§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont rose to call attention to the need for a comprehensive review of the economic, military and other factors underlying a satisfactory national security policy; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am gratified that this short debate has attracted such a distinguished list of speakers, including three maiden speakers, one of whom, the noble Lord, Lord Younger, is a distinguished former Secretary of State for Defence. His speech will therefore be listened to with more than usual interest.784
§ It is not my intention to use this debate simply as a pretext for reopening the arguments about Options for Change. Nothing has happened since we last debated that issue in your Lordships' House to alter my own view that the consequences of Options for Change, unless that policy is substantially modified, will have a malign effect not only on the morale of the Armed Forces but also on the ability of this country to discharge effectively its national and international commitments.
§ The first of those consequences has, I fear, already begun to surface. I returned last week from Hong Kong, where I had been with a delegation of the All-Party Defence Study Group of Peers and MPs on a visit to the British forces in Hong Kong. Although the commitment, discipline, training and bearing of the troops there is of the highest order, it was in Hong Kong that I first heard, not once but several times, the rather sardonic comment from officers and soldiers that instead of the smaller and better Armed Forces that were promised under Options for Change what we are really getting is smaller and bitter Armed Forces.
§ There is a great deal still to be said about overstretch, tour intervals, infantry battalions and other such issues, and it may well be that some of it will be said in this short debate this evening. Indeed, I know that my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall is especially concerned about some of those matters. My own contention is that Options for Change is no more than one of the symptoms of a much more fundamental weakness in the direction of national policy as a whole and of security policy especially.
§ Simply put, I believe that that weakness is the absence of a broader and deeper conception of the emerging world structure and the role that this country is destined to play in it. Some people call that a moral vision, others call it a total strategy. Whatever it is called, it is essential to the whole range of policies—foreign policy, strategic policy, social and economic policy—on which the national status, prosperity and security of this country will depend in the long term. As the Motion on the Order Paper requires me to do, I shall concentrate on the aspects which are usually known as defence policy but which involve much more than simply the organisation and strength of our Armed Forces.
§ What I believe is now needed is a comprehensive reappraisal of the whole of our national security policy. That will necessarily involve an intelligent assessment of the proportion of national resources which should, in the current economic circumstances, be devoted to our military capabilities. That does not mean that it should be predominantly resource driven. It must, as the military historian, Correlli Barnett, said in a recent address, reflect a comprehensive approach, embracing all the factors which are relevant to preserving the power and prosperity of the nation in the face of rivalry from other powers, other groups of powers and other developments in the political scene, in an increasingly unstable international environment.
§ It is silly to suggest, as some well intentioned and distinguished figures occasionally do, that it is impossible to evolve a long-term security policy 785 because, they say, what eventually happens is always what is least expected. Such thinking leads inevitably to the kind of muddling-through process which has often been accepted with a mixture of affection and resignation as a British substitute for coherent planning. Of course the unexpected will always happen, but that is no excuse for failing to make provision for what can be legitimately anticipated or for ensuring proper flexibility in the structure of our Armed Forces to cope with a more diffuse security threat and a more unpredictable security environment.
§ Defence planning must always begin with a range of contingencies or "scenarios", or whatever one might like to call them, in which possible developments in the international power structure have to be considered and assessed according to the degree of probability that they will actually emerge. From that it is possible to evolve a number of threat assessments, including a number of worst-case scenarios which, however unlikely, must be taken into account in any consideration of a nation's military requirements.
§ Of course, in the calculation of force levels the availability of national economic resources has to be a powerful factor. No one would deny that. But the vital decisions about the proportion of such resources to be devoted to defence cannot sensibly and intelligently be made until there is a clear understanding of the international role which this country is intended to play. If we are to be and to remain in any real sense a significant power, continuing to influence world events, becoming involved in the legitimate exercise of substantial power, the resources needed for the military establishment will obviously be much greater than they would be if we were to be content, as some people may well like us to be, with a tame or minor role.
§ It is true to say that in the post-imperial years Great Britain has exerted considerably greater influence in the world than might have been warranted by our purely economic strength. I believe that that influence has been exercised to the ultimate benefit not only of Britain's reputation but also of our political and material interests. The government of the 1980s, for example, was not impressed by the argument that we should be fearful of spending 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. more of our GNP on defence than some of our European Community and NATO partners. In two general election campaigns in which defence issues figured prominently—those of 1983 and 1987—the electorate appeared to accept the Government's view of who we are as a people and what kind of role we should aspire to. During the Falklands operation and during the Gulf conflict, which might not have been waged by the coalition forces had it not been for the strong advice given by the British Government to the US President, opinion polls repeatedly demonstrated public willingness to pursue the military option in pursuit of enlightened and long-term national interest.
§ The present Government seem to stand in the same tradition. Yet the fact that the formulation of defence policy should have been permitted to proceed as it did 786 during Options for Change suggests that there is a lesser degree of certainty and conviction about our national role and that there is also a reluctance to think about the deeper implications not only of our existing obligations but also of possible future risks.
It is the responsibility of Government at the highest level to establish and give clear guidance about the commitments which they need to undertake in order to pursue policies commensurate with their view of our role in the world. Those commitments will require a certain level of military capability. As we have seen so frequently, there are many cases in which diplomacy alone is inadequate to achieve the objects of foreign policy. That has been demonstrated most recently in the case of Yugoslavia, where Britain is now committed to the deployment of more than 2,000 troops. Leaving aside the wisdom of that deployment, it underlines once again the truth of the observation made by the American journalist, Walter Lippman, who said:
The elementary means by which all foreign policy must be conducted are the armed forces of the nation, the arrangements of its strategic position and the choice of its alliances".
§ As new security arrangements proliferate in the new and unfamiliar post-Cold War environment, there is a distinct impression that that great truth is being obscured. If Britain is indeed to occupy the kind of world status and accept the kind of military commitments exemplified by the deployment in Bosnia, adequate military resources must be kept constantly available. Failure to do so will either leave Britain impotent on the sidelines when its vital interests or those of its allies are threatened or—and this is what concerns me in the context of Bosnia—risk the possibility, if we do not keep adequate armed forces available, that our Armed Forces will be obliged to take unacceptably high risks when military operations are finally entered into. We cannot assume that the competence and courage of our Armed Forces will always compensate for lack of material, inadequate force levels or the disinclination of political leaders to take difficult decisions.
§ If we are to accept a lesser role, with substantial reductions in force levels, it seems to me that another implication emerges; namely, that the industrial and social consequences of reductions in force levels also have to be confronted. It is simply not acceptable that the Government should at one moment sustain a substantial national defence industry and at the next declare that the future of that industry, faced with dramatic contraction, can be left entirely to the pressures of market forces.
§ That is not to suggest a return to any interventionist doctrines but simply to insist that the Government's responsibilities are not over when drastic reductions in the Armed Forces have been decided. There is far too much impact on the lives of servicemen and servicewomen and on the activities of the service industries which have sustained our defence establishments in the past.
§ I believe therefore that a radical review of defence policy must be undertaken. It must rest not only upon a coherent vision of the nation's role in the world order; it must derive from a comprehensive total 787 strategy encompassing the social, economic and industrial consequences of radical changes in the world scene and radical changes therefore in our security policy. To me there is no evidence that Options for Change was based upon any such consideration.
§ That should not be construed as criticism of the Ministry of Defence or the chiefs of staff. The business of national security cannot be left entirely to the Ministry of Defence. Still less should it be left to the Treasury. It demands clarity at the highest political level about the national ends being sought and firm political guidance about the resources to be made available. Above all, it demands an understanding that the aims of foreign policy must be matched by the military means necessary to achieve them. That includes a readiness to acknowledge that unfortunately, sometimes tragically, armed force is an essential ingredient in dealing with the realities of the international power structure, and that in its absence foreign policy will falter.
§ I must repeat that, from my point of view, so far it has not been possible to detect behind British defence planning as reflected in Options for Change any coherent view of the post-Cold War world order or Britain's place in it. Certainly it was a mistake to suppose that moving from a world in which there had been one single overriding threat to a world of multiple risk, equally dangerous and perhaps even more dangerous than the world of the single overriding threat, would require merely minor adjustments and that the ructions that accompany a major strategic review could be avoided.
§ It is also an error to imagine that change on such a scale can be managed entirely by Whitehall insiders without engaging the wider defence community outside Whitehall and other centres of influence and expertise. And it is a mistake to believe that the ultimate sanction of public opinion need not be obtained. Public opinion will not understand if the lives of our soldiers are lost needlessly because resources do not match commitments or if our people discover that Britain is denied a military role which might usefully be fulfilled in accordance with their own interests, their own traditions and their own instinctive grasp of the role that Britain should play. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Lord Younger of Prestwick
My Lords, I am highly delighted and honoured to have become a Member of your Lordships' House. As noble Lords will appreciate, I always expected that it would happen to me eventually, but my father and I are united in expressing the view that we are very happy that it has been made possible without the need for a death in the family first. I must now embark on a period of retraining since the other place, for all its merits, is not the best place to learn how to make short and non-controversial speeches.
I want to make just four points. I am extremely grateful, as I am sure is the whole House, to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this most important subject at a time when a 788 large number of decisions are awaited and the background factors affecting those decisions are changing all the time.
Running the Ministry of Defence and all its activities is very big business. One of the most difficult aspects is the management of change. Change is difficult in small organisations—it is difficult everywhere—but change in such a massive organisation is always very difficult. Today the changes are also of a very distressing type. They involve contraction and reduction of numbers which raise problems of personnel and redundancies even in the armed services. There is also the vexed question of units going out of existence, and so on.
It is inevitable that that must be done. It is right that the scale of our military effort must match itself to the needs of the day. But we should spare a moment to remember how well the servicemen and women in all three services and the civil servants who back them up are tackling this extraordinarily complicated matter of change. It is clear that the level of professionalism in the armed services is every bit as good as it ever was. I hope that those people will feel, as they tackle these formidable tasks, that they have our full backing. In that I certainly include the Territorial Army and the reserves generally because they too have an important role in change.
The second issue I must mention is our deployment in the former Yugoslavia. I hope that nobody underestimates the enormously difficult new type of task in which we have become involved. For humanitarian and many other reasons we have to play our part in trying to sort out the awful mess there. But embarking upon a massive internal security operation with the backing not of our own Government and with our own rules of engagement but with the backing of the United Nations is a very different and new undertaking. It is new because the United Nations has not done such a thing before. Previously the United Nations' actions have been passive, reactive and basically unarmed. Now it is different because it is clear that we are sending our troops into a complex and dangerous situation.
The Secretary of State has been extremely good at making clear that our forces will have from him rules of engagement which will allow them to respond if they are attacked. It is important that they should know that and that we are resolved to support them in the inevitable problems that arise. That it is a new, difficult and unusual circumstance is, I am sure, known to everyone. We must encourage the Government and the military command to treat it as new and different and not to take anything for granted.
Our troops there will be peculiarly exposed. In a way the difficulty cuts both ways: if they were to fail—which I hope they will not—in their task of bringing peace to the area it would be extremely serious. But if they succeed it will result in the conflicting sides wishing to get them out of the way so that they can carry on with their current practices. It is a very difficult role. We must wish all our service people well. We beg our planners to realise that this is a new type of activity and must be treated as such.
789 Thirdly, I must briefly refer to the aspect that worries me most, to which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred; that of numbers in the Army. Options for Change was drawn up, quite rightly, to try to reflect in the size of our forces the completely different scenario after the end of the Cold War. Its objectives were to reduce the size to match that scenario and to produce better service conditions. A smaller but better equipped Army is its aim. The result is Options for Change.
However, since then, as we all know, while that scenario has continued its inevitable course new commitments have arisen. We now have two more major units in Northern Ireland than we had at the time Options for Change was drawn up. There is no sign that those two extra deployments will no longer be necessary in the near future. Bosnia is another major commitment.
