Cavalry, joining the Royal Horse Guards (the Blues) in 1942. That is 50 years ago, at the same time as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. In due course I saw service in the Middle East and in Italy. After the war in Europe ended I was posted to the mounted squadron in London for two years.
I understand that it is intended to amalgamate the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals into one operational regiment of four squadrons and to have in addition one mounted regiment of two squadrons. Patently there will need to be a regimental training element in order to prepare those transferring from the operational to the mounted role.
The mounted element provides a significant part of the Household Division's public duties and at a cost far outweighed by the benefits it brings. Apart from its contribution to security, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, a recent London Tourist Board report assesses the Household Division's contribution to revenue from tourism as lying between £500 million and £1 billion.
I fail to see how an amalgamated regiment of this size can carry out both these important roles and at the same time train its personnel, allow them to take leave and retrain those transferring from one role to the other. All work and no play will not make Trooper Jack a happy soldier. He will leave and I submit that it will not be easy to recruit the necessary quality of 1188 young men to fill his place. The savings must be insignificant when set against the benefit from tourism.
Although serving in a combined regiment, one remained a member of the Royal Horse Guards; once a Blue, always a Blue. However, we were all of us, Life Guards and Blues, proud of our 1st and 2nd Household Cavalry regiments. What I fear today is not the amalgamating—the Blues and Royals are already amalgamated—but the impossible task set them by the Secretary of State unless—and I say again "unless"—the main regiment has a sufficiently large establishment to allow for servicing the mounted squadrons and for training for its dual role.
I hope that the Minister will give me a satisfactory reply regarding this very special problem faced by the Household Cavalry, which, whether on duty in London or overseas, is a superb fighting force.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Lord Fanshawe of Richmond
My Lords, on Monday afternoon this week, on a glorious sunny October day, I visited the battlefield of Waterloo. I had not been there before but many other noble Lords may have visited it. It was an impressive sight. The fields are still tilled; the farmland is there as it was 176 years ago when the battle was fought. Although there are main roads near the area the actual battlefield is virtually as it was.
§ Lord Fanshawe of Richmond
My Lords, as I wandered around the site, which was empty of tourists, I came upon the farm of Hougoumont, which was defended by the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards against Napoleon's army in the battle. In fact it held the right wing of Wellington's forces. As my noble friend said, it is exactly as it was 176 years ago; the buildings are there and the plaque which I saw commemorated the defence of the farm of Hougoumont by the Scots Guards. That is one of the battalions which is now to be disbanded.
I visited La Haye Sainte, the other farm on the left wing of the British front. Again that stands today as it did 176 years ago. I wandered across the fields and found where the cavalry brigade formed up, and my old regiment, the Life Guards, which fought at Waterloo, stood to before it charged. It was a moving occasion to think that those men fought on our behalf in Belgium all those years ago. One felt the losses and the bloodshed on that field as one stood there. As a result of their efforts they saved the British Army from fighting another war in Western Europe for 100 years.
It was not until 1914 that the Household Cavalry was again in action in Europe at the Battle of Mons down the road from Waterloo, accompanied by many of the members of the Footguard Division who fought at Mons and in the battles immediately afterwards at the beginning of the First World War. When one moves forward to 1944, at the time of the liberation of Europe, one may ask who the soldiers were at the forefront of the battle from France into Belgium in 1189 1944. It was a Household Cavalry regiment accompanied by tanks of the Welsh Guards and also the Grenadiers, who liberated Brussels.
One follows the theme through of those soldiers who fought in war after war and were again present as the Blues and Royals were in the Falklands war and the Life Guards only recently in the Gulf war. Those people who believe that the Household Division consists merely of chocolate soldiers who appear on parade in London and attract the tourists should realise that they are fighting soldiers who have fought for this country for hundreds of years. They fought over a great length of time in a way which has no comparison.
Some people probably feel that noble Lords who speak in this debate are pursuing their own interests and the old and the bold are on parade supporting their regiments. There is a certain element of that in the debate this evening. But I wholeheartedly support the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, in what he said regarding the Household Cavalry, which was the first time it was mentioned in the debate. The composite regiment proposal recently put forward was forced on the Household Cavalry and is much resented. We know that in the last war, and indeed in the First World War, the two regiments of the Household Cavalry—the Life Guards and the Blues—came together and fought as a combined regiment. Of course during wartime the mounted regiment was not needed and did not exist. They therefore did not have the problem of supplying officers, NCOs and troopers to provide for the mounted squadrons in London as well as the fighting troops overseas.
Many members of the Household Cavalry resented the letter that was sent to several Members of another place signed by my noble friend's colleague, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. It was dated 28th August and was sent to the honourable Member for Westbury. In yesterday's debate in another place the honourable Member for another Wiltshire seat, Sir Charles Morrison, said that he had received a similar letter. The letter says:I would like to emphasise that the concept of the combined regiments originated from the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals themselves and is seen by all concerned as the best way forward for the two original regiments".That is just not correct. I should be grateful if my noble friend would comment on that.
This proposal saves the minimal amount of money, particularly when one takes into account the amount earned from the tourist industry which was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and by my noble friend Lord Pearson earlier in the debate. I believe the real reason is that the Army Board, consisting of four Ministers and three generals, believes that the Household Division should take a share of the cuts. That is not based on any military or economic factors whatsoever. I hope that my noble friend and his colleagues will reconsider their decision, and there is plenty of time to do so. If they will not reconsider it, the regiments—the Blues and Royals, who were merged in 1969 and have already taken their share of mergers, and the Life Guards—will try to make it work. They will have to because they are loyal servants of the Crown.
1190 But the damage to morale for the operational unit of these regiments will be considerable. The career structure of officers and NCOs will be damaged for the reasons set out by the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon. The difficulties for the mounted regiment to carry out the mounted duties in London will be great unless further thought is given to providing a training squadron for the operational regiment, which is to have four sabre squadrons and a headquarters squadron (two sabre squadrons for the Life Guards and two sabre squadrons for the Blues). I hope that my noble friend will discuss with his colleagues the possibility, in dealing with the problems that face the Household Cavalry of providing the right number of men and the right amount of equipment if this decision has to go ahead.
If an assurance is not given, I believe that it will be very difficult for this new composite regiment to meet its duties. The theoretical establishment which has been given to it is not enough and at the moment the numbers will not allow a satisfactory career structure. When my noble friend made his statement in July on Options for Change, in referring to the infantry battalions he said:I can certainly say that the 38 battalions will be properly manned, properly equipped and properly financed".—[Official Report, 23/7/91; col. 675.]I assume that this pledge will apply to the Household Cavalry as well. I also hope that it will apply to the line cavalry regiments who are also taking a great number of mergers and amalgamations which are not wanted but which have been loyally accepted.
Other much more distinguished noble Lords have covered the macro-defence scene in the debate today. It has been a long debate and I do not wish to hold up proceedings by discussing the wider issues. However, despite Ministers' protestations it seems to me that the cutback is clearly Treasury driven. It is not good enough for Ministers to say time after time both here and in another place that it is not Treasury driven. That criticism has been made by noble Lords who have spoken in the debate this afternoon. They have made it quite clear that the Government are losing all credibility on this issue. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, made it clear that he has evidence to prove that it is resource driven and Treasury driven. The letter that was sent by the Chief of the General Staff, General Chapple, also takes what certainly is the view of the many soldiers and serving officers—that this drive is being masterminded by our friends in the Treasury.
