HL Deb 10 February 1993 vol 542 cc671-717

4.56 p.m.

Lord Chalfont rose to call attention to the demands of national defence and international security and to the importance of ensuring a proper balance between military commitments and resources; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my purpose in tabling this Motion is to draw attention to what I believe to be the serious deficiency in the direction of our national security policy. Of course, since the Motion appeared on the Order Paper the Select Committee on Defence in another place has published its second report on Britain's Army for the 1990s. That report recommends that the Government should cancel all amalgamations and disbandments of infantry battalions.

Of course, the report is concerned only with the Army. In my view the problem goes much deeper than that. It involves the long-term structure of all our Armed Forces which does not seem to be planned according to any clear view of the kind of commitments which they are likely to be called upon to discharge in the coming years. My proposition is that that arises from a failure in what used to be called the "West" to comprehend fully what has changed in the structure of international security since the end of the Cold War and also, just as important, what has not changed.

As regards this country, in my view that has led to an apparent confusion about the long-term role of Britain in the world and, inevitably, to a muddled and incoherent approach to defence policy. If we do not know what kind of international arrangements we need to take us into the uncertainties of the 21st century, how can anyone be expected to devise the kind of military resources which we shall need to support our overseas commitments?

It was reasonable to expect that with the end of the East-West confrontation which had dominated military thinking since the end of World War Two, there should be a radical reassessment of the size, shape and equipment of our Armed Forces. The Soviet empire had disintegrated, and the threat of a surprise attack by massive armoured formations upon Western Europe had disappeared, although the Russian federation remained, in a turbulent political environment, still with a powerful military machine and with the second largest nuclear striking force in the world.

But the time was certainly right for fundamental re-examination of defence policy, based on some clearly defined assumptions about the changed nature of international security and national defence in the post-Cold War environment and of the role which this country intends to play in that environment. What we got was Options for Change. It is tiresome and pointless to prolong the sterile argument about whether that was a resource driven or Treasury led exercise. The evident truth is that it led to deep cuts across the whole spectrum of the Armed Forces in pursuance of the doctrine of equal misery for all.

Inevitably, that gave rise to a serious mismatch between resources and commitments, especially in the Army where it very quickly became clear, especially in the infantry, that all the warnings from Select Committees, retired officers, serving officers, academic strategists and other assorted experts about overstretch had been only too well founded. The elastic finally reached breaking point recently with the deployment of a sizeable British contingent to Bosnia. Last week, the Defence Secretary bowed to the inevitable and announced an increase in Army manpower and the planned number of infantry regiments. But that is only the beginning of our worries. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, confirmed in your Lordships' House that the cost of this modest increase would have to be borne from within the Options for Change budget. It needs no special knowledge or insight to conclude therefore that there will have to be further reductions in either the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force, or both, unless of course it is intended to make compensating reductions in other Army units. I hope very much the noble Viscount will reassure the House that that is not the intention.

If the strength and equipment of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force were so carefully calculated to meet requirements during the Options for Change process, what has happened since to lead us to the conclusion that they can now safely be subjected to further cuts? It must surely be clear to everyone now that Options for Change and the structure of the Armed Forces which sprang from it was based primarily on the need to apply severe financial restrictions evenly throughout the three services, and only secondarily, if at all, on an assessment of the commitments which those services were likely to be called upon to discharge.

It is not the Ministry of Defence that has to bear the responsibility for this. The Ministry and the Chiefs of Staff are in my view doing their best to meet the commitments laid upon them by the Government with the resources available. Nor, of course, is there any ground for criticism of the services. The British Armed Forces are widely recognised as being among the finest in the world. They are professionally led, and they are well trained. Their loyalty, discipline and courage are not in question; nor is their morale so far, although that is under severe strain.

No, the deficiency lies elsewhere. The resources which are devoted to the Armed Forces in the broad policy of a sovereign nation state are a matter for decision and direction at the highest political level. That direction should spring from a clear vision of the role which the nation seeks to play on the international stage. The ability and the will to deploy effective armed force is not only the essential guarantee of national security; it is also one of the principal and indispensable means by which a nation can pursue a coherent, responsible and influential foreign policy.

So far as this country is concerned, there is no clear evidence of that vision or political direction. When the results of Options for Change were announced, we were told that it was based upon fulfilling commitments to Allied Command Europe, the dependent territories, Northern Ireland and the defence of the United Kingdom. Yet within months we were undertaking commitments in Yugoslavia, Somalia and in the Middle East which were nothing to do with any of those four basic interests.

The force structure which emerged from Options for Change has, in my view, been proved to be based on assumptions which are no longer valid, even if they ever were. Yet there are strong indications that when the current long-term costing process is complete even more cuts to the defence budget are contemplated: cuts in submarines, surface ships, support vessels, aircraft, armoured vehicles and armoured fighting vehicles. I do not expect for one moment that when the Minister comes to reply to the debate he will be able to confirm that. I imagine he will, however, at least confirm there are no plans to increase the resources allocated to the Armed Forces.

It is difficult for me at any rate to understand upon what long-term strategic concept all this is based. I am not suggesting that forces can or should be provided to meet every contingency. The Foreign Secretary, in a speech at Chatham House on 27th January, mentioned a United Nations assessment which asserts that there are now 25 substantial conflicts in progress in the world. He went on to say that as a result there will be even greater demands upon our military resources in the future. He also said that we shall probably have to say no more often than we say yes.

This is no way to construct the foreign and defence policies of a great country. Nor is it any longer simply a question of another defence review, however necessary that may be. It is no good tinkering with the existing resources in well meaning attempts to react to short-term crises. It is, in my view, a matter of national leadership in which the people of this country can see clearly what part the Government intend Britain to play in the affairs of a dangerous and unstable world.

At one end of the spectrum it would, of course, be possible to say that we shall in future concern ourselves only with the defence of the realm and the protection of our own immediate narrow national interests. We could then reduce our Armed Forces safely, perhaps to a level comparable with Sweden which spends 2.5 per cent. of its gross national product on defence; Switzerland, which spends 1.5 per cent.; or even Austria, which spends 1 per cent. That would surely be a miserable ambition for a country which has uniquely broad and deep historic links around the world; for a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, which is actively involved in more international organisations than any other country; and for a people who derive a good deal of their national self-esteem from a tradition of constructive engagement in the problems of international security.

This is not to suggest that we should aspire to the role of the world's police force or that we should become involved in every dispute, crisis or conflict that arises anywhere in the world. Already, I believe, we are much too ready to listen to demands for action from every television reporter with a hand-held video camera. Much more seriously, there is a tendency to take for granted the right of the United Nations to intervene, and to demand our help in intervening, wherever its secretariat perceives some problem of human rights or injustice.