The result is that the overstretch which has been the problem in running the Army for so long is now at an unacceptable level. It was made clear that the objective was a minimum gap of 24 months between major operational deployments. I understand from evidence given to the Select Committee that that is now down to 15 months. To bridge that gap may not seem great—it is only a few months—but it would require at least three more units. Successive Secretaries of State have stated that there must be continual review of that issue. I hope that it is being reviewed and that serious consideration will be given to whether we require two or three more units to bridge the gap between 15 and 24 months.
I now refer to the problem over the dockyards. A decision has not been taken on the matter and it is therefore open season to make suggestions. Perhaps I may strongly urge that the right solution for the dockyards is a concentration at Devonport of the surface and non-nuclear refitting programme—of which there is much important work—and the concentration at Rosyth of the nuclear refitting programme, as originally intended. Over £100 million has already been spent on preparing Rosyth for that programme. It has involved an enormous amount of work. The foundations are complete and seismically correct for such deployment. What is more, future plans can be more quickly adapted if the two are complementary but different.
Both aspects can be put together under one management. That would save some costs. It is undoubtedly cheaper in the long run, operationally and otherwise, to do so.
Many of us fought hard to explain to a sceptical Scottish population that it was right that the nuclear deterrent should go where it had to go, to the Clyde. It is still there. It will be very hard to face the people whom we have persuaded to accept that decision if we now take away from Scotland the work and important refitting programme connected with it. I hope that Ministers will think sensitively about that matter. Sensitivity is important.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ Lord Bramall
My Lords, I feel rather presumptuous in offering my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Younger of Prestwick, on his exceedingly effective, interesting and profound maiden speech. But for an accident of a few months, he would have been my Secretary of State and I would have been doing his bidding. However, this I most gladly do. As all Members of the House will agree, he was a most respected and effective Secretary of State. No one speaks on these matters with greater experience and authority. This House is indeed fortunate in being able to have available to them his wisdom in the years ahead.
I share many of my noble friend's worries, in particular that Options for Change can hardly be described as an entirely satisfactory exercise. It was hijacked too early in the day by the Treasury. It has amounted more to an options for cuts exercise, inspired not only by the increasingly dubious premise that the world must have become, and is likely to remain, a safer place, but even more (Ministers warned against wishful thinking) by an almost obsessional determination to take what seemed to the bureaucracy as a heaven-sent opportunity, just like the 1920s, to cut defence and the military down to size, whatever the short-term costs—and there have had to be considerable extra costs in the shorter term—and whatever the longer term risks, now more evident than ever.
We have been in real danger of having an Armed Forces not only that the Treasury is prepared to pay for but of the size and shape which the Treasury in its wisdom feels is appropriate—and after what has befallen the economy perhaps I need say no more.
Certainly the exercise was not a review of all the options set against the real world in which military capability not only provides a valuable, sometimes essential, adjunct to positive and constructive diplomacy, but also to some extent reflects the scale of influence that we wish to exert in international affairs. That was the very point made by my noble friend Lord Chalfont.
I take slight issue with him in that in practice I do not believe that a useful purpose would be served by unscrambling the whole exercise. As a result of the work done on Options for Change, various strategic requirements have emerged. They have been set clearly in the latest defence White Paper. Summed up in the sentence,to meet our inescapable defence obligations",they are further broken down into three main requirements: the protection and security of the United Kingdom and dependent territories; insurance against any build-up of any external threat to the United Kingdom and our allies, presumably by helping to maintain and if necessary to recreate a reassuring balance of power; and, finally, the possession of such military capability as can promote Britain's wider security interests through the maintenance of international peace and security. Frankly, in a world in which the unexpected occurs 791 with such regularity, I doubt whether one can do much better than that as a guide to what the Armed Forces ought to be able to do.
In the present financial climate the idea that we would somehow make a better shot at reconciling those of us who feel that by and large resources should match commitments, with the invariable Treasury view, no doubt given impetus by the latest crisis, that commitments should he tailored to keep within an arbitrary level of resources and if necessary replaced exclusively by diplomacy—as they were in the days of appeasement—seems very optimistic. Quite apart from the uncertainty that it would bring, it would lead only, I fear, to the financial guidelines being unjustifiably drawn even lower than they now are.
I prefer to see some fine tuning of the existing Options for Change policy—like the curate's egg it is good in parts—in the light of what is happening, and shows no sign of abating, in Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia and elsewhere. That is the real world instead of the one which planners may have hoped for three years ago, even if that may, as one fears it must, involve some robbing of Peter to pay Paul.
As the noble Lord, Lord Younger, said, the most important fine tuning should come in Army manpower. That great soldier, the late Lord Slim, once said, "Anyone in this dangerous world who did away with a Gurkha battalion was mad. It would be better to do away with one rocket". With up to 512 rockets, all designed for a particular scenario now largely overtaken by quite different dangers and potential threats, many in your Lordships' House may feel that there is still a good deal in the Field Marshal's philosophy, especially as one can envisage the Gurkhas being particularly suited to United Nations duties, perhaps even as part of a permanent United Nations cadre, which I feel must come soon. However, be that as it may—because I would be the last person to reduce important arguments on Army manpower to one of special pleading for this or that cap badge—the Field Marshal's words may indicate the incongruity of reinforcing, however flexibly, our nuclear capability when our most urgent problem is keeping our units up to strength to meet everyday commitments.
The figure of 116,000 made little sense as an army's manpower ceiling when it was plucked out of the sky nearly three years ago; and it makes even less sense now. There is irrefutable evidence, some of which was given by the noble Lord, Lord Younger, that our Army is facing as severe an overstretch as can be remembered since the troubles in Ireland began almost a quarter of a century ago. If peacekeeping and humanitarian and disaster relief looks like being the name of the game, I do not need to remind noble Lords that all those are manpower intensive. That will become all too apparent as our troops are deployed in Bosnia, which for reasons of our international responsibilities and influence should be the case, provided that certain important provisos and requirements can be met. I understand that some of the circumstances on the ground are a long way short of what we would normally accept when committing troops into hazardous areas.
792 Certainly there are no organisations more qualified to bring quick and constructive relief to the suffering which we see in the world around us than well-organised and mobile military forces, not least our own. However, we must be under no illusion that in such situations one thing often leads to another. Therefore, fine tuning in manpower is essential. Although I know almost by heart the answer of the Ministry of Defence to such issues, noble Lords are entitled to know why the present stresses and strains in the world and world events have not yet been considered sufficient to justify such a revision. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us. Perhaps we should raise some battalions of miners—and what magnificent soldiers they would make.
I believe that that fine tuning in manpower should be targeted in three areas. The first is the regimental system which, frankly, at present is in chaos. It is beset by uncertainty and is not geared to the future. The Army is in danger of missing a unique opportunity to produce larger regiments with stronger unit establishments more appropriate to sudden emergencies and modern requirements. The second area is the training machine, which is currently going through extensive contortions in order to achieve some dubious and possibly counter-productive long-term savings inspired by unreasonable manpower pressure. The third area is recruiting. If the capping of recruiting continues the remaining units will quickly become weaker than those which we have at present. I hope that the Government will listen to the points that I have made about manpower and that having achieved the right manpower ceiling they will help the Army to put its house in order more sensibly.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord Ashley
My Lords, it is an honour to belong to this great, historic House. It has been a pleasure for me to meet so many old friends, including political allies and opponents. I greatly look forward to making new friends during my stay in this House.
Your Lordships have listened to three most distinguished speakers. The noble Lords, Lord Chalfont, Lord Younger and Lord Bramall, are men of enormous experience in this field. They have dealt with the need for a review of our military problems relating to security. Nothing could be more important but I do not propose to speak on the questions of strategy, tactics and finance, as they have properly done. I wish to deal with the problems of the men and women who make up our Armed Forces.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said that the Army is now smaller and bitter. That may be so but I do not believe that the Army is bitter because it has been reduced. The men in the Army recognise the need for some reconstruction as a result of the end of the Cold War. I do not believe that the Army is bitter on that account. That is the only debating point that I am allowing myself in an uncontroversial maiden speech. However, some men in the Army are bitter because of injustice and I wish to explain why.
Some of your Lordships will recall Section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947. Under that section any member of the Armed Forces who was severely 793 disabled as a result of negligence was not allowed to sue for compensation. That right was given to all other public servants but not to soldiers, sailors or airmen. That was wrong and in another place I campaigned to abolish Section 10. I was supported by a group of severely disabled ex-servicemen and I received the splendid help of Winston Churchill. As a result Section 10 was abolished.
But one injustice was replaced by another. The very ex-servicemen who had campaigned with me in another place to abolish Section 10 were denied the right. The Government said, "We cannot permit retrospective legislation", even though there are such examples on the statute book. Those loyal ex-servicemen were deeply embittered. They are the bitter people to whom I thought the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, would refer. The Government refused to give way and even rejected the compromise of setting up a trust fund for those people. I find that most regrettable.
Another group of ex-servicemen who are equally embittered are Britain's nuclear test veterans. They have been denied compensation because the Government are demanding absolute proof of radiation damage, even though Professor Rotblat and other experts in radiation have said that no one can prove causal relationships. However, equally they say that nor can it be disproved. So what do we do if nothing can be proved either way? We must give those British ex-servicemen the benefit of the little doubt that remains. There is only little doubt because many people, including our Minister of Social Security, accept the fact that two cancers—leukaemia and multiple myloma—are caused by radiation. If that is the case, why cannot the Government accept that?
The United States Ministry of Defence has given the benefit of the doubt to its ex-servicemen. It recognises 15 cancers, but our Ministry of Defence recognises none. That is no way to treat British ex-servicemen. They are the reasons why I say that some of our ex-servicemen are bitter. I hope that the Government will grant them the reasonable request of a judicial inquiry. I hope that they will think again.
The Ministry of Defence thought again about another issue; bullying and brutality in the Army. When I first raised the issue some years ago the Ministry was complacent and dismissive. However, when evidence was put to it of real and appalling bullying it did something about it. The Ministry was faced with evidence of kicking, beating, enforced nakedness and buggery and humiliating initiation rites. Those facts were found in a court of law—in a court martial. When the Ministry of Defence received the evidence it did something about the situation. It took the matter seriously and said that such incidents must not be tolerated. The MoD gave orders to all the troops and then spent £3 million on trying to stop bullying and brutality. However, it did not do enough because since then there have been cases of bullying, as shown by the most recent case of some noncommissioned officers who were gaoled and dismissed from the Army.
I believe that the real answer is the appointment of 794 an Army ombudsman—an ombudsman for the armed services. That should be a man or woman of great stature and authority to whom men and women, especially young men and women, who feel bullied can go with their complaints. That is all I ask. Those people have a right to be bitter. They are marvellous service people. They love the Armed Forces. They are very loyal. They deserve the support of this House.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, when I learned that it was to be my duty to return the thanks of your Lordships' House to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, I was armed, as any full-time politician must be, with a general awareness of his record on behalf of the disabled and the underdog. I was armed also by the Whips Office with a short but not very helpful selection of facts about his career. Therefore, I turned to the works of my friend Andrew Roth who records the characteristics of Members of another place. I learned that we were gaining in your Lordships' House a forceful champion of the disabled and underdog, a relentless and strident battler, a genial, courageous, bloody-minded, relentless scourge of those who cause disability and unnecessary death. Your Lordships' House can do with more of those and in the speech today we have seen that the noble Lord intends to carry on his battles in this House. We hope to hear often from him.
When we consider a national security policy in 1992, we have to abandon a large proportion of the assumptions with which many of us have grown up. Roughly speaking, my generation grew up in the belief that there were two kinds of possible wars which might affect us. The first was a nuclear war between the superpowers. That did not cause many problems for someone like myself. As a Christian steeped in the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, I believe that the intention of committing a crime is nearly as bad as the crime itself and that, therefore, it was both wrong and silly to arm ourselves with nuclear weapons, even if we said that they were only to deter. As a Londoner, I thought that I was safe to assume that I would be wiped out with London early in any nuclear exchange, so that was nothing to worry about.