Perhaps my noble friend will comment on a statement that was made to me today that Sandhurst, where I was trained, is now using gas rattles to indicate machine-gun fire because the Treasury does not allow for sufficient equipment for it to provide machine-guns. I should be grateful if he would confirm whether that is true.
I am also told that there is a Territorial Yeomanry unit in the North of England which is about to go on exercise for three weeks and it has been given one blank round for each soldier during the three-week training. I should be grateful if my noble friend would confirm whether that is true. It is very depressing if 1191 this is the state of play which has been reached with our Armed Forces as the result of Treasury pressure. I do not blame my noble friend. I blame the Treasury.
My noble friends Lord Whitelaw and Lord Middleton made their fears about the Foot Guards very plain in their speeches earlier, as did my noble friend Lord Pearson. We are all anxious about the Government's decisions. We hope that they will once more take time to reconsider them.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, we are all grateful to my noble friend the Minister not only for initiating this debate on the defence White Paper and for sitting so patiently through so many speeches, but also for giving us the opportunity to hear three absolutely splendid maiden speeches. I must say that the moving, deeply thoughtful speech—without notes—of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cheshire, was one of the most heart-stirring I have heard in this House and it made me cry.
When I was re-reading my noble friend Lord Home's debate on the Western Alliance on 19th April 1989 I was particularly struck by the almost clairvoyant nature of what my noble friend said. He foresaw in his speech the total economic collapse of the Soviet Union and, in col. 776, he said that:the retreat from Afghanistan, the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola and the orders to North Vietnam to leave Kampuchea imply that the communist aim for world domination has had to be modified and is very likely to be abandoned".Re-reading old Hansards is rather like reading the backs of old newspapers when you are pricking out seeds in the greenhouse—fascinating and irresistible. With some trepidation I even turned back to some of my own speeches on the same theme, wondering if I had said anything so unlikely that I should have to eat my words, as some people nowadays eat other, usually inedible, garments. I was relieved and surprised to find that most of what I said still stood. In January 1989 I said:all over the Soviet Union little candle lights of freedom and friendship are beginning to twinkle"—[Official Report 25/1/89; col. 740.]In November 1989 I said:Every day … another piece of freedom emerges. It is like a huge glacier rushing into a greenhouse-warmed sea. The slow, solid ice is cracking into boulders, icebergs and rocks … Secondly, when we are in a river full of floating and dangerous rocks we need to keep ourselves secure".—[Official Report, 22/11/89; cols. 117–8.]With the collapse of the eastern bloc countries and their emergence into freedom, that was true. It is still true with all that has happened this summer in the Soviet Union itself.
There are just three points I should like to make and I can reassure your Lordships that I shall be brief. The first is that we are still in the whirlpool at the end of the glacier. My noble friend Lord Carrington has said that the world has never been in a more dangerous situation than it is now. He is right. We are in the middle of change. Now more than ever we need to be strong and resist any sudden emergency which 1192 might occur. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has stressed the need for a strong defence. He is absolutely right.
One of the most encouraging things has been the reduction of nuclear weapons. We all hope that this will continue rapidly, as President Bush and President Gorbachev agree. One nuclear deterrent we must have, but vast economies can be made here. Our forces must also be well equipped with up-to-date weapons to defend us. However, as I have said before, no weapon is much use without someone to use it. And if we reduce our infantry by 17 battalions to 116,000 men, we will not have enough manpower to undertake the commitments we already have. I have not been able to track down a speech from King Harold on his smaller but better army but I am sure that his speech before Tostig's invasion in the north and Duke William's at Senlac in the south was very similar to that of my noble friend the Minister today. Smaller elastic, however good, can only stretch a certain extent.
With their present 55 battalions, our infantry is hard pressed to train for war and to achieve their garrison duties in Belize, the Falkland Islands and Cyprus, all of which I have visited, and have seen just how busy their tours are. There is also the question of Northern Ireland, where I have also been and have seen the conditions under which our men live and operate. With 38 instead of 55 battalions the tours would become more and more frenzied, like a mouse running round a tiny treadmill. And this is without our commitments to the new rapid reaction force, and in the case of the Brigade of Guards, their ceremonial duties. With the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards, the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards and the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards swept into suspended animation, it will be almost impossible to achieve a full turnout for the Queen's Birthday Parade, and ceremonial duties will come round even more frequently. Has nobody, except for my noble friend Lord Pearson, the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, and my noble friend Lord Fanshawe, thought of what this might do to our tourist trade?
Surely it must be wrong to amalgamate the Queen's Regiment with the Royal Hampshire Regiment, the Cheshire Regiment with the Staffordshire Regiment, the Royal Scots with the KOSBs, and the Queen's Own Highlanders, already amalgamated from the Seaforths and the Camerons, with the Gordon Highlanders. Feelings in Scotland run very high on these last two proposed amalgamations. We are all proud of our Scottish regiments, as we are of the Brigade of Guards, and indeed of all our Army.
We may appear to be knocking our heads against a wall of intransigence, yet we have all seen what happened to the Berlin Wall. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence said that these cuts as announced in the White Paper are final. Nothing in this world is final—except death. Cannot my right honourable friend the Secretary of State think again?
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Lord Palmer
My Lords, I feel privileged to have the honour of addressing your Lordships' House this evening, most especially as I am among the very small band of speakers in this debate who did not serve in one of Her Majesty's forces, although I did have the good fortune for three years to be commercial ADC to the deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Although my main duties were purely ceremonial, I did have to ensure that a steady supply of good quality biscuits was always on hand in the local NAAFI!
Many of your Lordships may accordingly wonder why I have risen to my feet. I am doing so with a view to making a special plea on behalf of the Scottish battalions and to putting the case for the infantry as a whole. The infantry are the most flexible fighting component within the Army and help to maintain our peacetime commitments at home and abroad as well as meet the out of area contingencies which are always just round the corner, as was so well illustrated by the Gulf war.
As many of your Lordships have said, and as is widely known, the Scottish regiments are well recruited. If the Government cuts are to go ahead, tragic redundancies will follow. I feel that I must ask: do the Government really want to swell the numbers of unemployed in an already severely disadvantaged area with a major housing problem?
Is the Minister aware that, proportionally, the number of soldiers applying to leave the Army south of the Border greatly exceeds the number applying to leave north of the Border? This emphasises the high degree of loyalty and retention within the Scottish Division which, in providing good value for money, must surely please the Treasury. The noble Earl and his Government must take that into serious consideration. It must not be forgotten that it was the Scottish regiments that helped to keep Scotland in the Union. Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn in another place on Monday night stated that the survival of the Union was now in great danger.