We should, perhaps, remind ourselves that Article 2 of the United Nations Charter expressly prohibits interference in the internal affairs of a member state. As our own Foreign Secretary reminded us recently, that prohibition is now giving way to the assumption that humanitarian concerns must always prevail over a sovereign nation's right to manage, or to mismanage, the affairs of its country and its people. We cannot, nor do most of us wish to, aspire to any imperial or superpower status. However, many of us are not content to see our country accept some insignificant, menial role in the construction of a new world order.

What we need to do now, in my view, is to identify clearly some of the potential threats to international stability in the post-war world from such developments as the spread of missiles and weapons of mass destruction; the possible emergence of China as an expansionist superpower; the deterioration of relationships between Islamic countries and the West; the implications of the possible descent of the Commonwealth of Independent States into civil war and anarchy; or even the return of hard line communist regimes to some of the powerful states which have emerged as successors to the former Soviet Union, many of them with powerful military forces and nuclear arsenals. Then we need to play our part in strengthening and supporting those like-minded nations and international institutions which have common cause with us in meeting these threats. Those are the United Nations—provided it is restricted to its proper responsibilities—the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in a restructured and modernised form; the United States of America; the Western European Union; the European Community, provided it does not become fatally addicted to federalism; and the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE).

But in accepting our international responsibilities we must not neglect the defence of the United Kingdom. Leaving aside the minimum requirements of defence against external attack, we employ at present something like 20,000 troops in an attempt to preserve a precarious security in Northern Ireland. We could, according to the best military assessment I have heard, reduce that number substantially if we were prepared to arrest and detain about 150 known terrorists from the IRA and the Protestant paramilitary groups. But unless there is the political will to take that calculated risk, we shall presumably have to keep what is something like a quarter of our infantry strength indefinitely tied down in Northern Ireland.

We cannot, in my view, defend the United Kingdom against internal and external danger and at the same time discharge an honourable and responsible role in international security with the military establishment which emerged from Options for Change, much less with that which seems likely to result from the current long-term costings exercise.

The Government must now make a choice. Either they must substantially and progressively reduce the deployment of our Armed Forces abroad—we have 80,000 troops at present serving outside this country, including nearly 4,000 on UN duty in Kuwait, Cyprus, Cambodia, the Balkans, Somalia and North Africa —or, alternatively, they must provide adequate military resources to discharge all those commitments and others of a similar kind which will inevitably arise in the future.

The present imbalance between resources and commitments, if it is allowed to persist, carries with it too many dangers. Operational tours are becoming too frequent with the attendant strain upon soldiers and their families. Training is, in some cases, woefully inadequate. There is a real danger that important tasks will not be discharged effectively. From all that springs the greatest danger of all in a fighting force —a progressive loss of morale.

It is no good telling us that the situation is being kept constantly under review. It is no good pointing to the recent increase in army manpower as an example of a reaction to changing circumstances. Modern armed forces are skilled, sophisticated organisations, handling complex weapons systems and high technology communications. They are teams of dedicated, highly trained men and women who depend for their effectiveness upon an amalgam of tradition, esprit de corps, discipline, and shared experience. They cannot be expanded and contracted safely, like some kind of hot air balloon, to meet passing political and financial calculations.

The anxiety that some of us feel about the lack of political vision in the conduct of those affairs should not be dismissed as just special pleading or disenchanted criticism pointed at the government of the day. It is far more important and deeper than that. Let me conclude with just one or two quotations from a speech on the same theme made only two weeks ago: a number of possible involvements is growing rapidly almost month by month".

Then: as we read … the details of each particular case, we may, to some extent, fail to see the general picture".

Finally: These themes affect our diplomacy, our armed forces, the way we allocate our resources, and the way we look at the world … Our diplomacy is now undermanned … and our armed forces are already stretched".

Those are not the words of some disaffected military activist; they are the words of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Douglas Hurd. I beg to move for Papers.

5.13 p.m.

Lord Ridley of Liddesdale

My Lords, it is a great honour to address your Lordships for the first time. I approach it with a large degree of trepidation because I very much want to be in the Government's camp over this issue but I am frightened that, overnight, the Government will raise its tents and disappear into the darkness and I shall find myself supporting a position which the Government have abandoned. It seems to me that we have to approach this matter from the resources angle, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said.

I am no military expert. Indeed, I never rose beyond the rank of captain in the Territorial Army. I became officers' mess cook. It was not until I took the stores up in the sleeper to Catterick Camp and was awakened in the middle of the night by Brie dripping on my face that I decided the time had come to end my military career. I have to draw attention to the resources available:£27.5 billion goes on defence, overseas aid and foreign affairs, but the Government's deficit this year is £37 billion. So it is only two-thirds of what we have to borrow that we are currently spending. With a trade gap of £20 billion we cannot afford to have a large adverse effect upon the flows of money across the exchanges.

Certain commitments are inevitable: Northern Ireland, of course; Belize unfortunately; and the Falklands. Having tried in my day to negotiate solutions to those problems, I hope that the Government will continue to search for honourable and peaceful solutions which will relieve us of the military responsibility there. Certain commitments are profitable: the Romans kept Hadrian's Wall for 100 years after they lost control of the country on either side of the Border. They left the garrison there and charged dues on those who traded or went through. They made more money than the Roman army on Hadrian's Wall cost, which is why they kept the army there. It is a good military reason for a presence in an area. We do not make, but we do not lose, money on Brunei, and Hong Kong, a commitment which will come to an end, and we probably make money on the Saudi Arabian business and the al Yamahah project, and many other training operations which the Army undertakes. Those of course are all excellent.

The noble Lord has already drawn attention to the dangers of the future. I feel even more strongly than him about some of those dangers. The Cold War has ended and unleashed a whole maelstrom of nationalism and Moslem fundamentalism, ancient ethnic hatreds, grudges and tensions. At the same time, we have a nasty crop of dictators, some of them nuclear, who will be part of the pattern of history for a long time. We shall not, I believe, see less trouble in the future, but rather more.

I therefore think that the policemen of the world will be called upon more and more, and it is a pity that they always seem to be America, Britain and France, with, of course, some additions and some extra help from other parts of the world. The role of the policeman will be necessary. I give every support for us continuing to take part in that role, but I believe equally that the burden must be shared very much more evenly because there are plenty of rich nations which contribute nothing like their full share to the cost of those operations.

There would be no need for Options for Change, and no problems such as those to which the noble Lord has drawn attention, if there were a far greater flow of income into Britain from the various policeman operations that we have undertaken. The Gulf War set a good precedent in the sense that the hat was passed around and a great deal of money was thrown into it; but we cannot ignore that precedent and see it as a one-off. We have to develop more sophisticated ways of making that happen in the future.

Another vision has been the transformation of the United Nations from a useless talking shop into a body which can grant mandates, recommend action and co-ordinate military activity in pursuit of its decisions. That too must be developed. Fragile, dangerous and hard-to-make-stick though such decisions are, and difficult though the problem is of financing those operations by those who, although not participating, will benefit from them, it seems to me that we should try to move the world in that direction. I have no illusions about how difficult that will be. However, I hope that in the longer term such a consideration will contribute towards squaring the circle which the noble Lord has raised, allowing me to continue to support Options for Change, which I very much wish to do.