The second kind of war which we envisaged consisted of skirmishes between nations which were not educated, developed or advanced enough to be privileged to contemplate killing vast quantities of mankind and who would continue to dispose of them in job lots. We thought that those wars would always happen at a distance and it might or might not be our duty to interfere on the side of right, always assuming that we knew which side that was.
I suspect that the days of that simple analysis are over. The outbreak of war in the Balkans certainly brings us back to the problems of pre-1945, if not of pre-1914. We are entitled to hope and believe that the European Community will hold together under any circumstances, although I believe—as, I think, do my colleagues on these Benches—that the faster and tighter we can bind that Community together, the better and our present shilly-shallying as regards Maastricht is as unwise as it is disgraceful. It 795 underlines some of the doubts which some of us had in voting for Britain's entry, when we feared that if Britain entered, Britain might prove to be the undoing of the great European experiment.
Now, looking round the world, we are already engaged in a terrorist conflict on our own soil and we must prepare for the possibility of wars which will be much nearer home than we are used to, and which may not be over in a matter of days or weeks. That leads me to the main contribution which I wish to make to your Lordships' debate this afternoon, which is that, no less than in 1914 and 1939, this country must be able to feed itself or, at the very least, if we accept that the European Community will hold together, that the Community must be able to feed itself. An acceptance of that means that we must turn conventional economics on its head, as we did during the course of those wars, and, as it became clear in yesterday's debate on energy, we should probably follow the same course in that field.
It may be a terrible thing to say from these Benches but it is true that free trade, like any other absolute doctrine, has its limitations and must not be allowed to rule in all fields. It is right to protect the agriculture of Europe, and France is right to do so. The appalling set-aside agricultural policy of this country should be scrapped and we must encourage the kind of low-key, preferably small-scale agriculture which could be mobilised at very short notice in times of hostilities for the maximum production of food.
I believe that that is the kind of agriculture that we need in any event. However, this debate is not the occasion on which to deploy the full ecological argument. I shall look forward to doing that in future debates on economics and agriculture.
Meanwhile, I ask your Lordships to accept—and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, may well agree with me on this point, although not on a number of others that I have made—that a government which do not accept the traditional obligation of considering how to feed their population in time of war are not performing what is still the primary duty of any government; namely, the defence of the realm.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Lord Stewartby
My Lords, anyone who arrives anew in your Lordships' House is likely to be much affected, as I have been, by the warmth of the welcome received. I thank your Lordships profoundly for that. In my case, that has been much tempered by a curiosity on the part of a number of noble Lords as to why I should have added the letters "by" to my former name. Perhaps I may take a moment to explain.
I know that these days it is not the fashion to change one's name on arrival at this House, but the village of Stewartby was named after my great grandfather who was not only a Member of Parliament for many years and a minister of the church—indeed, he baptised me when he was 97—but also an industrialist. In the early years of this century an enlightened industrialist did sometimes try to provide decent living accommodation for his workers. 796 Therefore, for that reason Stewartby was named after my great grandfather. I felt that it would do honour to his ideals and aspirations if I were to take that name.
When I had the honour of serving in the Ministry of Defence with my noble friend Lord Younger, I frequently paid at least as much attention to what was said about defence matters in your Lordships' House as I did to what was said in another place. What I have experienced of your Lordships' House so far has convinced me that that was a sensible judgment. I do not believe that it would be possible to have a debate of this kind, with contributions of such quality, if the nature of this House were to be altered radically as is sometimes suggested under the more radical proposals for reform which propose some sort of replacement by a representative or elected Chamber. Therefore, I hope that I shall not be thought to be premature or sycophantic if I make a few complimentary comments about your Lordships' House.
It seems to me that one of the great strengths of the Chamber is the marvellously random and arbitrary nature of the basis of its composition. If that were to change it may well lose its value as a counterbalance to another place; it may become a weaker reflection of it and would certainly lose much of its relevance and influence. Particularly in the field of defence that would be greatly to be regretted.
I want to use the few moments available to me to raise the issue of the reserve forces. The whole process of Options for Change has caused the individual forces, the Ministry of Defence as a whole and the Government to reassess not only the structure of our forces but the type of service they may he called upon to meet in the future. The one great lesson of the past is that one should be prepared for the unexpected. I do not believe therefore that we can take any too decisive a view in regard to what may or may not be needed in terms of our defence resources in future years. We must retain not only a range of capabilities but also the capacity to reinforce our regular forces by providing adequate reserves who are trained and able to increase the volume of our forces that could be brought into action, if need be, at short notice.
Last weekend I took the opportunity, with the debate in mind, of visiting HMS "Humber", which my wife had the honour to sponsor some years ago and which is now the tender for the Royal Naval Reserve on the River Mersey. The conversations I had with those who were serving in the Royal Naval Reserve were a little worrying. They were concerned that there had not yet been defined a clear and proper role for the Royal Naval Reserve. They were heartened by the comments in the open government paper published earlier this year on the future of Britain's reserve forces. On page 4 it said that a major effort should be made to convince the volunteer reserves of all three services that they have a key role to play in Britain's defence for the 1990s.
I have no doubt that the reserve forces of the Army and the Air Force, as well as the Navy, have their own idea of the clear role that they can play. But particularly in the case of the Navy, in order for reserves to be able to carry out sensible training which would be relevant in times of need and hostilities, they 797 must be able to perform a meaningful peacetime role which will give them the training and experience to enable them to fit more closely with the regular forces in such times of danger.
I do not know whether that will be mine counter-measures, as it has tended to be in the past. But I believe that something of that kind, which gives reserve forces training in seamanship, navigation and all the naval skills in coastal waters, would be ideal. I hope also that it will be possible to bring a closer relationship into being between the Royal Navy and the Royal Naval Reserve so that members of the reserve forces can more frequently serve alongside the regular forces and in that way exchange understanding and skill. I do not want to put the point as being one of the overwhelming issues that arise from Options for Change, but it is one that is easily overlooked. I hope that my noble friend will be able to respond positively on the point when he winds up the debate.
Perhaps I can conclude by reverting from the microcosm to the broadest of all possible issues; that is, what is to happen to the defence strategy of this country in its European context as a result of the Maastricht and related processes? I read the paragraphs relating to international security many times and simply do not understand them. I do not understand the relationship proposed between the Western European Union and NATO, between the European Community and the proposed European Union or, indeed, the WEU itself.
I hope that we can avoid the mistakes made on the economic front in relation to economic and monetary union and not force the pace too fast. Gradual co-operation between friendly states who share membership of the Community and the working out of ways of co-operating and co-ordinating our efforts will be much better than imposing some idealistic framework on the whole thing and then falling sorry when it does not work.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
My Lords, perhaps I may be the first on your behalf to offer our congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Stewartby, on his excellent maiden speech. We have listened and greatly looked forward to his future contributions. I congratulate him also on moving so sharply from formal introduction yesterday through the ordeal of a maiden speech today. That is excellent. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Younger—who also spoke most eloquently—were at one stage my ministerial masters in the Ministry of Defence. I should like to take this opportunity of saying how much I enjoyed working with them at that time. We look forward to the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Stewartby, in the future.
This year's Statement on the Defence Estimate goes into some detail regarding new ways being used to assess our force structures and new equipment needs. The concept of risks, whether likely or less likely, high or low, near-term or in some future longer term set of circumstances, is a useful tool. But it continues to rest on the foundation of starting, as we have done for half 798 a century, on the concept of perceived threats. In the light of our experience over the past decade I question whether that is now the best way to identify and justify the needs and size of our forces.
Neither the Falklands crisis nor the Gulf War was foreseen to pose a serious threat to our security. What we planned for—a Warsaw Pact offensive—was successfully deterred; it never materialised. So in spite of the best efforts and collective wisdom of many defence experts over many years, we were left to deal with the realities of life with the capabilities with which we had provided ourselves for a totally different set of circumstances. Some of the equipment used in the Gulf was new and very much state-of-the-art. Others, to put it charitably, were kept going long after their shelf lives and consume-by dates had passed.
That brief analysis leads me to the view that there is much to be said, in a period when obvious threats can no longer be identified, for considering a different approach; to think more in terms of our capabilities rather than of enemy threats. By that I mean that any nation which wishes to take its security seriously and to provide itself with armed forces for its territorial defence and the defence of its interests in other parts of the world, needs to have a range of defence capabilities—just as a golfer needs to have a range of different clubs in his bag if he is to be able to tackle the fairways and hazards of the course on which he is playing.
It would not be difficult to identify the range of capabilities upon which a country such as ours may have to call. There will be a range of factors to consider and of course some judgment will be required; for example, factors like our geographic location, our responsibilities for dependencies and our need to deal with terrorism are clear-cut. As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, pointed out, less so is the degree to which we may wish to become involved in support of the UN and other peacekeeping and humanitarian activity, though those usually call for a mix of flexible and well-trained general purpose forces with the right levels of weapon stocks and other essentials.
The sorts of capabilities which I have in mind need not, and indeed should not, be threat specific. But we must recognise, after many years of justifying our defence equipments on the basis of a response to a perceived threat, that it is not going to be easy to break the habit of first having to identify the threat for which the capability and its enabling resources are a required need. My approach would start by identifying and listing the core capabilities which we should expect our Armed Forces to maintain. We already do it for our nuclear capability. There is no clear argument today that would justify this capability as a response to a present or likely threat. We justify it as a capability which it seems right in an uncertain world that we should maintain. We modernise or replace it with new as necessary due to the obsolescence or technical deficiencies of existing equipments. We do not do so simply because a new or more active threat has been identified.
What I have in mind is that we should adapt this type of approach to our range of capabilities in the conventional as well as the nuclear field. We could 799 assess the relative modernity and effectiveness of these capabilities if they were to be put to the test at the present time. The list would vary in effectiveness from first class, because we had just recently re-equipped in that area, to doubtful or positively outmoded and inadequate. From this listing we could then identify a programme of planned replacements and refurbishments.
The programme would not seek to respond to some hypothetical threat or risk, but to the need to keep our capability in that particular area up to date. In many ways such a rolling programme of planned replacements and refurbishments would be easier to manage and to project for future planning purposes.
I am reminded of a cautionary tale about updating capability. Some years ago it was fashionable to talk in terms of specialisation. In the Air Staff at that time there were some strong voices for dropping out completely of the airborne reconnaissance role. Very sophisticated techniques—expensive but in the hands of trusted allies and likely to be available to us—were coming along. Other very pressing needs faced the Royal Air Force. It would help if we did not also have to replace what by then was an antiquated, unreliable recce system, becoming more and more vulnerable to an enemy's defences.
Happily, as the Gulf War showed, we were right to continue to provide ourselves with a state of the art airborne reconnaissance system. It gave a unique and highly valuable capability to coalition air commanders. Today, in operations in air policing in Iraq, it continues to justify the confidence of those of us at the time of its near demise. I would much prefer to retain even a small scale of a key capability, thereby keeping the knowledge and expertise alive than giving it up completely. It will always be easier and ultimately quicker to build on an existing capability than to start afresh from scratch.
Today, the Royal Air Force's most pressing capability need is an air superiority fighter. Should all our partners in the European fighter programme withdraw, we must press on. We must not leave the Royal Air Force without an air superiority capability. It would not just be the Royal Air Force which suffered, but every soldier and sailor too who was at risk from enemy air attack.
Finally—because it would have a significant bearing on which capabilities we should provide—I should like to pose this question: how likely are we to need to carry out offensive operations in another country's territory? What your Lordships will recognise, and which gave me as much concern as any about the adequacy of our capabilities in the Gulf conflict, was that for the first time since World War II we were actually going to get involved on the ground inside the territory of a potentially very difficult foe; one who possessed a formidable array of modern equipment, including weapons of mass destruction, and who had had considerable recent battle-hardening experience.