There are three brief questions that I should like to ask. First, why are two battalions of Gurkhas being retained at the expense of the British infantry? Secondly, the King's Division, recruiting in the north of England, has got away almost unscathed by these draconian cuts: why? Thirdly, why has the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment been retained? The answer is not apparent, especially as there seems to be no role for a 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment. Why destroy four Scottish battalions just to perpetuate a 3rd Parachute Battalion? I beg the noble Earl to look again at the White Paper and to see how these cuts can be modified so that, for example, the Royal Scots, so nobly mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, in his excellent maiden speech and which, formed in 1633, is the most senior regiment in the British Army, is not wiped out at the stroke of a pen after 350 years of distinguished service.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, before I get going I should like to make a point about the contribution made by my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch regarding the fact that people in the Ministry of Defence are not allowed to communicate with the public or with Members of either House of Parliament. I remember very well entertaining a very senior naval officer who is a great friend of mine. When we had finished our lunch in this noble place I said, "Is there anything I can do for you?" He replied, "Well, I really can't answer that, except to tell you that before I had lunch with you as a Back-Bench Opposition Peer"—Labour was in power at the time—"I had to ask permission from my Secretary of State". However, he then told me nothing at all. If the Opposition are thinking that they can benefit from this great release of information from my noble friend Lord Pearson, they cannot do so. It has been going on for a very long time. I suspect that it stems from the disgraceful behaviour of the generals and admirals at the beginning of the century and during the First World War.
While I am talking about the Opposition, I must say that I think the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who I am delighted to see is now in his place, must have had a wonderful time to be able to make such a speech. I thought that it was a very good one. I say that because for the whole of the past eight or nine years noble Lords speaking on defence matters from the Opposition Front Bench have had to be terribly mealy-mouthed because those ghastly people down the Corridor have been telling them that they cannot say this, that or the other and that they ought to say what the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, was saying. But he was able to be thoroughly open and all on our side. It was splendid. I just hope that it is real.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, as the noble Lord mentioned me by name, perhaps I may say that I speak for the Opposition from the Front Bench. What I say from the Opposition Dispatch Box is what the Opposition feel.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I am sure that that is so, but for how long?
Evaporation of the Soviet threat is to my mind most doubtful. As many noble Lords said, it could come back unexpectedly. We must know that. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, appeared to have confidence in the disappearance of the threat from Eastern Europe. He seemed to think that we could reduce our forces as a result of that. I believe that his confidence is entirely misplaced. We must be very sure of what is happening in Eastern Europe before we can start taking any steps to take advantage of the position, if that is the right expression. In any case, as was said by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, we have always needed the forces declared to NATO to enable us to perform our duties elsewhere. He put that in a different way, but that is in effect what he was saying. We must be sure that we keep the right level of forces for the purposes for which they are needed.
1195 I agree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Cheshire, who made a brilliant speech and who said that UK forces must be the keepers of law and order under the United Nations. I was pleased at what happened over the Gulf war because that was the first event of importance in which the nations of the world went to the United Nations and said, "Look, this chap in Iraq has broken all your rules, we must do something positive against him". The United Nations said, "Yes", and it happened.
When I was in the Navy 40 years ago, I believed that that was what the United Nations was for and what it would do. It did it during the past 12 months in a positive way for the first time. That must continue. We must ensure that the United Nations is always used and referred to as the authority for the use of armed force to keep peace in the world. That is most important. Our contribution must be to have forces big enough and of the right type to do the job. I doubt whether the Government have given that matter the priority it deserves.
In the 1950s and 1960s I was commanding small ships. I always saw us as performing a police role in the way to which the noble Lord, Lord Cheshire, referred. I saw us doing that under the Crown, not under the government. As a serving naval officer, I was the Queen's servant and not the government's servant. When I found occasion to quarrel with the government, I left the Navy to do so.
I also agree with the value that the noble Lord, Lord Cheshire, placed on the United Kingdom forces and other forces with regard to disaster relief. They have been used many times in the past and will no doubt be used many times in the future. Your Lordships can find examples in paragraphs 438 and 439 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates.
The United Nations is the backbone of all aspects of peacekeeping. European Community efforts to operate in Yugoslavia without first ensuring United Nations support was unwise. The United Nations came in as an afterthought. That was a mistake of the first order. The German and French proposal for a European armed force independent of NATO is a step backwards and is unacceptable, especially if, as other noble Lords have said, it is governed by majority voting. Surely narrow defence alliances are out of date now.
I question whether the proposed size of the forces will be enough. The Navy is to have about 40 escorts instead of about 50. The 50 target seemed to mean about 35 operational ships. Presumably 40 will mean about 28 operational ships. Peacekeeping depends greatly upon those maids of all work. From having commanded a couple of the ships at different times in the 1950s and 1960s, I know.
The Army clearly also questioned the planned numbers. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, made this point as did many other speakers, particularly my noble friend Lord Wedgwood in his forceful maiden speech from the heart. As the current president of the East Wessex TAVR, I also question any reductions in the Territorial Army and the RNR. The point about the Territorial Army was made very 1196 well by my noble friend the Duke of Westminster and other noble Lords. We must be allowed to recruit to the level that we can reasonably retain and have the resources to do so. Two per cent. of the Army Vote, as I have heard from one noble Lord, is derisory for the services given to the regular Army by the Territorials.
For the RNR, I fear that the reductions already announced have been forced on the Royal Navy administrators by cash limitations rather than by examining how the RNR in its various roles can best supply support for the Royal Navy. For example, why phase out the RNR chaplains? They are dedicated people who help greatly. One of my rectors is now on his way to the Falklands. He was an RNR chaplain who helped enormously by taking over the job when the Royal Navy chaplains went on leave. Phasing out chaplains seems to me petty and will save only tiny sums of money. A chaplain is paid for only 14 days during the year and to phase them out is absurd.
Why reduce the Territorial Army doctors? So far as I can see, they are the only people on whom the Army called to help in the Gulf. We would like to have had the help of more Territorials in the Gulf, but the doctors were the ones who were called for. The fact that they were not used is quite unimportant. The suggestion to reduce them is ridiculous.
In conclusion, I refer to an answer given to me by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State at a private meeting at the end of July when my noble friend the Minister was present. The Secretary of State told me that the changes would be implemented gradually over the next four years. My noble friend Lord Whitelaw told us that he recently received similar reassurance. I fervently hope that the Government will stick to that programme and make few changes until we can see how the present world uncertainties work out, and then proceed slowly. I suspect that gradual reduction over, say, nine years would be much more economical in the long run. Slowing down recruiting must be cheaper than paying lots of redundancy money. That should appeal to the Treasury.
I should be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could indicate that the four years for implementation of the proposals is not rigid and could be extended. For heaven's sake, let us not, by false understanding of its value, ruin the immense contribution to world peace provided by the splendid British Armed Forces who are truly second to none.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ The Earl of Onslow
My Lords, what have 1763, 1783, 1815, 1856, 1918 and 1991 in common? In all those years there were Treasury-driven reductions in the Armed Forces. I do not know whether it is realised that since 1792 there have always been at least 50,000 British soldiers serving abroad, in the West Indies under Pitt, in India, Ireland or Germany. Now the Curragh has gone, Rawalpindi has gone, the West Indies have gone, Palestine has gone, Egypt has gone and Germany is probably going. Therefore there will obviously have to be cuts and no one will argue to the contrary.
1197 Having accepted the need for cuts, I wish to address your Lordships' House on the duty and the role of the Household troops and of my own local county regiment. The Household troops must be chosen from the best troops for the job. Sir John Moore exclaimed, "Now I am safe" when he saw the Grenadier Guards arriving at Corunna. Wellington felt he was safe when he saw the 2nd Scots Guards arriving at Hougoumont. He thanked the Life Guards as they charged down the hill and right into D'Erlon's Corps, although admittedly they were helped by the Scots Greys and a few others. However, those of us who are former Life Guards like to think it was really the Life Guards who saved the day with only a few of the Blues and even fewer of the Union Brigade.