5.21 p.m.

Lord Healey

My Lords, I believe that I speak for the whole House in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Ridley of Liddesdale, on a stimulating maiden speech. I have always been a little cautious in criticising him, even when I disagreed, because one Balliol man never eats another, as he may recall. However, we have other things in common. We are both keen painters. We have never been unduly infected by an excessive subservience to the orthodoxy of our parties when we felt strongly in disagreement with it. I found myself agreeing perhaps a little more with what he said than with the opening speech by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I agreed with a good deal of that speech but he left out one important dimension which was stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ridley, and that is the economic dimension.

Perhaps I may begin with another quotation. I remember Sir Henry Tizard saying in the late 1940s, after our victory over Germany and Japan, that we would not remain a great nation if we tried too hard too long to be a great power. Now that the Empire has gone, the Cold War is over and Britain is producing less than Italy, the time has come, as the Foreign Secretary suggested, to try to relate our spending to our means and our economic situation. At present, we are spending nearly twice as much of our gross domestic product on defence as Germany—which is much closer to all the potential sources of conflict—and 50 per cent. more than the average per head in NATO Europe. I fear that unless we can bring down our defence spending, if not to the general NATO European level at least to the German level, our economic decline will continue. In a world increasingly dominated by economic power we shall see the Germans and Japanese—they have been far wiser than we have in that respect—continuing to forge ahead.

The excuse for not facing that decision is usually that it is an unstable world; and indeed it is. But one source of that instability has been created by ourselves and our allies in the irresponsible export of arms to unstable parts of the world. I was shocked to see a Government Minister boasting yesterday that we had record arms exports of £4.5 billion last year, 20 per cent. of the total arms exports in the world. Yet we know from bitter experience that many of those arms will fall into the hands of our enemies. It has happened in Libya, the Argentine, Iran and more latterly in Iraq. We know that excessive spending on arms by developing countries is liable to produce military dictatorships which will be hostile to us. We know too that our double-standard foreign policy in the Middle East is increasing the threat from Moslem fundamentalism to some of the regimes which are currently our friends.

That sad story was symbolised recently by British Ministers applauding an attack by American missiles on a factory outside Baghdad which was full of arms-making machinery supplied by Matrix-Churchill and financed not by the Iraqi Government but by export credits provided by the British taxpayer. Surely we should take that dimension of the security problem a great deal more seriously, as we promised to do at the end of the Gulf War but, like the Americans, have lamentably failed to do.

It is absolutely true that the Army is overstretched. I should like to pay my tribute to the Select Committee for spelling that out in detail. However, one reason is that we are still carrying commitments which are not in our interests. We ought to be able to get rid of the Cyprus commitment in the near future in particular since the prospects for a United Nations settlement are now much closer. I hope that the Minister will say a word about that in reply.

I do not understand why we still have the Belize commitment. That is surely an imperial relic grossly out of date. I am baffled to know why we have 46,000 troops in Germany when the Foreign Secretary admits that the threat which put them there in the first place has disappeared and NATO is now a biological monstrosity—an organ without a function.

If we need more troops for peace-keeping, surely the first place from which to draw them is Germany, if only in the short term, especially as the Germans have renounced any contribution to peace-keeping outside the NATO area. I do not go so far as the Financial Times this morning which suggested that we should ask Germany to provide battalions in Northern Ireland. But that is worth considering at least as much as the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Ridley, that we should provide mercenaries for the Germans and Japanese all over the world to protect their interests rather than our own. I do not believe that that is a terribly attractive answer to the problem.

The threat of a Russian military dictatorship, so often quoted, is an odd thing for the Government to use on the very day when our Prime Minister is trying to persuade the Prime Minister of the Ukraine to give up nuclear weapons which, by the British argument, are the ideal deterrent against a possible future Russian military dictatorship and, at a time when we are producing a new range of long-range nuclear weapons to penetrate a Soviet anti-ballistic missile system which they will be setting up in co-operation with the United States. It seems to me that there is an awful concatenation of antique relics infecting our defence policy at present which badly needs attention.

The Foreign Office and the Government must decide what commitments it is "in our interests" (I quote the Foreign Secretary) to accept. I speak with the knowledge that I have behind me two chiefs of staff, the lacerations of whose spurs I still feel in my flanks. But the worst way to approach the problem is the way that the present Government have gone about it—by equal shares of scarce goods between the three services. I thought that we had long ago decided to tackle those problems on a joint service basis. I was deeply disturbed to hear a rumour recently that the Government are now planning to abolish the Joint Services Defence College at Greenwich. That is the main nursery for people who will in future consider dealing with such problems in an inter-service way. I hope that the Minister will say something about that when he replies.

My own feeling is that we have far too much at the moment in the Royal Air Force and even more than that in the Royal Navy. All three services have far too big a top hamper. I was impressed by a letter from the commander of our forces in Oman during the famous war on behalf of the sultan. I wish we could get back to that kind of top hamper, but I doubt whether we could get quite so far very fast.

I believe that there is a chance now, perhaps just out of economic necessity, to get some sensible decisions taken which have been long overdue. The Foreign Secretary stated the problem four years late, and he did so accurately, but he proposed no solutions. I believe that the present Defence Secretary is an ideal man to co-operate with him in finding answers to those questions. I hope that the Prime Minister will not allow the Whips to dictate our defence policy. I gather that the cost of keeping two naval dockyards going instead of one will be enough to equip four battalions, if we were prepared to do that.

In view of the time, I shall finish by saying that I hope that the Government will not continue to use the Defence Secretary's job as a parking lot for Cabinet Ministers on the way up or down and that we can for once achieve continuity among those who run our defence policy.

5.31 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, it was sometimes argued during the period of the Cold War, when our Armed Forces also faced serious over-stretch and over-commitment, that we should seek a better way of meeting our NATO obligations by getting the alliance to adopt the concept of specialisation. The concept proposed that rather than every nation trying to cover the whole range of capabilities which might be required by NATO, we should seek to share the range across the alliance as a whole. If satisfactory arrangements had been agreed by all, there would have been better value for the money devoted to defence. However, the concept did not receive universal support from the Chiefs of Staff. It was felt that there were too many national and other commitments beyond NATO's area of interest which had still to be met.

We are now living in a very different world where the risks and obligations we may encounter have taken on new dimensions. In particular, as we face the probability of further demands for United Nations peace-keeping or peace-enforcing operations, as the Foreign Secretary recently pointed out, I wonder whether we should revisit the concept of specialisation. No one country in the United Nations context could be expected to undertake or cover all requirements on its own. The United Nations operations will be undertaken by two or more nations in partnership. There should be scope for sharing out the range of potential and actual commitments, drawing as far as possible on the capabilities which each member country has already provided for its own national security needs.