Although we had adopted new training and planning guidelines as a result of our Falklands experience, even in that conflict we were operating to recover our own territory which had been taken by 800 force of arms and could never expect to have to face the whole of the enemy's war potential. That we succeeded so well in the Gulf, including deploying heavy armour—something which we had not done since World War II—only tends to disguise that we were not fully adequately prepared or trained to tackle such offensive type operations, not only at great distance from home, but most significantly in the country of our enemy. Happily for us, the period prior to the outbreak of hostilities gave time to train and to rectify many of the deficiencies we faced.
It will never be easy for a government to declare other than very obliquely that they will provide capabilities to undertake offensive invasive operations. But unless we face up to that issue, no amount of risk assessment, as outlined in the Defence White Paper, nor capability listings, will truly indicate the logistic and other back-up which such demanding operations so clearly need. We cannot always expect a period of stand-off prior to hostilities during which to make good training and other deficiencies.
So we need to devise new ways to identify our defence needs. To revert to my golfing analogy: I do not think that even Mr. Faldo would venture out to defend one of his many championship titles without a carefully selected mix of clubs in his bag ranging from driver to sand iron. For even he can be unlucky enough to land unforeseen, as it were, in a bunker. Our defence bag of capabilities needs to cater for the core ones, nuclear and conventional, and a selected range of others to fit the particular shape of our wider defence and security policies. We must no longer make its justification entirely threat specific.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, we have had three deeply interesting, very different and all redoubtable maiden speeches in this debate. I should like to add my admiration of what has already been said.
This is a timely debate, because defence is one of the areas under threat in the expenditure round. It is too small a budget already to cover our ever-growing commitments in the UN context, in the Rapid Reaction Force and, above all, in Northern Ireland, which must be central to our national security and where we cannot but be deeply impressed by the sheer professionalism of our forces there.
However, today I shall stick to my last and confine myself, as usual, to those developments in the former Soviet Union, and especially Russia, which bear upon any assessment of our security policy. I may mention in passing that the Russians are now creating their special force for peacekeeping and rapid reaction.
I do not enjoy the role of Cassandra, but I believe that it is essential that we should not allow our very real admiration for the Russian people and their present leaders to cloud our judgment of the threat to peace, both for us and for them, which the continued power of the nomenklatura, the defence establishment and the KGB, still constitutes. This powerful group still seeks to re-establish the status quo ante and that is a threat to the present Yeltsin government.
801 The factors which must directly affect our assessment of the threat and therefore our definition of the defence resources we still need are, firstly, the real pace of conversion of the defence—industrial complex to civilian needs. Are we looking at conversion or a privatisation for greater efficiency and to secure western partners? Secondly, there is the pace of destruction of those sophisticated weapons of mass destruction which the former Soviet Union agreed to destroy. Thirdly, I refer to the defence and defence sales policies of, in particular, Russia and the Ukraine. Lastly, there is the stability of the country and the strength of the forces working against it.
There has been some conversion, but few of the major enterprises have been affected. That is partly because conversion costs money and of the 50 billion roubles allocated by the government,19 billion have apparently "evaporated" and have never reached the plants; but more because final policy decisions to convert are being steadily delayed. The avowed policy, which was recently quoted by the Finance and Economics Minister, Nechayev, is, on the contrary,actively to promote the sale of weapons abroad pending the conversion of military industries to commercial production".The policy of defence sufficiency, moreover, requires sophisticated high technology for a leaner army and thus a careful review of the whole complex to identify what plants must not be converted.
Meanwhile, the St. Petersburg military complex, the most powerful in Russia, after a period of great difficulty will be selling military hardware and armaments, and it states that the money will go into the conversion fund. The latest figures cited on 16th October show that Russia also expects its earnings from arms exports to be between 4 and 12 billion roubles this year. The Khabarovsk aircraft plant will, for example, be selling military aircraft to fund the eventual production of a civilian passenger aircraft.
There are, of course, major social problems in any move to convert highly profitable and sophisticated plants, employing the flower of Russia's scientists and technicians, to serve civilian needs; making saucepans and light bulbs is both less satisfying and less profitable and sometimes simply not feasible. Whole towns are at a standstill. Where nuclear submarines were once repaired the town is paralysed, and the navy owes 300 million roubles. It is not surprising that Kokoshin, the deputy defence minister, should say:Russia cannot just close military enterprises, as is often done in the West".However, the outcome for us is that the defence industry's programme of conversion is patchy and half-hearted, and that more effort is going into finding western partners and investment and, through them, good markets for an increased range of weapons than is going into conversion.
Verification is another cloudy issue, bound up with the defence sufficiency policy. To quote Colonel-General Dimidyuk, the chief of ground forces missile troops and artillery, on 4th August this year:Our former military doctrine obliged our armed forces to have … missile troops and artillery which were primarily developed in quantitative terms. Owing to our backwardness in developing and equipping the troops with intelligence-gathering systems, automation and precision weaponry, the 802 necessary level of effective engagement was achieved by increasing the number of weapons, which led to a large and diverse inventory of largely obsolete types of missile and artillery weapons".He went on to say that despite the scrapping of the OTRK-22 TEMP and the OTRK-23 OKA operational tactical complexes under the INF treaty, in the future precision automated missile and rocket systems will play a far bigger role in effective engagement. He said:We are moving away from quantitative to qualitative parameters".Thus, the destruction of obsolete weapons is a positive contribution to Russian defence sufficiency, and the power which could even yet fall into the hands of what Kozyrev, the foreign minister, has called the war party, propounding the psychology of the besieged fortress, the psychology of mistrust of the USA and the West, a dead end, a path that leads nowhere. While this war party remains powerful we should be worrying about verification of the destruction of the weapons that are not obsolete.
Even under a well-disposed government Russia is, for understandable reasons, maintaining her existing defence markets and developing new ones. She is selling rocket motors to India and diesel submarines to Iran; she is increasing sales of military aircraft and is entering new ventures like the proposed exchange or sale of defence technology to Argentina, where the joint development of an Argentine nuclear submarine is not excluded. Joint ventures, unspecified, in the Antarctic with Argentina are also on the menu. The more sophisticated successors to the Scud missile will no doubt also be very saleable in many countries.
These are only a few examples of the inevitable threat of arms proliferation, and the threat to the peace of the world which must arise from Russia's defence policies. But the other and greater threat is the internal volatility of Russia and the creeping power which could allow the old management to return to power. President Yeltsin is showing courage and an honourable openness about such things as the Katyn massacre, the truth of the shooting down of the Korean civilian airliner in 1983, and many other things. He, as much as we, needs to know that we remain strong. There is not yet any possible justification for reducing our forces.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for moving the Motion for the defence of the realm and of British interests in other parts of the world is the first duty of Government. But the Ministry of Defence has based its calculations on the sustainable level of commitment for the infantry on projections which fail to recognise the present level of those commitments, far less allowing a prudent margin for the unexpected.
Civil war rages in what was once Yugoslavia, and, as I anticipated over a year ago in a speech in this House, Britain has been asked to play her part in sending a peace-keeping force there. I shall not discuss the rights and wrongs, and the advisability, of our doing so. At first, I understand, all we could muster was a field ambulance. This morning I was told that 803 we had troops amounting to approximately the strength of a battalion there, and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has told us that the number is now over 2,000. Perhaps the Minister will tell us the precise number in his reply.
Well, my Lords, those troops will have to be relieved, and those who relieve them will have to be relieved in turn unless an unexpected miracle should occur. But since no real progress seems to have been made in restoring peace in the area, it looks as if we have another ongoing and probably increasing commitment for infantry battalions on our hands if we are to play our part in trying to keep the peace in Europe. How are we going to manage to do so if we proceed with what I shall call the Chapple/King plan for reducing the size of the infantry?
I much enjoyed the maiden speeches, and I warmly congratulate all three speakers. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Younger, who explained how the gap between tours of duty in Northern Ireland is now down to 15 months. Each tour probably requires at least three months specialist training for that particular theatre: so one may well be getting nearer to 12-monthly emergency tours and connected training. That is a serious matter for a service where overstretch has already led to an above average increase in the divorce rate, together with difficulty in recruiting and retaining high grade personnel.
It is clear to me that neither the Prime Minister nor the Secretary of State for Defence, nor a great many Members of Parliament, never having served in the Army, have any idea of the stress suffered by service personnel and their wives, families and girl friends through these too frequent and too long tours in Northern Ireland, and possibly in future in Bosnia. I have said before, and I repeat, that unless you want to have a conscript army you must make service in the infantry attractive to recruits. Otherwise, you will not get recruits, or not good ones, and even if you do you will lose them before they become warrant officers.
Unemployment may assist recruiting in the short term, but we hope that unemployment will not always be with us. Viable infantry depends on officers and soldiers—above all, senior ranks—believing that their dedication is appreciated and on their having time to train properly and meet all their tasks professionally as well as having the opportunity to enjoy a reasonable quality of life.
In the Middle East in general and in Iraq in particular we and the United Nations still seem to have unfinished business, particularly as regards locating and destroying biological weapon installations. Only today The Times reports that Saddam Hussein is conducting an intensive road-building programme to increase access to the marshes of southern Iraq in what Western experts fear may be the prelude to a final military push against Shia Moslem rebels and refugees. If we should be called upon to help finish that business, or if any other emergency should crop up, how could we respond without further reducing the time between tours of duty in Northern Ireland?
804 Then there is Russia where the situation is more unstable than ever. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, had to say. There are constant rumours of a new coup and the serious danger of hardliners regaining power on account of widespread anger at crime, civil unrest, hyperinflation, the black market and a Russia impotent to defend its interests in its former empire, let alone the world. The military and the former KGB have become the new champions of Russian nationalism and are goading Mr. Yeltsin to take vigorous action to defend the interests of Russians in such places as Moldavia and Estonia. What will happen if they succeed? Might not the United Nations forces have to take a hand? Might we, too, not be a part of those forces?
Those are just some of the areas where we know that there is already trouble or potential trouble. However, in the past trouble has often come from unexpected quarters, and no doubt it will do so again in the future. Heaven forbid that the defence of the nation be considered so unimportant that we become a second-class nation unable to play a part in world affairs or, indeed, to protect ourselves should the necessity arise. I therefore support the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in his Motion.
I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who, unfortunately, is not in his seat, speak of the importance of our being able so far as possible to be self-sufficient in food production, to which I should like to add, self-sufficient in energy production too. I hope that the review which is so greatly needed will take place and that it will he comprehensive enough to include those aspects.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. I am particularly pleased that she said what she did about the strain on the marriages of service families because of the reduction in time at home due to the decreased gap between tours of duty in Northern Ireland. I know a number of SSAFA welfare workers and I think that every one of them would back to the hilt what the noble Lady said.
The plans for the reduction of all three armed services were made and published while Mr. Gorbachev was still in the Kremlin. They were made in haste and without any debate outside the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury. At that time nobody foresaw what would happen in Europe and the rest of the world following the collapse of Soviet power. Therefore, in my view those plans must be out of date.
Although a new world order does not yet exist, whether we like it or not the world is a different place from what it was before the Soviet collapse. Since the beginning of this century the service chiefs have seen their primary duty to be the well-being of their own service. This is still true, and in many ways quite rightly so. I should be surprised if vested interests did not play their part in in-house wrangling. Why else has the Royal Air Force Regiment been retained when it has no airfields to defend? Do we really need such a wide nuclear capability in the current circumstances?
805 A broadly based comprehensive review of our defence strategy for the next 10 to 20 years that goes much wider than just the Ministry of Defence is required. There are two questions that need to be answered. First, what are the threats to our national security, bearing in mind rising nationalism in Europe in the face of refugee and immigrant pressure, general world instability following the power vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet Union and instability in the so-called third world caused by famine, corruption, overpopulation and racism? Secondly, what are our responsibilities as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, of NATO, the Western European Union and other organisations?