The Scots Guards saw action at Tumbledown and the Life Guards saw action in the Gulf. The Blues saw action at Warburg, Waterloo and in the Falklands. These are absolutely top quality fighting troops and they have earned the privilege of being on the right of the line by virtue of being the best fighting troops. However, if five battalions of Foot Guards must perform the same amount of ceremonial duties as eight battalions of Foot Guards, the ceremonial duties will be carried out in a sloppy fashion and the five battalions of infantry will not be as good as they should be.
My noble friend Lord Fanshawe and the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, referred to the Life Guards and the Blues. Those regiments will not be able to achieve the balance between real soldiers and, as it were, toy soldiers which will enable them to do either job properly. We must achieve the proper balance. The Government may make cuts if they wish, but they should not expect the ceremonial duties in London to be carried out other than by a big line infantry detachment. Some of us may feel it would be good for the Staffordshire Regiment to have a big, hairy Scots Guard sergeant chasing them around the drill square and hat that might smarten the regiment up. However, the point is the duties must be carried out properly. The same applies to the Household Cavalry. It may be possible to reduce the proportion of ceremonial duties by having a Hussar ceremonial troop and a Lancer troop. That may be possible but one cannot have the balance between the ceremonial soldiers and the real soldiers upset.
There has been an immense amount of squeaking from the Scots. There is nothing unusual in that. They have made an immensely good living out of the English taxpayer since 1707 by squawking and irritating the English, who then pay up as meekly as lambs. My local county regiment, the Queen's Regiment, has a band known as the Albuera Band. The band was known by that name as Marshal Beresford made a mistake at Albuera and their colonel said, "Die hard 57th! Die hard!" and they all did. God knows how many people were shot to pieces by French guns in the square. That event is remembered.
The Buffs have gone. My mother came across an Irish soldier in a hospital during the war. She asked him which regiment he was in and he answered that he was in the Royal West Kent Regiment. My mother was slightly surprised at this and asked him why he 1198 was not in something like the Ulster Rifles. Horrified, he replied that the Royal West Kent Regiment was the finest regiment in the whole of the British Army. Soldiers have certain loyalties.
The suburban regiments of Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Middlesex have been cut to pieces. After this amalgamation there will be two regular infantry battalions alone in those counties and in Hampshire serving a population which I would guess is not far short of that of the whole of Scotland. So that is why I suggest that the Scots have whinged: those other regiments have behaved in a reasonable way and they are deeply unhappy about the present position.
Other noble Lords have mentioned the shortage of infantry battalions. I should have thought it would be possible to save a little money by amalgamating the Schools of Music. After all a naval trombone is the same as an army trombone. Nor do I believe that in the medical schools the toothache of an air marshal is treated any differently to that of a field marshal and I should have thought that the job of the RAF Regiment could have been taken over by line infantry regiments.
I should like to leave your Lordships with the words of Marshal Foy: "The British infantry are the finest in the world. Thank God there are so few of them."
§ 10 p.m.
My Lords, the hour is late. I shall confine myself to two points. First, no one could wish more than I that the time would come when it was no longer necessary for us to have a military presence in continental Europe. Secondly, even more sincerely I wish the time would come when it was no longer necessary for us to have anything other than a garrison presence in Northern Ireland.
For all I know, the Secretary of State for Defence's judgment as to our future requirements for a BAOR contribution to NATO may be correct. I am not competent to say. However, perhaps I may be permitted to express some concern about the requirement in Northern Ireland.
I must confess that my thinking has been influenced by the fact that one, if not more, retired General Officer Commanding or Commander Land Forces in Northern Ireland has said that in his time there were barely enough personnel to cover the commitment. Those officers ought to know what they are talking about. Another factor which has influenced my thinking is that sources, as they say, close to general headquarters at Lisburn say that the present senior command has similar apprehensions. Those senior officers ought to know what they are talking about if anyone does. Therefore our apprehension about the future military capacity is not without foundation.
The noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, rightly pointed out that in the event of the Rapid Reaction Corps having to mobilise we would not want to see the security presence in Northern Ireland reduced. As he said, that would be the moment when the IRA would choose to take advantage of the situation.
The role of the soldier in Northern Ireland is far from enviable. Unlike a tour of duty in Germany, 1199 there is no social activity. There are no opportunities for interesting training. It can be boring for much of the time and then suddenly terrifyingly dangerous. On an ongoing basis, perhaps the worst aspect is the separation of soldiers from their families during short-term tours of duty.
We should seek two assurances from Her Majesty's Government. The first is for manning levels in Northern Ireland to be maintained at a level which is sufficient to deal with the task which our forces face together with sufficient reserve capacity to meet those needs in the event of an emergency. The second is that, in the interests of the soldiers, short-term tours of duty should not become more frequent or be extended, because of the separation from family which that involves. Otherwise, it would be a betrayal, not only of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland who are law-abiding, as I am sure your Lordships know, and of the hard-pressed RUC but, most important of all, a betrayal also of the soldiers from England, Scotland and Wales who serve in Northern Ireland. Those soldiers have all our sympathy. As an Ulsterman, I feel guilty that we need to have soldiers from Great Britain in Northern Ireland at all. Many of us feel that we should join the Ulster Defence Regiment to try to do our bit and show that we do not just leave it to other people to try to solve our problems. We believe strongly that the soldiers who come to Northern Ireland should be fairly treated and not put under undue duress.
It is a statement of the obvious to say that when a reserve force is needed in the case of an unforeseen emergency the Territorial Army is the most cost-effective type that one can have. It is fully trained and equipped; it has a command structure; it can, unlike retired soldiers who may belong to the reserve, react quickly; and in peacetime its members are not paid when they are not on duty. It would therefore be a false economy to reduce the TA, particularly in those areas where it is best recruited and where there is the least wastage. That is where it is most cost-efficient.
It is with that point in mind that I express the grave anxiety of many of us over the proposal to cut the Territorial Army in Northern Ireland by rather more than 40 per cent., which is over twice the national average of 19 per cent. It may have been perceived that the TA in Northern Ireland is more expensive to maintain because, when its members have to do weekend training, it is often necessary for them to travel to Scotland. However, any additional costs incurred in that way are more than offset by the units' cost efficiency in that they are so well recruited and that wastage is so low. That in turn means that the units are that much more effectively utilised.
To reduce the Territorial Army by the suggested 40 per cent. would mean closure of 15 TA centres, dismissal of over 1,500 trained volunteers, redundancy for more than 50 permanent staff and loss of work for 60 or more local contractors and many small businesses. As a result, approximately £10 million would be taken out of the Northern Ireland economy.
The White Paper Britain's Army for the 90 states that it is planned to redeploy military establishments 1200 from the South East of England. If the North of England and the West of England need the economic input that military establishments give, how much more does Northern Ireland, where we have the highest unemployment rate in the United Kingdom, need it?
I implore the Government, first, to give an assurance that security in Northern Ireland will not be endangered by the proposed reductions in the Regular Army, and, secondly, to rethink their proposals for the Territorial Army, which has nothing to do with security but which represents one of our most cost-effective contributions to our BAOR role in NATO.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, perhaps I too may pay my tribute to the three excellent maiden speeches, and particularly to the inspiring speech from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cheshire.