In our case, bearing in mind our current scale of operations, our anxieties in Northern Ireland and on the ground elsewhere overseas, and potentially until 1997 in Hong Kong, many of our ground forces are more than heavily committed.

If we are to live within the resources devoted to defence and if we are to do all that is necessary to sustain our position as one of the permanent members of the Security Council, now must be the time to make it clear that, in respect of any further United Nations operations or increases to those currently in train, we would be willing to do more. But we should do so only by drawing on certain elements of our defence capabilities which are less committed at the present time.

Against such a background, there should be scope to start to rein back on our ground force deployments and to seek to provide more from our maritime and air forces in ways with which your Lordships will be well familiar. We are already doing so with Her Majesty's ship "Ark Royal" in the Adriatic and Tornado and Jaguar units around the borders of Iraq. I believe that the experiences of the past couple of years have given us plenty of practical lessons from which we could draw up and declare publicly a range or scale of capabilities, which would be available if required, as our share of actual or potential contributions to United Nations operations.

Indeed, if we do not do so, we are in danger of being dragged little by little into ongoing or new activities, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, pointed out this afternoon, with neither the resources nor the essential public support and understanding for what we are doing and where the line has to be drawn between resources and commitments.

The second point that I should like to make refers to the pressures for Her Majesty's Government to undertake yet another defence review. It has been my lot to have been closely involved with major defence reviews in each of the past four decades. For all of them, there followed a protracted period of adjustments: facilities being closed down or handed over; units moving once, maybe twice, before they reach their new "long term" locations; uncertainties about career prospects and even redundancy; family plans for schooling, house ownership and spouses' own employment disrupted or curtailed, with inevitable effects on the families' budgets.

The impact of the follow-through to a major defence review is protracted and at times tiresome for the officers and men and women involved. Even though they recognise that it has had to be done, it is still a disrupting business, made more difficult if actual operational deployments and family separations occur in parallel. In the last review, Options for Change, all those follow on problems have arisen on a truly massive scale, as we would expect following a drawdown in manpower of 20 to 25 per cent. over a relatively short period.

There is a tendency, in the calls we now hear for yet another review, completely to overlook the fact that the implementation of Options for Change has really only begun. It will go on for a number of years, and your Lordships will appreciate what that means to individuals. To be treated to yet a further period of uncertainty, which follows in the wake of the commencement of a defence review and continues for many months, would be a grievous blow to morale throughout the Armed Forces and their supporting civilians.

I am relieved and glad that Her Majesty's Government have so far made it clear that apart from some comparatively minor trimming and adjustment or postponement to a few elements of the overall Options for Change package, they have no intention of instigating a further fundamental review. I hope that the Minister will feel able to confirm that position this evening.

5.37 p.m.

Lord Annaly

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for providing the opportunity for the debate today. I am sure that I shall not be the first noble Lord to rise with some trepidation to speak for the first time in this House.

My interest in the subject of defence dates back to my four-year extended short service commission in the Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales Own) in the 1970s. The regiment was at that time based in Germany, BAOR, and equipped with Chieftain tanks. My role for the majority of my service was as a troop leader. A troop at that time comprised four tanks and 15 soldiers. The regiment served in Northern Ireland twice during that period in an infantry role. After leaving the Army, I remained on the Royal Armoured Corps Reserve and still remain on the Emergency Reserve.

I sometimes feel that in the public perception the issue of "defence" does not rank as highly as it should do on the list of priorities, except at times where substantial numbers of our servicemen are involved in a major conflict such as the Falklands War or the more recent Gulf crisis.

I believe that it would put things in better perspective if our defence budget were looked upon by everyone as this country's insurance policy to safeguard our future interests. Like all insurance policies, there is a premium. These premiums sometimes seem unnecessary at the time. On this basis, the country would have a right to expect a competitive premium for the best possible cover.

Herein lies the crux of the issue. What possible roles do we as a country expect our Army, Navy and Air Force—arguably one of the best-trained combined services in the world—to carry out on a domestic and international basis? Only when that question has been answered, can and should the cloth be cut accordingly, and not vice versa.

The events of the past 10 years, and of the past two years in particular, have shown that the unexpected can and does happen. The question is: do we as a country want, and indeed can we afford, to play the significant role in the future that we have done in the past in situations outside our own domestic and NATO arenas?

Following the changes which have taken place in the Soviet Union, the removal of the iron curtain and the unification of Germany, there is ample evidence to suggest that we now live in a more unstable and dangerous world than we did before. It is for these reasons that I hope the British public will see the good sense in paying whatever "insurance premium" is necessary to ensure that we can continue to safeguard our interests in the future as we have done in the past.

There are two specific points that I should like to mention briefly, as they greatly affect the lives of all servicemen, particularly soldiers. They are well-known: over-stretch and manning levels within battalions and regiments.

Where manning levels within a regiment or battalion are not at full strength, other units will probably need to be seconded, for instance, for an emergency tour in Northern Ireland. Those seconded soldiers are then likely to find themselves returning to the Province with their own regiment, when they get back there, in well under the desired 24-month gap period. Both those factors create obvious service and family pressures and have a detrimental effect on morale.

Finally, I would like to put the case of the Royal Armoured Corps that there should be no further reduction in the number of armoured regiments. In my experience, the calibre of the average armoured corps soldier is such that he is able quickly to adapt and retrain to an infantry role, and back again to his primary role. I ask my noble friend the Minister for his assurance, if it is possible, on that point.

5.43 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, it is always a great pleasure in your Lordships' House to pay a tribute to a maiden speaker. That is my duty today. I had some trouble trying to find out about the noble Lord and his activities. There was someone who saw him in the hunting field who said that he was a bit slow across country. Today, however, the noble Lord spoke with great rapidity and competence, and I congratulate him. It is always an ordeal to rise in your Lordships' House for the first time: the noble Lord discharged his duties exceedingly well.

We are short of time. I sometimes think, when one only has seven minutes, that the most popular action one could take would be to sit down at the point I have now reached; one might even sell one's odd minute or two to other noble Lords. I considered doing that, but I decided that it would create too much ill-feeling and not enough certainty of what our policy was.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who is always a very competent speaker and thinker. I must confess, however, that I was more attracted by the vision of my old friend, my noble friend Lord Healey, in confronting the issues that face us. I find it exceedingly difficult to come to any conclusion. I do not think that there is any clear-cut solution. I do not envy the noble Viscount who will reply. I do not doubt that he has a smooth and efficient speech to make but the problems are almost impossible.

There is one issue that we ought to bear in mind. We do not want inter-service rivalry. There have been suggestions that the Air Force, with its European fighter, was hogging the money which the Army wanted; that you could take an airman and turn him into a foot soldier. That will not work very well. We have to face the fact that we shall not find any certain solution. That probably implies that we should continue regular investigations. We have had four defence debates of one kind or another in the past few months. I think we might have one every month and take the latest view. With a good supply of maiden speakers, we shall always hear some interesting new ideas.