As I see it, Russia cannot help, China will not help and the United States is reluctant to help. I suspect that after the coming presidential election that reluctance will increase. Therefore, it is left to the United Kingdom and to France to give a lead. If we do, others will follow. At present we give every appearance of being dragged into such commitments against our will. This hardly puts us in the centre of Europe, let alone of the world.
As I see it, the proposed structure of the army and, to a certain extent, the other services is designed to counter a threat similar to that which was posed by the Warsaw Pact. I suggest that that is a mistake. While we must be able to play our part in such a conflict, the likelihood of a war of that nature in Europe is small. We need a more broadly based army so that we can adopt a more responsible and helpful response to problems worldwide. I suspect that we are in danger of becoming too sophisticated in terms of weaponry and equipment.
The United Nations Secretary General is leading the argument for more money and forces to be made available to the United Nations for peacemaking, peacekeeping and humanitarian aid. Public opinion is moving in the same direction. As a permanent member of the Security Council, the United Kingdom has a duty to provide a lead. Such tasks do not call for sophisticated equipment of the kind that was required in the days of the Warsaw Pact. Indeed, much of it would be quite useless. Instead, the tasks are manpower-intensive, and the infantry, especially the British infantry, is best suited to those tasks. I would suggest that in fact the British infantry is better suited than the infantry of any other nation. I do not deny that the Army must be properly equipped for the tasks for which it is designated, but the present and future structure as currently planned is designed for a cold war scenario, albeit on a reduced scale.
I believe that there should be a proper public debate involving Parliament, academics, the Royal United Service Institute and others, as well as the Ministry of Defence, leading to a review of our capabilities in the area of support for the United Nations.
While I think of it, I wonder whether, when the Minister replies, he would let us know how many members of the Treasury Civil Service team have ever served as civil servants in the Ministry of Defence and had any experience of the needs of that ministry and of the armed forces.
806 The real peace dividend which follows from the collapse of Soviet ambitions is that the West can turn its attention and resources to bringing peace and stability to the rest of the world. If we do not do so, conflict between the haves and the have-nots is inevitable. The role of our armed forces has always been in the first place to prevent war, so there is nothing new in that suggestion.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Lord Kagan
My Lords, the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, calls for a review of economic, military and other factors underlying national security. Noble and gallant Lords, and particularly the uniquely qualified noble Lord, Lord Younger of Prestwick, are better equipped than I to deal with the purely military aspects, but recent events have taught us one lesson. No one attacked the Soviet Union militarily but Soviet might was based on a steadily declining economy which went into chaos and collapsed. The Soviet Union as an empire ceased to exist without anyone firing a shot. Noble Lords will agree that any military defence is based on a sound economy.
The Chinese have seen the fallacy of simple numbers. They have carried out a mega-leap—the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, would be very proud of them—into a capitalist economy in order to get a sound economy going. They have abandoned Communism although they have not abandoned dictatorship. If that lesson is true not solely for those two countries, should we not review our economic situation to see how well it serves or is capable of serving our defence forces?
When the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, was Prime Minister, the British pound was worth 11 deutschmarks. In 1970 the rate fell to 8.7 deutschmarks to the pound. I am citing these figures because this is not a party political matter. Successive administrations have suffered from a steady, relentless, dangerous decline. The rate has now reached 2.4 deutschmarks to the pound. But, more disturbing than that, this has occurred despite the £69 billion windfall profit of North Sea oil.
Perhaps more instructive is a comparison of the gross national product figures of Britain and Germany translated into English pounds at the rate ruling at the time. In 1964 Germany's gross national product was £38 billion. Britain's GNP was £34 billion. Six years later Germany's gross national product was £74 billion. Britain's GNP was £52 billion. By 1974 Germany's gross national product was £164 billion. Britain's GNP was £86 billion. In 1991 Germany's GNP was £903 billion against a British figure of £576 billion. That has occurred against a background of £69 billion windfall profits from North Sea oil. Is this due to bad government or is there a fault line in our system?
After the war, in which Britain was, fortunately, victorious, we installed single unions in German factories. Our trade union leadership left us with a handicap of multi-unions. We helped the German Government to get a constitution which incorporated a massive keel of moderation and wisdom in its 807 coalition structure. The German ship of state was like a boat with a deep keel. Genscher, the Foreign Secretary of the Federal Republic for 10 years, represented a party, the Free Democrats, which had the support of only 5.3 per cent. of the electorate. Therefore the German ship of state could not lurch from one side to the other or indulge in dogma or anti-dogma. I believe that we should not always blame the Government but should look to the fault line in our constitution. This could be a fundamental weakness in our economy.
I was recently in Lithuania in the Soviet Union, or what was the Soviet Union. I was talking to a young minister about democracy, which Lithuania is trying to introduce. He said that dictatorship is not only evil but that the leadership of a dictatorship is corrupt and that populations are completely controlled. In democracies governments are very honest; of that there is no doubt. But the way they achieve power is by making promises which they cannot keep and eventually they have to answer for the results.
There are not only external but internal dangers. If unemployment continues to rise and there are millions of poor people who have no hope of getting a job, society will be destabilised. I know that we are wedded ideologically and emotionally to the one-party system—perhaps this point can be followed through by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew—but the fact of the matter is that we are in serious crisis. During the war Churchill formed a national government because he knew that in that crisis solutions could not be achieved by one-party government. I ask this question. Is our economic crisis less serious simply because there is no gore and blood'? Britain's problems can be solved through co-operation only. The luxury of adversarial politics and debates and scoring points is something which we could perhaps afford in the days of Empire. We cannot now. My Lords, I thank you.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Lord Vivian
My Lords, I have listened with great care and attention to this interesting debate and I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for bringing this subject to the attention of your Lordships' House.
Some of your Lordships are aware that I retired from the Army less than two years ago and for this reason I feel that the most useful contribution that I can make in this debate is to focus on the armed services as the military factor that underlies a satisfactory national security policy. I agree that a comprehensive defence review by the Ministry of Defence is needed, but I shy away from a full-scale defence review, which, combined with our current economic problems, might tempt the Treasury to impose further cuts. Defence is our insurance policy and with all the uncertainties that exist in the world, now is not the time to reduce the premiums.
I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention some of the more significant factors that underlie our national security policy. First, there must be timely and accurate intelligence from which the Government can analyse threat assessments. It is from these assessments that we should arrive at our commitments 808 and determine the required force levels of men and equipment. Without high-grade intelligence our warning time and our threat assessments, both politically and militarily, could lead us to the wrong policies, with the wrong commitments and the wrong and inappropriate force levels. There can be no penny-pinching in the funding of our intelligence resources and it is essential that the current intelligence relationship that we have with other countries continues. I suspect that there is a real need for their expansion, when so many conflicts are emerging in a new and unpredictable world, where areas that were not of interest to us now hold significant concerns.
Secondly, the tasks and commitments must be clearly defined for our Armed Forces which must be seen to be credible and large enough to carry out those commitments. They must be correctly established, equipped and trained. They must be capable of rapid deployment not only in Europe as part of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, but anywhere else in the world where our interests may have to be protected. Lastly, our armed services must be able to act independently of our European and American allies whenever necessary.
There is no time, even briefly, for me to focus on aspects of the threat, but merely to say that some additional commitments have clearly been taken on by our contributions to United Nations' operations, with the likelihood of further responsibilities in the future, as has already been mentioned this evening. So far, as I understand it, it has been necessary to find an additional 500 Army posts for United Nations' operations, with approximately a further 1,800 to be committed soon. If the Options for Change defence cuts continue on the present time-scale, the Army will have only eight tank regiments (a force of around 450 tanks) and 41 infantry battalions to meet 41 commitments in 1995. There is already severe overstretch within the Army and further cuts will only exacerbate the situation; the promised two years between Northern Ireland tours has not been achieved. One infantry battalion goes shortly to Northern Ireland for its 14th tour since 1969 and only 15 months after returning from its 13th tour.
I should like to remind your Lordships that twice during this century at the start of both world wars, we have committed our sailors, soldiers and airmen to battle badly equipped, poorly trained and in too small numbers. In those days the cutting of defence funds caused thousands and thousands of unnecessary deaths. Since 1984, the United Kingdom has been receiving the so-called "peace dividend" as we have been reducing our Armed Forces significantly since then. To continue to do so will not create a "smaller but better army" but, regrettably, a smaller and worse army putting at risk the defence of our country.
I ask myself why we imperil the security of the nation by insisting that all the proposed cuts go ahead without, once again, carefully examining the changing circumstances of the world—events now are very different from those in 1989 and 1990. Is the policy of slashing the teeth arms in an unrelated time-scale to continue regardless of world change? In these days of 809 high technology, I am sure your Lordships are aware that we can no longer issue soldiers with rifles and tanks and produce formed and effective units in a few months. It takes years and years to become a skilled and professional infantry battalion or tank regiment.
I believe that our defence policy is based to a certain extent on the premise that our European allies, as part of some future European defence policy, will always join battle with us against our enemies thus allowing us to reduce our force levels in peace time. I believe that those procedures have already started. However, after some episodes concerning the Gulf and some recent acts by our European partners, a policy of that nature should not be relied upon. We must be able to act independently. That not only means having sufficiently large armed services, but it also means retaining an independent capability of deploying those armed forces. Today we do not possess a realistic military airlift for rapid deployment, but are dependent on our own civil airlines or the military aircraft of our allies. Before any more cuts are made, we should see how the years evolve and when we are satisfied, and not before, implement the prescribed cuts. We cannot afford to reduce our forces now, based on merely how we feel future events may turn out. Yet that would appear to be exactly what we have done and what we are about to do.
I am aware that I have painted a gloomy picture. But the real truth of the matter is that if the Options for Change cuts go ahead as planned, Great Britain will have Armed Forces that are too small—in particular an Army incorrectly established, poorly trained and incapable of acting independently. What is the solution? I believe that it is to suspend the majority of the proposed cuts; re-examine our commitments; review our force levels against those commitments and adjust them to cover current world uncertainties. In reality, the United Kingdom has retained the majority of its defence responsibilities. However, the newly forming Allied Rapid Reaction Corps and the rundown of the Berlin and Hong Kong garrisons save some manpower. But the proposed cuts would appear to demand a reduction of 40,000 troops by 1995 when there will have been real savings of only about 20,000 troops.
In conclusion, if we retain our existing commitments, the Army will need about 130,000 troops and not just the 104,000 trained soldiers that have been proposed. If the future Army can be established at around 130,000, it would be one of the military factors underlying a satisfactory security policy for our nation. Failing that, commitments will probably have to be cut which may put the security of our nation at risk.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for initiating this debate on defence. It comes at a very opportune moment, for all this week we have been thinking and talking of short-term decisions with disastrous and unfortunate consequences for the confidence of our nation. Defence is a long-term issue. 810 It is something which needs thinking through carefully: it is planning for the future security and safety of our nation, and of the world. Like marriage, it is not to be taken in hand lightly or unadvisedly, but discreetly and soberly, duly considering the due purposes for which it was ordained. It was ordained for the future peace and tranquillity of our realm. As John Donne said:No man is an island".Nor, in that sense, is Britain. We are all part of Europe and, through Europe, of the world.
There have been so many excellent informed speeches to which it has been a pleasure to listen that I dare not, if I could, inflict a lengthy diatribe on your Lordships. In a debate not long ago, my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham said that he felt like a minnow among Tritons. Although appearance may belie it, I also never feel more than a very small amoeba.