The Secretary of State said in another place that there had to be a significant response to the transformation in Eastern Europe. What has that transformation been? A well defined, major threat held in balance by the NATO deterrent has been succeeded by a situation in which a vast country is breaking up and is out of control. It is volatile and dangerous.
Much of the effective power is still in the hands of people in the armed forces, the KGB and the former party, who will fiercely resist any call on them to relinquish power. Moreover, the spectre of a resurgent Nazi movement in Germany, however small its beginnings, and the projection of a Franco-German force rather than the former brigade, has placed in the hands of the neo-Stalinists a strong argument for maintaining their armed strength. We know very little about how many of the CFE cuts have yet been implemented. The fear of a strong Germany is still a gut feeling among Russians—not only Russians—and would make only too successful a rallying cry for the Stalinists.
The situation in the Soviet Union is still most dangerous. Shevardnadze, Yakovlev, Yeltsin and even Mr. Gorbachev himself all foresaw that there would be a coup. Nothing was done. It was possible for the heads of the armed forces and the KGB and senior party members to prepare warrants for the arrest of Yeltsin and others, to telegraph secret orders throughout the Soviet Union, to co-operate with "healthy forces", to impose a harsh regime of repression, to imprison the President, to put tanks on the streets of Moscow and to threaten the RSFSR Government and its President. During these proceedings the Supreme Soviet, the political masters of the country, did not meet and did not even propose to meet until a week after the emergency broke. They asked for no proof of the initial lie that Mr. Gorbachev was ill, nor of the equally false statement that all the republics had been consulted by the emergency committee.
The country was saved for three reasons only. First, Yeltsin was in Moscow and free. Without him there would have been no one to lead the people. He had 1201 only returned from Kazakhstan the day before. Secondly, he had set up his own KGB in April and had appointed as his military adviser General Kobets, who had previously controlled all special communications (army and party). He had also appointed General Rutskoy, a hero of the Afghan war, as an adviser. Through those two he had invaluable access to communications, intelligence and the army. Last but not least, the people of Moscow had had five years of glasnost. They saw the danger. They took to the streets. They trusted one another as they would never have done in earlier days.
Since the coup there has been a flurry of action in terms of statements and the setting up of commissions at tale top. The new Minister of Defence, Shaposhnikov, and General Lobov have announced plans for cuts and reorganisation. But the true number of men under arms in the Soviet Union remains as obscure as ever. The figures released in Vienna on 26th September (excluding KGB, MVD, Speznast and strategic rocket troops) add up to 3.25 million. Shaposhnikov said on 27th September that forces will shortly be reduced to "just over 3 million". However, the USSR Supreme Commission on Defence under Ryzh soy, also in September, said:According to recently published and totally convincing figures, the number of those carrying out military service in the USSR at present is 5.5 million".Shaposhnikov's announced anti-crisis measures after the coup included the replacement of 80 per cent. of the military command. Very soon he was correcting that statement to say that he had meant 80 per cent. of the collegium of the Ministry. The KGB too is to be reorganised but it is not to be abolished.
I shall not weary your Lordships with more detail. What is important is that these statements and plans are as yet only words. There is all too much evidence to show that the political leadership has very little power to carry through any major reform which threatens the entrenched power of the party, the KGB and the army. The journalists who interviewed Mr. Gorbachev on his return asked him why he chose cadres against whom he was repeatedly warned and what he could effectively do to remove those outside Moscow who had supported the coup. He had no answer. Subchak, the St. Petersburg leader, said on 26th August in the Supreme Soviet:Gorbachev's mistake was that for six years all the political and economic changes in the country were slowed down and adjusted to … fit the level of acceptability of a particular change in the process of perestroika to the needs of the Communist Party … It should have been recognised that … it would not yield to reformation".The KGB collegium in disowning and deploring the coup after it failed said that unless the power of the party in the KGB and the army was broken there was,no guarantee that this tragedy will not be repeated in the future".The RSFSR Assembly is in some disarray now because of its frustration over being unable to get any serious action on the problems of the economy that must be solved. Yeltsin's health is becoming an anxiety and he, like Shevardnadze, has said that the coup has not gone away. It could be repeated, this time with lessons learned by the conspirators. Meanwhile there is a fragile, if not explosive, situation 1202 in Georgia—which has recently decided to create its own naval, air and land forces—in Armenia and Azerbaijan and to a lesser extent in part of Soviet Central Asia.
I have much respect and admiration for the immense efforts which many of Russia's leaders are putting into the cleansing of these Augean stables, but they themselves recognise that to do what needs to be done, to remove simple obstruction let alone outright villainy, is very difficult. How can they translate words into action through the entrenched infrastructure that confronts them? Quis custodiet custodes was never more true. Meanwhile the people grow impatient and more vulnerable to a more sophisticated second coup. The situation in some of the republics is explosive and the economy is grinding to a halt.
On the nuclear front, Syria and other countries are, we are told, bidding for Soviet nuclear scientists and the Soviet defence industry is looking forward to good arms sales. I cannot believe that this is the time for us to make irrevocable cuts in our own modest defence capacity. I beg the Government to wait at least two years for the situation to stabilise. Only when we are strong can we exert a real influence for peace. I cannot believe that we are about to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, it has been a remarkable debate for two main factors: first, the three maiden speeches that we heard in the course of the debate and, secondly, the almost unanimous criticism in one form or another of the Government's proposals.
I begin by referring to the three maiden speeches. We heard an extraordinary speech from the noble Lord, Lord Cheshire. It was moving and indeed almost visionary. Few of us who heard the speech today will forget it. The noble Duke, the Duke of Westminster, spoke with feeling of his patently sincere attachment to the Territorial Army. Perhaps I may say one thing to him. He will find—he is probably aware already—that in this place things are never quite what they seem. When I came to the House I found it strange that people suddenly had taken on different names. A person whom I had known as Mr. Short suddenly became the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara. A person I had known as Sir Anthony Royle suddenly became the noble Lord, Lord Fanshawe. But I do not believe that there has ever been such a transformation as that of Trooper Grosvenor to the sixth Duke of Westminster. It was clearly an interesting vignette of his past career and he spoke with feeling and sincerity.
The noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, spoke with great knowledge, and with controlled anger, of his feelings over the Government's proposals for his old regiment. We were most interested to hear what he said. Perhaps I may say to all who made their maiden speeches today that I hope we shall hear a great deal more from them in the future and not only on this subject.
The second remarkable feature of the debate has been that virtually every speaker has in some form or another been critical of the Government's proposals. I shall say something about the basis for those proposals in a moment. However, I should have 1203 thought that the extent and depth of the criticism that has been expressed today must give the Government some food for thought when they consider what has been said in another place over the past two days and in this House today.