I am concerned about the destruction of know-how —of knowledge. Those noble Lords who have read the details of the fight in the Falklands will recognise the importance of the knowledge and understanding of the soldiers, the marines and others who took part. We should be careful that, in cutting down numbers, we do not destroy the know-how, the feeling of esprit de corps and the courage of the Forces. The story of the Falklands is of a bloody war. Immense courage was shown. We need to retain that ability.

That makes me nervous about another aspect. I ask the Minister, when he replies, to comment. There is no proper reference in the White Paper (which I find a readable document) to the hydrography service. There is a reference to the hydrographer but not to the service. I understand that the hydrographic vessels are to be retired early and not replaced. Can the noble Viscount tell us what is happening? One of the great achievements of the Royal Navy has been its hydrography work in which we are supreme in the world; we want to continue with that ability. I find it disturbing that a proposition can be put forward by which the knowledge that goes with the ships as well as the men will be seriously damaged. That issue goes right across all the services—the ability to keep the knowledge that goes with operational experience.

I thought that I might have to talk about the European fighter. But the case for that is clearly set out. It is a good and economic answer to the problem, especially when one looks at the Russian aircraft that will no doubt be spread throughout the world and which we may have to face.

The services undertake a number of popular activities, not least ornithology. I am sorry suddenly to enter upon that subject. I started off with the hunting field, so perhaps it is appropriate if I conclude on the ornithological. The Air Force has lost its chief ornithologist because he has become Chief of the Defence Staff. That is a very satisfactory outcome. I hope that he will lend his support to those activities in all three services.

I congratulate again the noble Lord, Lord Annaly, on a very fine speech, about which he can feel very happy. I hope that he will frequently speak in your Lordships' House.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, this debate is extremely timely, not least because the Government's preemptive strike last week, although welcome, still left many key questions unanswered. It is absolutely right that commitments and resources should be discussed in tandem. The more one feels obliged to reduce one's defence expenditure in search of a "peace dividend", even though the world has become anything but peaceful, the greater must be one's restraint on the military commitment that one maintains, let alone takes on, and the less one must be prepared to carry weight and exert influence in many areas of international affairs.

On the other hand, if it is felt that Britain's somewhat unique experience, and particularly our seat on the Security Council, makes it difficult to refuse certain obligations and involvements in the cause of international safety, then proper and adequate resources ought to be set aside to sustain the forces which will be needed. Like love and marriage, commitments and resources should go together. I mean, of course, real resources in financial terms, not just those that rob Peter to pay Paul. And if your Lordships accept my second premise, it is no good going on saying, as the Secretary of State said in his Statement in another place—I only hope with his fingers firmly crossed—that, The judgments made in "Options for Change" remain valid".—[Official Report, Commons, 3/2/93; col. 319.] If we want to retain our international role and seat on the Security Council, they almost certainly will not remain valid and, indeed, many of the assumptions made in that document have proved inaccurate.

Let us look at resources. There, of course, the cat is out of the bag. No one is denying that the Armed Forces, and particularly the Army, are unacceptably stretched for their everyday commitments, let alone having enough in reserve for emergencies. The Select Committee's report is critical of the Government's part in allowing that state of affairs to develop, which may have accounted for the timing of the recent Statement agreeing to do something to alleviate the Army's manpower situation to the extent of two extra battalions, a 3,000 increase in the manpower ceiling and 2,000 redeployed into the Infantry from who knows where.

As far as it went I welcomed that Statement, and I rejoice for those who now see their proud regiments retained, even though I have to say that there will still be many deserving cases of quality throughout the Army—not least the Brigade of Guards and the large regiments who are so infinitely better organised to face the future than single battalion regiments—who will feel correspondingly resentful and aggrieved.

But leaving sentiment aside, that modest recognition of reality raises two important points. First, bearing in mind the glaring shortcomings of all peace-time establishments, particularly but not exclusively in the Infantry, I very much doubt if raising the ceiling by only 3,000 will be sufficient to support and maintain those extra battalions and the other two, which at the last moment were put into Options for Change without any extra manpower. I believe that we need at least double that number and if I am right all that will happen is that we will end up with extra cap badges but with the units themselves still inadequately manned for the tasks that they have to do.

My second point concerns the right honourable gentleman's Statement that the cost of any additional manpower must be met not just from within the original Options for Change financial projection, which was severe enough; but within the much lower still financial provisions of the Autumn Statement of 1992. That means that the Government are not finding extra resources to meet increased and unplanned commitments. In fact they are continuing to take them away even faster. They are merely shifting £80 million from one part of the highly-stretched budget to another. It is all being done by mirrors!

We are entitled to know from where that money is likely to come. Will it come from the Royal Navy? That is a service which perhaps more than any other is ideal for projecting power and bargaining clout to any crisis area, as we have seen in the South Atlantic, the Gulf and now the Adriatic, and where some degree of amphibiosity is essential to the flexibility that that service provides. Perhaps it will come from the Royal Air Force, without which, as the Gulf War showed, our ground and naval forces cannot operate, in any conflict worthy of the name, without an unacceptable degree of risk and whose Tornado force provides a unique, highly specialised—to pick up the point of my noble and gallant friend—and professional element in any United Nations or international task force.

I believe, as some other noble Lords I am sure would agree, that it could come from our more than adequate nuclear capability. But sadly, if we keep anything worthwhile at all, the savings cannot be great in the shorter term. Or will the funds come from the Army, grasping at that age old panacea of "cutting the tail to strengthen the teeth"? There might have been something in that, if we had not been doing that for the past 25 years. I say that with some feeling having been involved, up until Options for Change, in every reorganisation in that period.

It is therefore my judgment that those things that we can, in financial terms, obtain from headquarters —the logistic and medical services, military music and the training machine—are all trifling compared with what we need elsewhere if we are to continue to play our part on the world scene.

That brings me to a final word on commitments. I am certainly not one to suggest that we should rush into military involvements when they are really none of our business, when our national interests are not involved, when there is no clear political objective and when military action would not work anyhow. There is also much to command respect in the Foreign Secretary's recent speech regarding Britain's interest in a safer world needing to be disciplined and constrained and more concentrated on the techniques of prevention.

But if, as he also said, there is a need from the international community for an effort comparable to that in the years after 1945 if we are to avoid a slide into disorganised chaos, then Britain should play its part and some commitments will be inescapable. If we are not careful we could be in danger of deciding our foreign policy initiative not so much on what serves best our international relations and national interest and what is achievable in military terms, but on paper plans initiated by medium grade officials heavily influenced by the Treasury over three years ago when the world scene and prospects for stability looked very different from the way they look today.