There are just two points that I should like to make. The first has already been made most tellingly by my noble friend Lord Younger in his truly excellent maiden speech. I should like briefly to congratulate him, my noble friend Lord Stewartby, and the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, on a winning treble. My noble friend Lord Younger spoke of the future of Rosyth. There are three important factors which argue strongly for its retention as a nuclear refitting base instead of Devonport. First, it is only 60 miles by road from Faslane, as opposed to the 400-odd miles between Faslane and Devonport.
Secondly, there is the question of safety. In Rosyth no civilians live within one kilometre of the docks; in Devonport 3,500 do. Within a radius of two kilometres there are only 1,600 at Rosyth compared to 38,000 at Devonport. If there ever had to be any kind of emergency evacuation, there could be no doubt as to which would be easiest to operate.
Thirdly, there is the question of employment in Scotland. Were Rosyth to close down, thousands of jobs would be lost in the Rosyth and Edinburgh areas, with estimated redundancy costs of £137 million. Currently I can think of no more sensitive or upsetting issue.
My second point is about not reducing the present levels of the Armed Forces. That point has already been made most splendidly by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and my noble friends Lord Younger, Lord Swinfen and Lord Vivian.
Last week I had the privilege and honour, as president of the War Widows Association of Great Britain, to attend the El Alamein service in Westminster Abbey—for which we must all be grateful for the persistence of noble Lords and, in particular, my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. It was, as many of your Lordships who were also there will know, the most beautiful and moving of services. In his address, the Dean of Westminster praised the quality and dedication of our forces today, who work long, dangerous, anti-social hours without overtime, and who are indeed the flower of our nation. We think 811 of our forces in Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia and elsewhere in the world, preventing terrorism, saving lives and succouring the hungry and those in need.
Already the prophetic words of the late gallant Lord Cheshire, in his speech on 16th October 1991, are coming true. He said:�The Armed Forces have a far greater role to play in the future good of mankind than we may think at present. I hope we shall not let that opportunity go�.—[Official Report, 16/10/91: col. 1127.]I echo his words. Let us not cast away our finest flowers. We shall not get them back.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Viscount Allenby of Megiddo
My Lords, your Lordships have heard a great deal about the problems facing the Armed Forces today. I too am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for again raising the subject of national security policy in the House.
The Armed Forces of the Crown are fundamental to this country's security. Without them, we undoubtedly face the breakdown of law and order which leads to eventual anarchy of the type that we see in several parts of the world today—Somalia and Bosnia, to name just two. There are many other places in the world where our forces are committed to maintaining order through the United Nations.
Chapter 3, paragraphs 324–328, of the 1992 Defence Estimates highlighted a number of manning, recruiting and retention problems. Since those estimates were published the problems have become more acute. Due to economic uncertainty, the predicted outflow of manpower has not occurred and to date force restructuring has not led to a better match between commitments and manpower levels. That, in turn, has led to a virtual standstill in service recruiting. The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are allowing just a trickle of new applicants—principally for the technical trades. However, that is leading to serious shortages in a number of key posts, principally in the manning of ships and the servicing of our aircraft.
For the Army, where much greater numbers are required, the situation is much more serious, especially in the infantry. The recruiting of junior soldiers has been stopped. There are currently over 1,000 vacancies in the recruiting organisation. Those men, if recruited, would greatly relieve the overstretch in infantry battalions.
We face uncertainty, inflexibility and dogma within the chain of command. I should like to give one example. It is of a commanding officer of a well-known Scottish battalion who recently asked his affiliated Territorial Army battalions for TA manpower to reinforce his battalion before it was committed abroad. Volunteers were forthcoming in the true spirit of the TA, as happened at the time of the Gulf conflict and on other occasions since. However, for political reasons, TA soldiers were not allowed to reinforce that Scottish battalion, nor do they look like being allowed to serve with their regular counterparts for the foreseeable future. In the event of a total ban on recruiting for the Army, are the Government prepared to allow TA soldiers and reservists to make 812 up deficiencies in the regular forces when those regular forces are faced with manpower bills above their current strength?
As with the regular Army, there is natural anxiety in the TA about wastage and an overall drop in manning levels. Figures for the TA show a drop from 74,500 in August last year to just over 68,500 in August this year, the date of the latest figures. That is a drop of nearly 6,000 men. If the trend continues, TA strength will drop well below the target figure of 63,500. That may well be welcome news to the Treasury but not to the Ministry of Defence. However, there is some good news in that recruited units which are above strength can overbear that strength. That is a sensible move and will, I hope, keep up the TA's overall strength.
I congratulate those responsible for the work done by the National Employers' Liaison Committee, and I very much hope that the amount of money available to it will not be so reduced that it cannot continue to function as effectively as it has in the past.
As part of his Statement on reserve forces made in another place on 10th December last year, the then Secretary of State, Mr. Tom King, said:It is our duty to see that they"—referring to reserve forces—have the support, equipment and training that they deserve".—[Official Report, Commons,10/12/91; col.739.]When the regular forces are experiencing difficulties of undermanning and under-equipping, can we realistically maintain the reserves at their present level? I am especially worried about the companies of those battalions committed to the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps and that they have all the man-training days, the challenging and worthwhile training and, above all, the equipment that they need. There is anxiety in the TA that support companies may not receive all the mortars, Milan anti-tank weapons and machine guns that they need to match their regular counterparts.
I apologise for raising this matter yet again in your Lordships' House but it is of major concern to the TA and those committed to the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. We live in dangerous and uncertain times, as we have already heard. If we fail to look after and harness our excellent regular reserve forces effectively, the country will lose interest in them and we shall endanger this country's security.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, every Member of your Lordships' House should express gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, not just for the debate that he has set in train but above all for his expertise and enormous encouragement of us all, and all the places that he has visited. He told us that he had just returned from Hong Kong with a group of your Lordships and other parliamentarians. I too have been with him. I know how much work he puts into the subject. I hope that the debate will show him and your Lordships how much we appreciate what he does.
We have listened to three impressive maiden speakers today. We are all very much in their debt. I hope that all three of them will continue to give us 813 their opinions in the excellent and charming way that we heard today. We hope that they will be able to expand at greater length than is allowed in a time-limited debate such as we have had today.
My thoughts can be encapsulated in four letters—GCHQ—but my noble friend the Minister need not panic. I shall not refer to the establishment in Cheltenham. G stands for a general overview, although virtually everything I could have said has already been said. It could also stand for "get on with it", which is what I shall do.
In 1968, when I first started coming to your Lordships' House I remember a great review of defence policy and a White Paper. I remember hearing of a concept known as "East of Suez". It was said that we would never again necessarily engage in military activity or take a major military stance east of Suez. Yet in 1991 an immensely valuable and valiant contribution was made by all our armed forces in the Gulf and above all in the liberation of Kuwait.
Many noble Lords may remember that in 1982 we assembled in your Lordships' House one Saturday morning and heard how the Falklands had been invaded by a ruthless aggressor. I remember that Saturday morning. I remember wondering what might happen as an enormous expeditionary force was assembled and engaged. I believe it was my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham who said that that engagement was a feat of arms that was comparable with the Battle of Agincourt. Many of us remember that battle from our history lessons. Perhaps my noble and learned friend expressed himself in a fairly flowery fashion, though succinctly, but the Falklands episode, together with the operations in the Gulf in 1991, shows how extremely lucky we are to have the support of our military personnel in mounting such military campaigns as may be needed.
In 1969 other events took place within the United Kingdom. Some 23 years later we have in Northern Ireland thousands of servicemen committed to trying to suppress one of the most ruthless and professional campaigns of terrorism of the 20th century. The role that the British Army now adopts in Northern Ireland was completely unforeseen in 1969. All noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Stewartby and myself, have reason to admire the professionalism of the men and women who serve in Northern Ireland.
Was it last year that we received a fascinating document entitled Options for Change? I seem to remember thinking, on reading through that document, that it was somewhat more erudite than my university essays. Nevertheless the same comment can be made of Options for Change as of my essays. My tutors used to tell me that a great deal of work had gone into my essays but they did not necessarily concentrate on the required subject. It seems that a great deal of work had been done on Options. for Change but it is not clear that that valuable document answered the necessary questions.
The defence situation in this country changes every day. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and other speakers today have spoken about the position in Bosnia. Let us never forget the Cheshire Regiment, 814 which has set sail for Bosnia and which will soon commence its engagement there. We wish that regiment well, as we also wish the best for each and every one of the supporting servicemen who will accompany the regiment.
I wish to speak on the role of the army and the infantry in Northern Ireland. The role of infantrymen and young officers is far different to the role I was expected to adopt when I underwent my national service in 1957 to 1959. Looking at the list of speakers in this debate today I think there may be four or five noble Lords who have not been engaged in distinguished roles in the armed forces. However, I believe my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord St. Davids, has undergone national service like myself. When I think of the skills I had to learn as a young platoon commander some 35 years ago, they cannot compare with the skills that are now needed in Northern Ireland in terms of the complicated new equipment that infantrymen have to use. I have tried to operate the new SA80 rifle, the Milan anti-tank weapon and the new radios. I have tried to use those weapons on a practice range. It was fortunate I was on a practice range, as I found the weapons terrifying.
Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that valuable, enthusiastic and skilled recruits to the armed forces are not being put on hold, let alone being turned away, because of financial or other organisational problems that may have arisen as a result of Options for Change? I wish to mention a hobby-horse of mine. I live in the county of Angus. My noble friend Lady Strange lives not far from me, although not quite in Angus. Both of us are familiar with Royal Air Force Leuchars, which is our local Royal Air Force station. I understand that Leuchars is not responsible for the low flying planes that pass overhead, although my noble friends Lord Trefgarne and Lord Glenarthur made a low pass over my home from Leuchars some years ago. However, those of us who live in Angus are familiar with the yellow Wessex helicopters that fly from Leuchars. They venture up the glens of Angus to rescue civilians who for some reason or another have got into difficulty in the mountains. We have heard there is to be an announcement on the helicopters. I hope my noble friend the Minister will accept the thanks of all of us in Angus and Perthshire for everything that has been done by RAF Leuchars in this field.
Finally, is my noble friend satisfied with recruitment, particularly for the army? Is he concerned about overstretch, especially as it applies to Northern Ireland? I hope my noble friend and all other noble Lords will join with me in expressing our best wishes to each and every serviceman who serves in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and anywhere else.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Lord Astor of Hever
My Lords, I wish to reiterate the words of my noble friend Lord Lyell about the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I was lucky enough to go to Hong Kong under his able leadership. One military factor to consider is our responsibility for the security of Hong Kong before we hand it over to the Chinese on 1st July 1997. There appears to be a serious 815 divergence of views between us and the Hong Kong Secretary of Security about the speed of the security run-down. The Hong Kong Secretary of Security is under pressure from the Hong Kong Legislative Council to sell valuable military land and cut Hong Kong's contribution to the cost of British troops, although some of these same troops risk their lives daily in dangerous operations to catch smugglers and net the Hong Kong Government many millions of dollars. The Security Secretary felt a fast cut-back was necessary and that the number of helicopters in particular should be dramatically cut. He asserted that in the event of a future emergency troops could move by road. However, as any visitor to Hong Kong knows, most roads are solidly jammed with traffic.
The Security Secretary envisaged little risk of civil unrest in Hong Kong leading up to 1997. If that event arose he was confident that the police could handle the situation, although they now rely extensively on the military for back-up. However, no one knows what will happen and the proposed cuts mean we could be ambushed by an unforeseen scenario when the military personnel is far too scarce. As Mao Tse-tung said,A single spark can set the prairie afire".There could he instability in China, with illegal immigration swamping the police. There could also be anti-British feeling over the passport issue and as 1997 approaches the belief may grow that we sold out to a brutal regime. Normal Chinese behaviour is to bully and the current arguments with China frighten people.