I have three specific points to raise with the Minister. I do not necessarily expect answers from him tonight except perhaps on the first matter. What is the difficulty about naming the new ship HMS "Endurance"? That name has been attached to a ship doing a specific job in a specific part of the world where it has a reputation for doing that job, and if the ship is to be replaced the name should clearly be retained. I hope that the Government will see sense on that point.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, if I might intervene, it would be totally against all naval practice to retain a name for a particular job. That has never been done before and I do not understand why people think it is important. I am sorry to say that, but that is the way it is.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I have heard the argument and I am bound to say it is one which seems to be excessively clerical, if I may say so. In a situation in which HMS "Endurance" has become the symbol of Britain's presence in Antarctica it is only right that the name should be continued. However, there is a difference between the noble Lord—I nearly said the noble cleric, but perhaps that is the wrong way of putting it—and myself on this issue.
Secondly, there is the question of defence lands, of which we have heard very little in the course of this debate and little was said about them in the debate in another place. Presumably if the Army is shrinking certain areas of defence lands will be available and will be released. We should like some indication from the Government at some stage as to which portions of defence lands may be available.
Thirdly, I read with great interest what the Minister of State said last night in another place about redundancies. I merely say to the Minister tonight that we shall be watching very carefully the progress of the proposals made by the Minister of State.
This debate takes place against the general background of what has happened in Eastern Europe and particularly in the Soviet Union in the past few years. The main characteristics that now seem to predominate in our continent are instability, unpredictability and disorder. The issues raised by the Gulf war, the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the recent instability within Eastern Europe and particularly inside the Soviet Union are issues which must be fundamental to any consideration of Britain's defence effort, the size of our forces and the commitments into which they have to enter.
Following the failure of the recent coup in the Soviet Union, President Gorbachev has given a commitment to cut defence spending. Obviously, the situation inside the Soviet Union is dangerously fluid and it remains to be seen where power will lie and what shape the country will eventually take. There seems to be a growing belief inside the Soviet Union that 1204 defence cuts are vital to the allocation of western aid and economic development. However, there is the distinct possibility of national and ethnic disintegration and, indeed, the threat that that poses. As my right honourable friend Mr. Healey pointed out in another place, it is remarkable that last week the Ukraine announced that it proposed to produce an army of no less than 420,000 men, far larger indeed than any army in Western Europe. I understand that it already has on its territory 100 strategic nuclear warheads. Azerbaijan is going to produce a smaller army of its own and I understand that it is already appealing to Turkey and Iran to provide it with the necessary weapons. Kazakhstan has no less than 200 strategic nuclear warheads on its territory already.
It is against that background that the Government's position has to be considered, and one of the main questions posed by the coup and the growing incidence of ethnic conflict within Eastern Europe is how best to proceed with or modify the defence cuts which NATO members are currently planning or implementing. In our view that is where the Government's position is at its weakest.
Recent events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe underline the need for a complete reappraisal of United Kingdom strategic priorities and the inauguration of the fundamental defence review for which the Labour Party has consistently called.
I pray in aid the report of the Select Committee on Defence, a body which has a Conservative majority on it in another place. That is a devastating document when viewed against the background of the Government's proposals. The committee concluded that the Ministry of Defence has,failed to argue in any detail the rationale behind the changes proposed or provided a coherent strategic overview".The committee also stated the view that the Government have mistakenly made their priority the pursuit of,some academically conceived ideal figure for the percentage of the UK's GDP to be devoted to defence spending".It went on to argue that it was high time that Ministers gave the public,an indication of when defence spending cuts are expected to end and at approximately what level of public spending".The committee called on the MoD to produce a clear and detailed view of expenditure and future priorities by Christmas 1991. I suspect that we shall not have a clear and detailed view produced by that date. Furthermore, according to the committee any such clear and detailed view must be undertaken against the background of,insensitive cash planning mechanisms vulnerable to the effects of over-optimistic assumptions on inflation".Those are not my words or necessarily my views; they are the views of the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence. They are powerful views which I hope the Government will take into consideration.
Against that background what has the Government's approach been? Last night the Minister of State in another place said:Yesterday, the House heard how the reduced number of battalions relates to our revised commitments, and perhaps I might repeat the figures tonight. The reduction in Germany will reduce demands on the infantry by 10 battalions—three in Berlin and seven elsewhere. Four battalions will go from 1205 Hong Kong and five regular battalions committed to home defence can be replaced by Territorials. That means that our regular infantry commitments come down by 19 battalions, against 17 which will be amalgamated or reduced".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/10/91; col. 247.]That mathematical approach to our defence commitments is frankly absurd. It is deeply flawed. First, it assumes that there is no overstretch at present, which is clearly not so. Secondly, it assumes that a depleted Army can fulfil its commitments because it has been calculated that those commitments can be fulfilled at a lower level. Certainly that is another questionable assumption. Finally, it assumes that no additional new commitments are likely to arise. It substitutes arithmetic for analysis and number taking for a sober assessment of requirements and manpower. As such it is fallacious and in our view flawed.
What we need and what we have not had is a considered statement of what the Government see as our necessary commitments together with the reasoned basis for that assessment. We then require a properly argued determination of the size and mix of forces we need to fulfil that.
In the debate tonight we heard from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, an intellectually powerful speech which no doubt will be seized upon by the Secretary of State for Defence as giving him the necessary intellectual and logical framework for his proposals. This is the first time that we have had an intellectual justification for the proposals put forward by the Government in Options for Change. If they share the view expressed by the noble and gallant Lord. Lord Carver, please will they kindly say so? If it is their view, it is something for this House, another place and the country to consider and consider properly.
The noble and gallant Lord gave an intellectual lifeline to a Government who are floundering. That has not been the Government's approach; they have not tried to set these proposals in some kind of intellectually respectable framework. On the contrary, they have carried out a mathematical exercise as I suggested earlier.
We in the Labour Party have called on a number of occasions for a proper defence review to be conducted on the lines that I have indicated this evening. It will be impossible to arrive at any sensible and rational judgment as to what the size of our Armed Forces should be until we know precisely what commitments it is proposed they should fulfil in the future. As such, I fear that we find the Government's position flawed.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he will tell us a little in regard to the policies of his own party. Is it, or is it not, the case that they propose to reduce defence expenditure to the average of our European allies?
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, the noble Lord really must stop playing politics. If we are to have a political knock-about, let us have a political knock-about. The one thing that impressed me today—save for the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, whose contribution I thought waspish in the extreme—was a genuine attempt to look at these problems on a 1206 non-party, objective basis. The noble Lord expostulates and turns his head away. Certainly, that is what I tried to do, and certainly that is what my noble friend Lord Williams tried to do. If we did not satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, perhaps the fault lies with him and not with us.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, this debate has been as serious and profound as I had expected and has reflected the deeply felt passions and convictions which are endemic in your Lordships' House. While that is true in many other areas of discussion, it is particularly true of security and defence where we draw together those noble Lords who have served this country with distinction in both foreign and military affairs.
I wish to make specific mention of the three noble Lords who have served your Lordships' House so magnificently in their maiden speeches today. My noble friend the Duke of Westminster has served in his regiment in the Territorial Army for many years. He gives up a great deal of his time to do so and speaks with authority and knowledge on a subject so obviously close to his heart. I turn next to the Cross-Benches and to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Cheshire, whose deeds of heroism, courage and skill are so well known by all of your Lordships. It is good to see that that skill, albeit of a different nature, did not desert him here in his maiden speech today.
Back on these Benches, I turn to my noble friend Lord Wedgwood, whose knowledge and whose pride in, and loyalty to, his regiment were so ably expressed. I am sure that each and all of your Lordships will eagerly anticipate more contributions in this House from such distinguished servicemen.