If the Cabinet cannot produce more resources or at least stop taking them away, then they must shed commitments and have the courage to do so. We must do something about Ireland. When I was the CGS in Ireland we had 9,000 men stationed there; there are now 19,000. For whatever reason, if those commitments cannot be shed or refused—and I think that is more likely—and as a result the Armed Forces continue to be over-stretched, then it is equally their duty to obtain more real resources to correct the situation on the perfectly logical basis that the assumptions and judgments on which Options for Change was drawn up three years ago are today no longer valid.

5.58 p.m.

Lord Fanshawe of Richmond

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for bringing forward the debate and giving us such an excellent, wide-ranging survey to open our discussion. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Ridley on his outstanding and authoritative maiden speech. I particularly welcome the opportunity to say that because he and I were both elected to the other place on the same day many years ago and for something like 30 years I remained one of his constituents in Cirencester and Tewkesbury. I am glad that he has now joined us in this House.

I must declare an interest as a former Life Guards Officer in the Household Division. I felt that I wanted to say a word or two today not really in regard to the macro scene, which was covered so well by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, but also in regard to the more individual scene of the position of the Household Division.

I welcome the recognition by Her Majesty's Government that Options for Change is inadequate. If one had listened to the Secretary of State for Defence on television the night before last one would have received the impression that he did not think Options for Change was inadequate; that he thought it quite sensible and that we were going to continue with it as before. But the Statement made last week by the Secretary of State surely indicates that he must consider that Options for Change is inadequate in view of the change in the international situation.

The fact that Ministers did not recognise—I hasten to add that I do not include my noble friend on the Front Bench, who was not a Minister at that time but has tried very skilfully to pick up some of the pieces since he arrived at the Ministry of Defence—that United Nations commitments would increase throughout the world: Bosnia; the Gulf has already been mentioned; Cambodia; Somalia; and many other places have added to the burden on the British Army. If we are going to remain a permanent member of the Security Council, a privilege which we have had since the institution of the United Nations in 1945 and a vital and important part of our foreign policy, we have to pull our weight and do our fair share in the operations which are needed around the world. We have been doing that very skilfully and we have been in the forefront of countries which have supported United Nations intervention in various parts of the unsettled world today.

We cannot, as other speakers have said, get rid of our Northern Ireland commitment. That is there. Indeed, only recently, at the end of last year, we had to accept the fact of sending two more battalions to serve in Northern Ireland. Two more battalions to serve in Northern Ireland is not just two battalions. They have to be backed up and training has to be arranged. For two battalions one is probably talking about 10 battalions in the final line-up supporting those two battalions in Northern Ireland. We cannot carry that out unless we have our regiments up to strength.

Previous Ministers appear to have been carried away by the end of the Cold War. They seemed to think that the Cold War was finished and that hanging on trees around Whitehall was loads of money which they could pick up by cutting down our Armed Forces. They thought that peace would break out everywhere and that we would no longer need troops, or that we would need very minimal numbers. That has proved to be totally untrue. The pressure of the Treasury, which was mentioned quite rightly by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in saying that we cannot go on pursuing this issue—he and I have spoken in about three debates in the House in which we have made the point that pressure from the Treasury was causing the build up and the production of Options for Change—has quite clearly taken place. I am told that the figure for cut-backs which the Treasury has insisted the Ministry of Defence should carry out is somewhere in the region of £1 billion.

Both the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, mentioned resources and commitments. Will my noble friend when he comes to reply tell me one thing? Are we matching resources to commitments or are we matching commitments to resources? What are we doing? No one seems to know. It is not enough to say, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Chalfont, that numbers are continually under review. That is a kind of chant from Ministers which does not add up. It is no good saying that, reprieving two infantry battalions and 3,000 men and paying for it with £80 million from other parts of the defence budget, and at the same time giving the impression that we might do a little more if we press hard enough. I intend to press my noble friend a little harder this afternoon.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, mentioned the Household Division. Why do we not also reprieve the three battalions of Foot-Guards who are doomed to suspended animation? They are superb fighting units and they also have the essential ceremonial role. Ministers seem not to recognise that the Household Division "arms plot" is unmanageable even with the three extra increments for public duties which Ministers have agreed since the announcement of Options for Change. Five battalions—the Grenadiers, the Coldstream, the Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards—are too few. There is no opportunity to train in brigade formations or divisional formations with only five battalions. The First Battalion of the Grenadier Guards is likely to be stuck in London for eight years after two years in Northern Ireland. What is the effect of that? It is very undermining to morale and it enormously increases the pressure on the five battalions and the three increments which Ministers have agreed.

There must be enough battalions to complete the Household Division "arms plot". They have to rotate through training, operations and public duties. There must be no recruit capping, otherwise there is a danger of turning the Household Division into a Protestant Papal Guard. In other words, they will have no role to play as fighting units. That is not the way to look after our finest troops.

I should like to end by quoting to my noble friend the Minister his words to the House of 3rd February 1993: For the moment we are content".—[Official Report, 3/2/93; col. 270.] I must tell my noble friend that we are not content. The Household Division and both Houses of Parliament, as indicated by the Select Committee report, are clearly far from content. Will Ministers accept the advice which the Select Committee gives on page 27 of the report? The final recommendation is that he should look at all this again and change the decisions on the amalgamations of so many fine regiments. I hope that he will look at it again.

6.5 p.m.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, in Options for Change the Government have shown their commitment to a smaller more flexible armed force, one better able to deal with the kind of localised conflicts which increasingly are arising in the world today. Up to now amphibious forces have been an element in the Government's thinking. I do not have to explain to the House the advantages of amphibious forces; the ability to land a force at any time and place of one's choosing; the projection of political power; and indeed the additional advantage of just the threat an amphibious force poses to a potential enemy. It keeps an enemy guessing. This was amply demonstrated in the Gulf War when a large Iraqi force was tied up by an American amphibious force loitering just over the horizon.

Back in the mid-1980s it was generally accepted that we needed two helicopter carriers, two dock landing ships and six logistic landing ships. Options for Change wheedled that down a little. We lost one helicopter carrier and one of the logistic ships. Those were replaced by a converted merchant ship, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary "Argus". Today we are faced with two dock landing ships, "Fearless" and "Intrepid", both elderly, in a poor state of repair and increasingly costly to maintain. "Fearless" should be in commission at this moment. Instead she is in dock at Portsmouth and not in the Adriatic where she should be. Of the five logistic landing ships, one is relatively new, another was half rebuilt following the Falklands conflict and the other three are rapidly ageing and are expensive to maintain. The three are in need of urgent major refit. In addition there is the planned new helicopter landing ship and two replacements for "Fearless" and "Intrepid".

If we can believe present reports the new helicopter carrier is to be axed. This at a time—I fully appreciate the Government's problems with money—when other countries are turning increasingly to the use of amphibious forces and amphibious ships. I cite the French and US involvement in the Adriatic and US and Italian involvement off Somalia. However efficient aircraft are as a means of transporting a force to a trouble spot quickly, they cannot provide the back-up support needed to sustain that force. That has always gone and will continue to go by sea. More than 90 per cent. of the heavy equipment for Desert Storm went by sea. We have a very efficient amphibious force—the force element—but we are desperately in need of replacement ships to transport that force. If new ships are not ordered then the whole viability of our amphibious force is at stake.