Hong Kong has a volatile society, as I discovered in 1967, when as a young troop leader I was mobilised during the appalling riots that lasted several months and caused much destruction and death. Recent public demonstrations in Hong Kong have often verged on spontaneous violence. I am told that the police, while being well trained and well equipped, are not always well led and corruption is on the increase. With all the uncertainties recruiting is difficult. In the event of a major problem the police would undoubtedly have to fall back on the garrison, as they quickly did in 1967. Even then, with a much bigger garrison, extra troops were brought in at great expense.
There is also a risk that members of the Hong Kong Service Corps, volunteers fully integrated with our troops and used as extra back-up to the police, could leave in large numbers through resentment at not being given a fair quota of British passports.
Military authorities to whom I spoke in Hong Kong, the business community, and the man in the street who, in a recent opinion poll, put law and order as a far higher concern than more democracy for 1997, all want a sufficient British military presence. So do the Chinese leadership, who have made it clear publicly that if the "weak" British were incapable of handling unrest before 1997, they would move in. That would be a real humiliation.
Last but not least, the lives of those troops who stay until the end, and their families, must be protected.
816 I hope therefore that my noble friend the Minister can reassure me that a policy of "stronger for longer" will be pursued and we can hand over Hong Kong with British honour upheld.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was surely right to remind us in his Motion that security is far wider a concept than military defence. It involves economics, overseas aid, disarmament, and many other factors which contribute to or otherwise affect the safety of a country.
However, having begun on that note the noble Lord was tempted, as were so many other speakers, into the familiar pattern of demanding stronger forces and criticising Options for Change. I confess to having been astonished by the number of powerful speeches from the Benches opposite and from the Cross-Benches calling for greater Armed Forces and increased defence expenditure, because that is what it means. I have one sad warning for those speakers. I believe that when the Government finally decide on public expenditure for the next year they are in for a severe disappointment.
My own view is that Options for Change is right in one important respect and wrong in another important respect. It is right in that the document sets out plainly that the threat has changed and, overall, has diminished. Of course the threat overall has diminished, as the Government said: the Soviet Union no longer exists. I listened with great attention to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Park. A few years ago the likelihood of being invaded or attacked was very much greater than it is today. The threats have changed, but the overall threat has diminished. In that Options for Change is right.
Where Options for Change is disastrously wrong is that, though it referred to the new threats, it does not include plans to reorganise our Armed Forces to deal with the new threats as against the old ones. To begin with, I believe that we all agree that the new threats demand a major peace-keeping, peace-making and terrorist suppression role for the Army. Therefore Options for Change should have redressed the balance in favour of conventional arms rather than nuclear arms. In fact, it lays down an increase in nuclear arms and a decrease in conventional arms. That is the first major mistake. It provides for more warheads for Trident—more power than Polaris—and, in addition, an entirely new nuclear system—TASM, and on the other hand it provides for a reduction in conventional weapons.
Secondly, if Options for Change were realistic it would put more emphasis on ground forces than on naval and air power. However, there again, Government policy set out in Options for Change calls for a decrease in Royal Navy manpower of 13 per cent., RAF manpower of 16 per cent. and in Army manpower of 27 per cent. by 1995. That is exactly the opposite of what is needed in order to organise our Armed Forces to meet the new situation.
Further, in respect of conventional forces, and in particular the Army, the new threats require a greater 817 emphasis on lightly armed troops compared with armoured regiments. But Options for Change lays down a decrease in armoured and armoured reconnaissance regiments from 14 to 11 and a decrease in infantry battalions from 55 to 39.
That is the trouble with Options for Change. It is not that there is a need for more Armed Forces. That is absurd. It would involve more defence expenditure. What the policy fails to do is to adjust to the realities of the new threats. That is a great condemnation of Options for Change, which bears all the hallmarks of the outcome of a familiar Whitehall war in which the RAF and the Navy outfought the Army. I say that with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Younger, whose speech I greatly admired.
A serious, realistic defence review would begin by cancelling the TASM project. I have every hope that that will be done, and soon. All the arguments so well advanced by the noble Viscount struck no chord of agreement anywhere in this House, either on the Benches opposite or on these Benches. A realistic defence policy would then allocate Trident a fire power no greater than that of Polaris, or perhaps less. Such a defence review would make a careful assessment of the Royal Navy's role in the Atlantic in the new circumstances. It would carefully assess the RAF's air defence role in the new circumstances in which we find ourselves. A realistic defence policy would give priority to increasing the capability of the Army for peace-making, peace-keeping and terrorist suppression. Already, as was expressed so well from the Benches opposite, our soldiers are much the best in the world at that job, not only for their professionalism—not being conscripts—but also, as Yugoslavia shows, because they speak the most widely understood language in the world. That is very important for United Nations peace-keeping. Half of our soldiers are in the Rapid Reaction Corps. I should like the Government to consider that aspect. We provide 50 per cent. of the manpower of the Rapid Reaction Corps. That is too much; our partners should be doing more. Our forces should be specially trained and easily available for the threats which face us in the real world today.
Therefore, when the Government cut defence expenditure, as I believe they will, let them do so not in the spirit of Options for Change, not piecemeal, and not just to satisfy this or that service lobby. Let them have an overall concept of the real threats facing us and make sure they take the decisions to meet those threats.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for introducing the Motion that we are discussing today. Noble Lords will also be grateful to our three "maidens" who have made such a distinguished contribution this evening. I was particularly impressed by the different points made by the different maiden speakers.
The noble Lord, Lord Younger, with his great experience in these matters, made some very telling 818 points on the whole question of management of change. My noble friend Lord Ashley, who has enormous sympathy for the problems of disabled people, brought fiercely to our attention the fact that we are dealing with human problems. If problems come up as a result of service—bullying or whatever—we must treat people with the maximum of compassion. We cannot be callous in that respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Stewartby, brought our attention to the question of the reserve forces. As the noble Viscount will know, that is a problem which I have discussed with him in this Chamber on a number of occasions. I personally believe that we cannot go in for Options for Change on the basis of a cut in our reserve forces at the same time as we cut our front-line full-time forces.
Having congratulated the three maiden speakers and mentioned the most impressive points they made, I again congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, on his framing of the Motion. In my view, and I thought also in his, such a review would not simply be another look at defence policy in Options for Change. The Motion urges the need for a comprehensive review of the economic, military and other factors underlying a satisfactory national security policy. Therefore I thought the wording of the Motion was most successful. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Kagan, in a very powerful speech, pointed to the economic point; namely, that unless the economy is right, the defence will not come right. I say that very directly to the noble Viscount.
I welcome the recognition by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that security policy is not just a matter of a narrow defence policy. It needs to embrace defence but also to encompass arms control and disarmament, non-proliferation, export controls on nuclear technologies, arms trade policy and, in the economic context, overseas aid policy. Unless we get all those areas right, we shall not be secure in the sense implied by the noble Lord's Motion.
The United Kingdom commits some 95 per cent. of its defence budget to NATO tasks. NATO was created to deter the Soviet Union (by "Soviet Union" I mean the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies). In that role NATO was extremely successful. The Warsaw Pact has dissolved, the Soviet Union has disintegrated and the communist régime has fallen. As the noble Baroness, Lady Park, remarked, there is still all kinds of turbulence within the remnants of the former Soviet Union which need to be studied very carefully. In terms of the review called for in the Motion, we have to consider not only the forces that we require for our defence, which include the nuclear forces to combat any possible threat from disintegration in the former Soviet Union, but also the arms control policies that might or might not be in place and the non-proliferation policies needed to make us more secure.
Many noble Lords are much more expert than I on Options for Change. I have put forward my views and I do not want to bore noble Lords with what I feel about Options for Change. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, quite rightly and eloquently spoke about overstretch, as did other noble Lords. I 819 should like to concentrate on other aspects, and pick up some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew.
First of all, there is our nuclear role. Clearly, we have to retain some ultimate deterrent capability and that will be Trident. But it must be right to limit the number of warheads in the Trident system to the same number as those employed in the current Polaris fleet. In the world in which we live, it cannot make any sense at all to multiply our nuclear strike capability. Secondly, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that it makes no sense to employ TASM at this stage. If the Treasury is looking for cuts it seems to me that that ought to be the first to go.
My next point concerns non-proliferation and arms control. As the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and my noble friend Lord Kagan emphasised, there is undoubtedly a clandestine nuclear weapons programme in places (such as Iraq) which are signatories to the non-proliferation treaty and still violate that treaty. In the context of a general security policy, the Government must encourage the greater use of short notice inspections if there are suspicious activities. That is the only way to do it. If my figures are correct, the UK provides the International Atomic Energy Authority with around 0.025 per cent. of our defence budget. That is not particularly convincing as a contribution.
I believe that we need to move much further on the comprehensive test ban treaty. Unless we do so, we shall find that any small or medium sized state in military terms will be able to test in a way that will be damaging to the security of the whole world. If I may put it this way, it is a shame that Britain has been forced to stop testing rather than taking the lead in the positive measure of stopping all testing in a comprehensive manner. However, for some reason the Government have refused to do that and I should like to know why.
We must tighten control on the export of nuclear materials and nuclear related technologies. Nuclear exports are still going to countries suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons programmes. They are subject to International Atomic Energy Authority safeguards, but those safeguards are inadequate. We must strengthen arms trade policy. According to the 1992 Defence White Paper, the Arms Transfer Register requires all parties by 30th April 1993 to provide the UN Secretary General with details of imports and exports in seven categories of major weapons systems. When do the Government intend to bring the necessary legislation before Parliament to provide for the disclosure of such information in the UK? Perhaps the noble Viscount will answer that question when he comes to wind up the debate.
With regard to chemical weapons, we welcome the outcome of the conference on disarmament in Geneva. We hope that the agreed text will be debated at the UN General Assembly to be held next month and that it will be signed in January 1993. Generously, I congratulate the Government on the efforts that they have made to secure that convention.
I apologise that I have overrun my time. I have tried to cover a number of subjects while leaving until the 820 end the basic questions that I hope the Government will answer. First, as the result of this debate will the Government consider, in the words of the Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that national security will be studied as a whole in terms of economic, military and other factors, and will the study then be debated in this House? Secondly can we be assured that the study—let us call it a defence review if that is what the Government want—will start from the basic problem of what is necessary for the United Kingdom and the world? If the study starts from that base, and the Treasury input comes later—I accept that there will be a Treasury input—then we shall have a satisfactory outcome to the study. Thirdly, will the Government now recognise that there is much more to security policy than the simple minimum defence of this country? I pick up the theme of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. We are an international player and a European player. We should behave as one.
I return to what my noble friend Lord Ashley said. The callousness that has characterised so many Government decisions over the past few years, months and even days can no longer prevail. We are dealing with the lives and livelihoods of human beings and our own kith and kin. I warn the noble Viscount that unless that lesson has been learned by the Government his life, even in his job as a Minister in the Department of Defence, will be made very difficult by myself and my noble friends.
§ 7.51 p.m.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Viscount Cranborne)
My Lords, like virtually every other noble Lord who has spoken in this most interesting debate, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for the opportunity that yet again he has given us to address ourselves to the higher and intellectual facets of the fascinating subject of defence and security. However, before I endeavour to answer the final questions that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, put to me, I wish to associate myself with the remarks that have been made about the three extraordinarily elegant maiden speeches to which we have had the privilege of listening today.
I warmly welcome my noble friend Lord Younger because he and I form a rather exclusive club in your Lordships' House. He adds a great deal of strength to the father and son teams which I hope will increasingly become a feature of your Lordships' debates. I welcome him for another reason. I know how much he was liked and respected during his time at the Ministry of Defence.
I too remember the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, for the distinction of his contributions to debates in another place when I was briefly there. His knowledge and commitment on matters affecting welfare, poverty and the disabled are known to all your Lordships and struck me during my eight years in another place. I was particularly pleased at the remarks he made. The worries that he addressed in his distinguished contribution are directly my responsibility in the Ministry of Defence. I have endeavoured to pay a great deal of attention to them during the seven months that I have been in the department. I certainly 821 shall take up the challenge put by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, as well as taking to heart the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. I say to both of them that my door is always open and I very much look forward to discussing those matters, in particular with the noble Lord, Lord Ashley.