We debated at great length the new international situation which gave rise to the changes announced in our Armed Forces. Let me now pick up on a number of issues raised by noble Lords in today's debate. First, there is the continued assertion that the changes we have made or are about to make have been the result of Treasury diktat rather than strategic analysis. I discussed that analysis at length in my opening speech. The programme to restructure Britain's Armed Forces, which came to he known as Options for Change, arose as a direct result of the wide-ranging political, strategic and military changes which have taken place in Europe over the past three years. It has not been driven by some arbitrary financial target, as some noble Lords suggested. The purpose behind Options for Change was to restructure our forces to match new circumstances. Since my right honourable friend the Secretary of State first set out Options for Change last July, our work has taken account of developments in the European security environment and elsewhere, our relations with the Soviet Union, progress in arms control and consultations with NATO and our allies over our future contribution to the alliance. Our plans were set out in full in Chapter 4 of the 1991 Statement and are in line with those of our major NATO allies.
We are planning for prudent and measured change. I was pleased to hear of, and interested to note, the 1207 broad agreement by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. He said that we had not gone too far and that he considered our plans sensible. But not so the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. He thought very differently. Both noble Lords are former Chiefs of the Defence Staff.
As I made clear during our debate on defence on 12th June, the opportunity to realise savings in expenditure must also be taken but without prejudice to our commitment to maintain strong and flexible forces. We have placed a new emphasis on mobility and flexibility, making use of dual-roling and re-roling of forces where this is operationally sensible. Also, we have retained in the defence programme substantial investment in new equipment projects and we are continuing our search for substantial savings in the support area as part of our drive towards cost-effective support for the new force structures.
In my opening speech I provided the rationale behind our decision to restructure the Armed Forces. The threat has diminished; warning time has increased; the Soviet troops have been moved back some 600 miles; and our commitments have been reassessed. Few deny the need for change although some dispute the degree to which it is necessary. Behind this debate lies the central question of defence. Do we have the ability to defend ourselves and our vital national interests? This has been the basis of our reassessment and, despite the unpredictability of potential crises—a matter of which I spoke earlier—we believe that where appropriate, with our allies, we still have the capability to respond to such eventualities. On that point I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and many other noble Lords.
What has brought about the present debate has been one element—and it is only one element—of that programme of change; namely, the decision to reduce our infantry battalions from 55 to 38. Most of your Lordships speaking today accept the need of some reduction. But again the issue has been degree—by how much and which battalions. Before turning to that issue, I must emphasise that nothing which has occurred undermines the Government's commitment to the regimental system, be it for the regulars or the Territorial Army. It is not merely a proud tradition but one of the greatest strengths of the British Army. It draws individuals together and binds them in devotion and loyalty to a fighting unit which is greater than the sum of its parts and all the more powerful for the cohesion of its members.
Many noble Lords have served in such regiments and in many campaigns. In a more humble way, I, too, in Cyprus, during the troubles, served in the Grenadier Guards during my National Service. I know of the fierce pride and loyalty to regimental ties and traditions and remember the profound sadness when we too had to give up a battalion—and indeed we are now on the point of rendering another. Noble Lords have defended the traditions of regiments which are to amalgamate or go into suspended animation, and understandably so. It is not my purpose today to deny the virtues of particular regiments. I am sure all could argue their case with merit. But since there is 1208 agreement that some reductions were necessary, it was inevitable that some regiments would feel themselves adversely affected.
An enormous amount of thought and consultation went into the decisions we have taken, much of it with the regiments themselves. Inevitably, we were unable to meet the wishes of all those we consulted. But our underlying aim has been to maintain an Army of high quality and within it retain all that is valuable in the regimental system. In looking at individual regiments we have had to balance their interests and views with those of the Army as a whole. Recent history reminds us that such decisions are never popular but that almost always the resilience of regiments who are to be amalgamated overcomes their natural disappointment. Those who amalgamate—and let us remember that none is to be disbanded—take with them their existing traditions and, with their new colleagues, develop new and vibrant ones. The history of the British Army has been one of continuity and change. There has seldom been an era when the structure of our regiments has remained constant. Every regiment faced by amalgamation or suspended animation has its supporters and although it is somewhat insidious to mention any by name I have been struck by the strength of feeling expressed from and about Scottish regiments. A number of noble Lords—particularly including the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun—have referred to them today and your Lordships will recall that a large petition for their retention was delivered to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I do not doubt the sincerity of that opinion. Nevertheless, it is not the case that Scotland has been singled out for adverse treatment. Scottish infantry regiments will be reduced but the Scottish Division fares no worse than four of the five other infantry divisions. Scotland will lose four regiments as currently organised but gain two amalgamated regiments. I have little doubt that they will carry forward the traditions, identities, local affiliations and seniorities of their constituent parts. The timing of the amalgamations will take place over a period of years and none of the Scottish regiments is in the initial phase which ends in March 1993. Scotland will continue to provide a substantial and largely unchanged proportion of infantry overall. Equally importantly, if we look more widely—as we should—Scottish Army units as a whole fare rather better than others. As a proportion of the whole, Scottish armoured regiments and artillery actually rise.
I fully understand the concern in Scotland but it is misplaced. Likewise, this could be demonstrated by reference to the other two services which have, as some would rather unfairly argue, a disproportionately high presence in Scotland.
Finally, I should like to make brief mention of the Household Division, to which many noble Lords have referred, including my noble friend Lord Fanshawe and the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, among others. The Army's commitments to public and ceremonial events such as the Queen's Birthday Parade is undiminished. After the grouping together of the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals the combined regiment will fulfil two roles. First, they will serve, as 1209 before, in the role of the Household Mounted Cavalry Regiment and, secondly, perform in their operational role of armoured reconnaissance for which each existing regiment will provide two squadrons. As tradition demands, the Foot Guards will also continue to perform their public and their operational duties. My noble friend Lord Middleton was anxious on that point. We acknowledge that there will be fewer Foot Guard battalions from which to draw reinforcements for battalions assigned to public duties. To ensure that their ceremonial and operational tasks and all the attendant training are properly carried out we envisage that each may need to be augmented by a manpower increment. The size of that increment is still to be determined. I am sure that your Lordships will not need to be reminded of the extra provision which will enable the Guards to fulfil their new commitments, as tradition dictates.
A feature of our debate tonight has been concern for t le Territorial Army. I know the strength of feeling of my noble friends Lord Holderness and Lord Ridley and so many other of your Lordships who have raised the matter this evening. Your Lordships will know that final decisions have still to be announced as to its size and structure. I cannot guess those here this evening. However, an unhappy element of this debate has been the anxiety expressed by a few about the degree of consultation with TAVRAs on our proposals for restructuring the TA. In his announcement on 23rd July about the regulars my right honourable friend undertook that TAVRAs would be consulted before a similar announcement was made on the TA later in the year. The subsequent work on TA restructuring has addressed the TA orbat and provisional deployment plan, and has been based on the principles which were widely discussed and agreed earlier in the year following consultation with the TAVR associations and military staffs.