I turn quickly to another maritime element and one that has not been mentioned—our so-called fourth arm of defence, the Merchant Navy. The British registered fleet has been reduced now to a dangerous level. We would no longer be capable of mounting a Falklands-type operation. The Government will say "There are still the beneficially-owned ships which will fill the gap". That may well be so at the moment, but I do not believe that it will be true for very long. The bigger problem is where we are going to get the people to man them.

Perhaps I may return briefly to the situation in Bosnia. There we have HMS "Ark Royal" and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary "Argus" waiting and ready to try to help the Cheshire Regiment if needed. Neither of those ships is particularly well suited to that task having both been built for different purposes. The fighting ability of the "Ark Royal" is somewhat reduced by the role she is having to perform at the moment. The "Argus" has a deck covered with vehicles and all kinds of equipment. I feel sorry for the crew and extra personnel on board that ship who do not even have room to walk around the deck for exercise.

I ask the Minister to re-emphasise the Government's commitment to amphibious forces including the provision of additional ships with which to transport and support them. If there really is no money in the kitty—the recent decision vis-à-vis Plymouth and Rosyth does not help the situation which is a continuing haemorrhage as regards naval funds—is there no way in which we might perhaps obtain a suitable ship from the Americans? I am sure that President Clinton would be only too happy to oblige. Failing that, could we not make some other cuts to enable us to order new ships; for instance, by cutting out a frigate or two?

In conclusion, I cannot overemphasise the importance of the sea element in any rapid reaction force such as the new one now envisaged. Purpose-built amphibious ships provide unrivalled flexibility both militarily and politically and without them we risk not only the future of our amphibious forces, but also further degradation of the fighting efficiency of other ships which are forced increasingly to fill in for them. I urge Her Majesty's Government to consider most carefully indeed any decision which they may be contemplating against proceeding with orders for new amphibious ships.

6.12 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I should like briefly to congratulate not only the maiden speakers, both old and young, but also the mature ones who have spoken in many previous defence debates. I believe that we are talking about overstretch. What is clear is that there is overstretch in the number of noble Lords demanding to speak in defence debates. I wonder whether we should make representations to the Procedure Committee that we do not have to keep to six minutes. Everyone was speaking such good sense that we longed to hear more and more constructive ideas from them. I am sure that there is a better way of running defence debates than the one we are currently engaged in.

It is now 30 years since I was Defence Minister. I remember being told then that there were 54 operations in which our Armed Forces had taken part in the past 10 to 20 years. They had only one common factor: not one of the 54 operations was foreseen by the planners and allowed for in any defence plans. So I hesitate to ask for yet another defence review because where is the threat to come from? We need flexibility of deployment and operation because we cannot foresee what is going to happen. People say that there is to be a peace dividend because the Soviet Union is no longer a threat. But there are all kinds of fragments of the disabled Soviet Union.

One has only to be reminded from The Times leader today that the Ukraine has the largest operational army deployed in the world. It has 650,000 men under arms and 173 nuclear ballistic missiles. It is a large army. The Ukraine will not negotiate a START treaty. It has not signed START 1 and it will not negotiate START 2. Consequently there is a great deal of potential trouble in the Middle East and in the ex-Soviet Union. Therefore, it is not a good moment to make further cuts.

Politicians must be blamed when one looks at the response of successive governments. I remember a quotation from the noble Lord, Lord Healey. He said that he and the noble Lord, Lord Ridley, never took the solid political line of their own parties. When the noble Lord, Lord Healey, was Defence Minister I remember him saying "If you do not have enough defence, you do not have houses, you do not have schools and you do not have hospitals; you have heaps of ashes". Perhaps it was the spurs that were scarring his flanks when he said that, but it was a genuine statement. He was under criticism at the time.

Lord Healey

My Lords, they were not senior enough to advise me at that time.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, at this moment we have to deploy our restricted and overstretched defence forces in 31 operations. The forecast from the Foreign Secretary was that under United Nations or other auspices there will be 25 major issues confronting us in the near future or which are currently facing us. As so many people with knowledge have said, we need more trained men and more men on the ground with rifles. We do not need too many sophisticated weapons because we have to think in terms of the bush wars and the flexibility which will allow us to make our commitment in that regard.

The uncertain risks remain. There are four ex-Soviet Union states which still have the deployment capability of nuclear weapons. The dangers persist outside Europe. Armed forces are now to be used—which is very sensible—against the lesser powers who are now developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Those countries can easily provide some threat in the future. Therefore our intelligence service is of supreme importance. If we were unable to forecast Iraq's build-up in those fields we may be missing other potential aggressors.

It was good that the Western European Union should meet in St. Petersburg and decide that in these fields, and under United Nations policies, we can at least deploy, provided that we can actually accept the deployment because we are already overstretched. It was interesting to see, I believe, the Spectator this week questioning whether we are getting a big enough bang for our effort. It pointed out that France—which also has an unemployment level of nearly 3 million and which has not cut back as we have—has 900 combat aircraft against our 500. France also has 700 armed helicopters against rather less than 300 in our forces. We do not seem to be getting the value for money which we are all determined to have. What is forgotten in these tables is that France has conscription, which is very cheap manpower compared with our highly trained and better trained manpower which we deploy under a voluntary system.

I have read the whole of the Select Committee's report which came out yesterday. It is full of good sense. In Options for Change there was a cut back from 73,000 members of the Territorial Army to 63,500. There is no mention in the report of trying to restore some of that manpower. Is that not a field which should be explored? Willing people serve in the Territorials and if they are unemployed it is so much the better to give them jobs. They will be trained to some purpose in the future. It develops a loyalty to the unit which perhaps has been absent from their lives.

Another report which I have seen says that the medical portion of the Territorial Army has very strong, balanced units with up to 100 men, with surgeons and other assets, in East Anglia. They have not been used very much. Each weekend they are on the beaches there and working as a combined unit yet they were not sent to the Gulf and they have not been deployed. Should we not be looking at all the ways for voluntary labour to come forward to add manpower to our Armed Forces?

Finally, we must be at a standstill and examine value for money. We must try in every way to reduce the overstretch. The defence committee states: we consider it inappropriate and ill-advised to carry through the proposals for the restructuring of the Army in their entirety, and recommend that the Government cancel all amalgamations or disbandments of UK infantry battalions currently planned". I believe that everyone here will say "Hear, hear!" to that.