I also remember the distinguished contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Stewartby in another place. I welcome another Hertfordshire man (if that is what he has become by adoption) to your Lordships' debates. I know that he speaks from a great deal of knowledge of the department that I have the honour to represent in your Lordships' House. I greatly look forward to the contributions that he will make to our debates.
As noble Lords know, for many years the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has made a deep study of the subject of security. Indeed Ministers in my department were grateful for an advance copy of his recent extremely interesting pamphlet on defence reviews and defence strategy. I believe that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence made that clear in reply to the noble Lord. We were also extremely grateful for his subsequent acknowledgment in the follow-up correspondence that the Statement on the Defence Estimates had addressed a number of his anxieties. I was grateful for the qualified support of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, in that respect.
However, in reply to the debate, I hope that your Lordships will agree that I should try to address myself principally to the Motion and the wider questions which the noble Lords, Lord Chalfont and Lord Williams, addressed. I shall endeavour to address myself to some of the points which a number of noble Lords have made during the course of the debate. If I miss any, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me, and I shall write to them.
We know that there has been a consistent call for a fundamental defence review in your Lordships' House at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Indeed, it has become almost a truism to say that the great events of the last few years have fundamentally altered the strategic situation.
As I believe I mentioned to noble Lords in May of this year when I first had the honour of addressing your Lordships' House, the old certainties have disappeared along with the immediate strategic threat. I also said, and it has been stated again a number of times today, that those certainties have been replaced by uncertainty. We have to face a new range of security risks, all characterised by the quality of uncertainty. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, spoke most pertinently to that point. I say to the noble and gallant Lord that his remarks have been carefully noted by the Ministry of Defence, as they will have been by your Lordships.
In Europe we face an increasingly complex situation where we cannot yet be certain that we have successfully left the old threat wholly behind. As the noble Baroness, Lady Park, with her great knowledge and authority of the former Soviet Union and Russia, so rightly said, we do not know what will happen in the former Soviet Union. After 70 years of Stalinist 822 and post-Stalinist permafrost, the thaw has come. We hope and believe that democracy is taking root, however slow and painful that process may be. At the moment we cannot envision, even in our wildest dreams, a direct assault on the West. However, as the noble Baroness so rightly pointed out, Russia is still extraordinarily well armed and, as other noble Lords have said, quantity has given way to quality. Indeed, Russia still possesses a formidable military capacity, both conventional and nuclear. Your Lordships and the electorate would surely not expect us as Her Majesty's Government to relax our guard completely until the transition to stable government and a stable economy is complete. In that context I have noted the remarks of my noble friend Lord Vivian about the importance of intelligence.
Elsewhere in our continent the permafrost's melting reveals that atavistic instincts that the East-West stalemate had kept frozen are still alive. Conflicts such as the dreadful one in former Yugoslavia do not impose a direct threat to the United Kingdom, but they undermine the stability of Europe and threaten to spill over into the NATO heartland.
Outside Europe many countries are beginning to acquire sophisticated weapons which could pose a threat to our strategic interests. In that context I wish to ask the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, whether he would have preferred lightly armed troops to take on Saddam Hussein rather than the heavily armoured troops we were able to send to that conflict with the results that many of your Lordships have referred to this evening.
The changed situation and climate have in many ways prompted a gratifyingly swift response from NATO. When your Lordships consider the nature of the resources which we devoted to the Warsaw Pact threat they were fairly static in nature and in general terms our main forces pointed in only one direction. The security arrangements and the military alliance which we had in place were working well. Indeed, they were working so well that we can claim that NATO has proved a success almost without parallel for an alliance of that kind. In the circumstances there will always be a temptation to try to cling on even in the face of changing events—what one might call man's natural conservatism.
We can claim that we in the alliance have reacted swiftly to radical change. One must consider that we began with the London Summit in July 1990. There the 16 nations of the alliance had to decide to change as one, which is always more difficult than one person doing so. The process of giving birth to a new strategic concept came to formation in November 1991 in Rome. Here the alliance fundamentally overhauled itself and based itself on three key interlocking principles. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Williams, to consider that I am beginning to answer some of the questions which he addressed to me at the end of his remarks. The three interlocking principles can be described as dialogue, co-operation and a strong collective defence.
I have previously observed to your Lordships that our first line of defence lies with the institutions which give practical effect to the first two of those principles. 823 That is a point which the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, appeared implicitly to recognise. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, recognised it too when he said that security policy encompasses more then merely defence expenditure. The United Nations plays a vital role. Through it we can promote international stability. The CSCE has become an important forum for consultation and co-operation; for instance, last year it decided to create a conflict prevention centre and an office for democratic institutions and human rights. At the Helsinki Summit this year outline mechanisms for crisis management were agreed upon. We also established a European security forum providing an institutional framework for arms control and confidence building. Indeed, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that in the arms control field we have made a great deal of progress. The CFE Treaty, under which we have already conducted a number of practice verification inspections in central Europe and Russia, is in place. We signed the Open Skies Treaty in March this year. In the nuclear field the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty provides for extensive verification—a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, addressed himself in particular—and a reduction of about one third in the superpowers' strategic arsenals. That is what one might call a start, indeed.
However, your Lordships will know that we cannot be complacent about the risks of nuclear control and proliferation. That was another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. In parenthesis I wish to add that we are pleased that not only were shorter-range nuclear weapons quickly concentrated in Russia but that the new nation states of Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus have agreed that strategic systems now within their borders should remove to Russia within the implementation period of the Start Treaty. Those three states have also agreed to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapons states.
Your Lordships will already know of the NATO nuclear planning group's planned reductions in sub-strategic nuclear weapons and of the successful conclusion of the Chemical Weapons Convention after many years of negotiation. That is an achievement in whose accomplishment this country played a distinguished part and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, for his congratulations to the Government in that respect.
Those general security mechanisms form the first line of our strategic shield. However, they cannot carry conviction unless the western allies maintain a military capability which gives our diplomatic démarche credibility. In that respect I find it difficult to over estimate the importance of the alliance. In the uncertain world to which I have referred, a solid alliance of nations, whose very nature is rooted in representative government and liberal economics, is in itself a force for stability and peace of inestimable value. To that end we are fortunate that NATO exists and has shown the welcome signs of adaptability which I have attempted to describe. Indeed, I would go further. The fundamental strategic approach so eloquently advocated by the noble Lord, Lord 824 Chalfont, would be almost impossible without the NATO alliance. It is the outstanding example of the whole being greater than the sum of the constituent parts. A strong NATO which is adaptable to changing circumstances is fundamental to our strategic approach and to the security of the United Kingdom.
I am all the more delighted, therefore, that our most important ally, the USA, continues to commit herself to the alliance. It is equally significant that France is showing signs of interest in participation once again in certain NATO forums from which she has excluded herself for so long. In that context we welcome in particular the recent remarks made by the French Minister of Defence in Paris and we shall follow developments in that sphere with the greatest interest. In particular, we hope that the WEU will develop primarily in its role as the European pillar of NATO as we believe it can and should.
Fundamental to the success of this approach is the British contribution. Our ultimate national survival is underpinned by our independent nuclear deterrent. In that context I point out to the noble Lords, Lord Mayhew and Lord Williams, that we have publicly set a maximum on Trident warheads of 128 per boat. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, knows because I have told him more than once in your Lordships' House that we have not yet come to a decision on TASM. I know that he will be pleased to receive an update on that study. However, more than any previous government we have had to reconcile what I would call our "unduckable" commitments towards Northern Ireland, Belize, the Falklands and Hong Kong. Perhaps I can reassure my noble friend Lord Astor, who made a most interesting contribution, that we intend to discharge our full responsibilities in Hong Kong. We must reconcile that with our contribution towards the alliance, which must be the bedrock of our security policy.
It is essential that in these times of financial stringency defence Ministers should, however resourced-disciplined, be strategy led, as a former Secretary of State for Defence put it. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, made that point more elegantly than I. Therefore our contribution to the alliance is clear. As regards NATO we have a leading role to play in the ace Rapid Reaction Corps, a formation successfully inaugurated earlier this month. I repeat that with the kind of weapons that are being bought by dictators outside the NATO area I would not like to send, to coin a phrase, "our troops naked into the battlefield." We shall continue to play a role in all three categories of NATO forces.
Our role and that of our allies in support of the United Nations is likely to become increasingly important. Indeed, it is significant that our contribution to escorting relief convoys in Bosnia is in NATO-committed troops. All noble Lords, and everyone in the country, will wish those men and women well. I am delighted that we in this House and my right honourable friends in another place have been able to give assurances on the rules of engagement. I answer directly the question asked by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. There are at present 101 service men and women in Bosnia, including the 825 base at Split, which is not strictly in Bosnia. The number varies and it would build up if our plans were to mature.
Many of your Lordships have expressed, not for the first time in your Lordships' House, extremely severe doubts as to whether or not our Armed Forces are sufficiently numerous to sustain the commitments which our overall strategy demands. It would be idle of me to rehearse the list of noble Lords who have mentioned that. However, one matter which we take extremely seriously is the point raised in particular by my noble friend Lord Stewartby about the importance of reserve forces. That was a point made also by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. Last week I was fortunate enough to visit HMS "Eaglet" which I believe is the mother ship of HMS "Humber". I heard of Lady Stewartby's impending visit. I was able to hear also of the strong views expressed by the officers and men of the Royal Naval Reserve during the course of that visit to Liverpool.
In spite of the fact that no one is able to deny that the situation is tight, most of your Lordships' doubts have concentrated on the Army. Therefore, I must make it clear that the advice from our professional advisers on this matter is clear. Once the transition under the Options programme has been accomplished, the present too-short tour interval of an average of 15 months will rise. A target of at least 24 months will be achievable once the transition period is over. That will include the whole question of public duties for the Foot Guards, on which my right honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces has answered a Written Question, the details of which I have placed in the Library of your Lordships' House.
§ Lord Bramall
My Lords, can the Minister give any indication as to when that 24-month period may be reached?
My Lords, that will be once the draw-down has been completed, somewhere around about 1995. However, I should add—and I have said this to your Lordships on more than one occasion—that if circumstances change, and we all know that they are changing rapidly at present, we stand ready to change our approach on the question of the number of infantry in particular. We keep that under continuous review.
I pay tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces. As a newcomer to defence matters I have been constantly impressed in the past seven months by their extraordinary cheerfulness and professionalism under extremely trying circumstances. I would be the last to say to your Lordships that I take them for granted or that we owe them anything less than the full attention and sympathy which they deserve.
This has been an interesting debate. I know that we shall often return to the matters raised this evening. As always, I shall look forward to listening to your Lordships' highly informed opinions and advice on this vital subject.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which has been interesting and valuable. In particular, I express my appreciation to the three maiden speakers. As other noble Lords have said, they were three memorable contributions, each of a different kind and character, and all extremely welcome.
There has been a general consensus in the House that a review of some kind is necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, thought that I and others concentrated too much on a desire for stronger forces. However, if he consults the Official Report, he will find that at no time did I call for stronger forces. I want a review and I am not attempting to pre-empt the outcome of that. I do not know what size or shape of forces will be recommended by such a review but a review is necessary. It must be comprehensive and, as I said, it must not be regarded as a defence review. In other words, it should not begin or remain in the Ministry of Defence. This matter affects other government departments—the Treasury, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—and the broader defence community in this country. We need not a defence review but a review of national security.
The noble Viscount answered the debate impressively. I was pleased with some of his remarks, especially in drawing attention to some of the anxieties which have been expressed as regards the 1992 White Paper. As the noble Viscount said, this subject will be before your Lordships' House again and again. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.