Considerable further work has been necessary befog: the Army department was ready to put forward a plan for consultation, but on 24th September the department was able to brief the TAVRA Council and association chairmen and secretaries on the draft plan and explain the proposed changes in the role and structure of the TA and their likely implications for the deployment of units. Consultations with TAVR associations on the recruiting and accommodation implications are now going ahead. At the same time discussions on the restructuring guidelines are also proceeding between regimental colonels and arms and service directors. This process of consultation will be followed by a series of tri-lateral meetings, involving both Army districts and TAVR associations.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, my noble friend Lord Holderness and the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, were concerned about the provision of adequate funding for the TA. I should like to reassure them that a great deal of thought is being given to the various levels of readiness required to complement our regular forces and the scales of equipment and training necessary to achieve their standards.
Turning back from organisational matters to human ones, it is, I believe, absolutely essential to say a few words about housing and resettlement. Many 1210 noble Lords have raised this point. As a result of the Government's decision to restructure the Armed Forces quite proper concern has been expressed by your Lordships and others as to its effect on the resettlement and rehousing of service families. In tackling these issues head on we are able to draw on a range of experience in handling similar, if less extensive, problems. Each year we provide resettlement facilities to about 14,000 service personnel. By the very nature of military life a service career is for many shorter than for most civilians and we have always recognised our responsibility to help those in the services adapt to what may be unfamiliar challenges. The new demands on our resettlement programme will be substantial but we believe manageable—at its peak perhaps 50 per cent. more than we handle today.
All those leaving their respective service will be eligible for resettlement advice whether they are being made redundant or leaving more normally. Naturally the advice we offer is not static but is developed to match the needs of the service personnel and the demands of the wider civilian employment market. We are introducing a number of new measures to enhance this programme. We will provide helplines to answer basic but often fundamentally important questions and will buttress this by use of professional private sector experts wherever possible. Since many of these issues are best handled face to face, our normal resettlement courses and other activities will be supplemented by teams of experts who will travel to the areas where most service personnel are presently living. In addition we will continue to seek the advice and active participation of a range of charitable and ex-service personnel organisations which have a wealth of experience to offer.
An obvious corollary to the issue of resettlement is that of housing—again we have the advantage of substantial experience. Many service personnel own their own houses but it is true that the percentage who do is smaller than the national average. The Government fully recognise the needs of those leaving the services and, with some success, have urged local authorities to treat them sympathetically. We do not doubt that cases of hardship arise which have to be dealt with under the homelessness legislation. For those leaving the services in the next few years, for whatever reason, terminal bonuses and lump sum payments will help many enter the housing market. Our belief is that most ex-service personnel who choose to take redundancy will have made housing provision for their families and themselves. We will do our best to assist those who are less fortunate and find themselves no longer eligible for housing in married quarters.
The resettlement arrangements to which I have already referred will include professional advice on finding housing and putting the redundancy payments and pensions which service personnel will have to best use. Those made redundant will receive substantial special capital payments in addition to their terminal grants and pensions. For example, a staff sergeant with 14 years' service will receive a lump sum based on current salary levels of £33,000, plus a pension of 1211 around £3,900 a year. A major aged 41 with 20 years' service will receive a lump sum of some £73,000, plus a pension of £9,300 a year. We will also, wherever possible, make available to housing associations some surplus service homes to give temporary help to service personnel who are in immediate housing need while they make more permanent arrangements. We have had some constructive discussions with housing associations and I hope that it will be possible to make an announcement about this in the near future.
I have already referred to the fact that the proportion of service personnel who own their own houses is lower than that in the civilian community. In part this is due to the much wider opportunities for home ownership developed in the past 10 years but which have not been extended to service personnel. At the request of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State I chair a task force which is made up of housing experts from the public and private sectors, service officers and officials from the Ministry of Defence and other government departments and agencies. I am pleased to say that the Royal British Legion, SSAFA and the Federation of Army Wives have also accepted my invitation to join the task force. I know that that will give particular pleasure to my noble friend Lord Haig. As well as looking at ways in which the short-term problems faced by service personnel can best be handled, the team is working on a new range of home ownership opportunities. These could include new ownership opportunities such as part-ownership.
Our intention is to enable service personnel to enter the housing market and get used to the costs and responsibilities which home ownership always carries with it. In addition, my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces announced yesterday in another place that agreement had been reached with a leading building society whereby service personnel will be able to apply for mortgages at reduced rates. The preferential rate will apply for the length of the mortgage whether or not the borrower remains in the services.
At this point I should state that I am aware that I have been speaking for quite some time. However, I should like to deal with a few further matters which I consider to be important before I close my speech. First, my noble friend Lord Whitelaw asked about force levels. Force levels are based on a detailed assessment of what is required to meet our future commitments. As I pointed out in my opening speech, circumstances can always change suddenly and unexpectedly. I should like to reassure him, and indeed other noble Lords, that we are well aware of that fact. I can also tell my noble friend that we are satisfied that 41 infantry battalions will be sufficient to meet all our commitments, including Northern Ireland, while allowing proper training for the Rapid Reaction Corps.
Perhaps I may now turn to HMS "Endurance"—
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl but did I hear him say 41 battalions, or is it 38 battalions?
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, it is 38, plus three battalions of the Royal Marines.
As I was saying, I turn now to one of the favourite topics of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I apologise to him if I do not always bear the wisdom of Solomon upon my shoulders and know the answer to every question. Perhaps I may now give him a few very quick answers on the points he raised.
The Government are committed to maintaining the programme of work of HMS "Endurance". Decisions on how to do so will follow the assessment of the performance of "Polar Circle" at the end of the season. As regards the ship's name, that will be decided upon before she sails, towards the end of November. However, I have taken account of what the noble Lord said. I shall place the specifications of the "Polar Circle" in the Library of the House. I can also confirm that the "Polar Circle" is due to arrive at Portsmouth tomorrow at 8.30 a.m. She will birth alongside HMS "Endurance" and it is intended that the press will have the opportunity to take photographs.
There is one particular point that I should like to mention. I refer to the Gurkhas. The subject has been mentioned by several noble Lords. I can confirm that the Gurkhas, as all noble Lords will know, have served with the British Army loyally and with distinction over the years, including during two world wars. They form an integral part of the British Army and I can confirm that it is our intention to retain Gurkhas in the British Army after 1997.
This has been a vigorous debate. I expected that. It is what the subject demanded. Nothing is more important than to maintain the security and vital national interests of our country. As a consequence of the unprecedented changes in Europe, we have made a careful appraisal of our future defence requirements, the results of which have been announced to your Lordships. I do not pretend that all of the decisions have been easy or popular. We have had to make some difficult decisions. They were led by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and I thank my noble friend Lord Whitelaw for his recognition of that fact.
I do not doubt that anxiety exists. I understand that its cause is a concern that our country is not put at risk. We have taken stock of all the changed circumstances. We firmly believe that our decisions have been prudent and realistic. Some have said that they are over-cautious, that we should search for a longer peace dividend; but we will not squander our security in the pursuit of short-term savings. Our forces will be smaller but they will be highly capable, and well able to meet the challenge of the unexpected. We shall ensure that they are manned, trained and equipped as we as a nation need and they deserve.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, is it true that members of the Armed Forces who receive redundancy payments will have to repay some or all of those payments if within a certain time—I believe that it is two years—they take up employment in government service again?
Tit Earl of Arran
My Lords, I do not have that information. Perhaps the noble Lady will allow me to write to her on that point.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ London Regional Transport (Penalty