6.20 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I have little to add to what was said by my old, valued and now noble friend Lord Healey. I shall, however, make one point—in the form of quotations from two recent statements made in Moscow. The first comes from Mr. Pochinok, who is chairman of the budget committee of the Supreme Soviet of Russia. Your Lordships need no reminding that the word "Soviet" has nothing to do with communism, it is simply the Russian word for council. He said: Expenditure on defence is increasing. And that is immediately giving rise to an acutely unpleasant situation, but let's take a look at what has happened. As before, we are practically not buying any arms but we have begun a huge programme to provide housing, to release servicemen, to reform the army, to withdraw the army from other republics, and as far as the social protection of servicemen is concerned, we are paying pensions and that is all sharply raising budget expenditure. Take the budget message—it can be seen quite clearly that out of over R2,000bn expenditure on the army, expenditure on armaments accounts for a very insignificant part of this. And the most terrible thing is that very great disarmament expenditure has been added. We have created so many weapons that now simply fantastic spending is required to eliminate these weapons and the implementation of the START treaty will demand huge rouble and hard currency expenditure. This is necessary. That is clear. These weapons are simply dangerous for mankind. But our task is to find how to minimise the expenditure. But for some reason it is said that expenditure on disarming is even less than on maintaining these arms—but that's not the case—of course not—the expenditure is much greater". That is one statement. Now take it with another, which is from an article in the Russian paper Moskovskiye Novosti: The recently secret Smelchak and Santimetr artillery systems have no equal in the world. A laser guidance system corrects the shell during the final sector of its flight … The system needs to see a target for only three seconds in order to be able to hit the 'bullseye'. The systems have now been declassified and have sparked the interest of military circles in a number of countries, and the Russian government has authorised exports of Smelchak; authorisation for exports of the Santimetr system is being finalised. The price is a commercial secret; indeed it is hard to determine since there is no similar weapon in the world. This, and corresponding developments in other countries, is the threat. It is not on this or that declining middle-rank power keeping 20,000 men more or less under arms that the future of humanity depends. It is on the generality of all states understanding where the world is going and unconditionally accepting the authority of the United Nations, for lack of anything better, and paying their dues.

6.24 p.m.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for bringing this subject to your Lordships' attention today. I wish to concentrate on rather more detailed matters concerning the Army. Currently, the Army faces major commitments in nine different areas around the world, and it is unlikely that it will be faced with fewer commitments, although they may change, over the next decade. If tour intervals of 24 months between emergency tours for infantry battalions are to be retained there would be an overall requirement for 56 battalions. Even with the Government's recent and welcome reprieve of two battalions there will still only be a total of 40 infantry battalions and three Royal Marine Commandos, which is nothing like enough to fulfil our commitments. These figures still produce a shortfall of 16 fighting units if the 24 month interval between emergency tours is to be retained.

If the infantry fighting units are severely overstretched now it is difficult to see how they will not be even more overstretched when reduced to only 40 infantry battalions and three Royal Marine Commandos facing the same number of commitments. This clearly shows an imbalance between our planned resources and our present commitments. We need more fighting units, and all further planned cuts in Options for Change must be stopped now.

One of the current commitments in Bosnia is ideally suited to the role of the Armoured Reconnaissance regiment and its vehicles, which are easier to handle on the mountain roads than the infantry Warrior vehicles. If deployed the regiment would relieve the infantry of some over-commitment which, in turn, would increase the overall tour interval for infantry battalions on emergency tours and relieve their critical overstretch. That will require the retention of one more armoured reconnaissance regiment and must not be at the expense of the eight remaining tank regiments.

There can be few reasons why only one squadron of the 9/12 Royal Lancers is deployed in Bosnia now. The main reason is that Options for Change has cut too many armoured reconnaissance regiments. They are in the process of reducing from five to two. To cope with a six month emergency tour you require a minimum of three regiments if you are going to give any one of them a tour interval of 12 months. In addition, because there will be only two in the future, no regular armoured reconnaissance regiment can be found for the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps reconnaissance commitment, and the Ministry of Defence has had to resort to the provision of a Territorial Army yeomanry regiment.

Superb though the yeomanry are, it is a complete nonsense to commit them to a rapid reaction force in peacetime purely because Her Majesty's Government refuse to concede that there is a distinct military requirement for three regular armoured reconnaissance regiments. The retention of a third armoured reconnaissance regiment was not only strongly recommended in a previous Options for Change Defence Committee report, but it was again stressed in yesterday's Select Committee report on commitments and resources.

For the first time for many decades, from 1997 the majority of the Army will be home based with the exception of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. Surely there is a clear case to reduce the military logistic and administrative support services and to link these with civilian firms whose members could have some form of reserve army or TA liability and be called upon to serve their country in times of tension if necessary. As a result unemployment levels would be lowered by increasing civilian employment in the defence industry and the Army would benefit from a reduction of costs. This in turn would avoid cutting any more fighting units, which are so vital to our present level of commitment.

There is also a requirement to merge the Royal Armoured Corps and the Army Air Corps, whose main roles are the same. For example, both corps have as their primary role the destruction of tanks and the role of reconnaissance. To combine both corps would provide further savings.

Last, but not least, I wish to turn once more to regimental bands. I am not talking about the large state bands found by the Household Division, nor the large corps bands. The regimental bands in cavalry regiments and infantry battalions consist of no more than 22 men. They are the pride and joy of the regiment. They are the spirit of the regiment. They are, my Lords, a pillar of the regimental system, to which the Government have agreed they are completely committed. They perform the duties of stretcher bearer and medical orderly in time of war, and take on guard duties when the regiment is away from barracks. The Royal Armoured Corps stands to lose six bands in any event as a result of Options for Change amalgamations. For the remaining nine Royal Armoured Corps regiments to lose their bands as well is too much to ask. There are no grounds for doing away with regimental bands on cost implications. Cavalry regiments and infantry battalions have suffered enough from the draconian measures in Options for Change: they do not deserve this uncaring and insensitive treatment from the Ministry of Defence.

I can assure your Lordships that in some cases there is greater feeling among officers, NCOs and men about the possible removal of their regimental bands than there was over their recent or proposed amalgamations. The removal of bands will be seen as the start of the destruction of the regimental system and will be in direct conflict with government policy. It will be seen as not being in the spirit of the smaller and better Army which was promised. It will be thought to be a betrayal of Her Majesty's Government's commitment to the regimental system.

In conclusion, the Army, with its current commitments, which are unlikely to be reduced, needs a strength of about 130,000 troops. To achieve that, further Options for Change cuts must be abandoned now. Regimental bands should be retained, and a proper defence review carried out forthwith.

6.30 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, today's debate comes at a very crucial time for the future of the armed forces. Unfortunately, time precludes me from speaking on more than one subject, so I shall concentrate my comments on the Army. However, I should like to echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, on landing platform helicopters (LPHs) and landing platform docks (LPDs) and the important role that they have to play in the Navy.

Yesterday we had the publication of the second report by the Select Committee on Defence which, if I may be permitted to say so, was a most revealing report by any standards. It put the problems of the Army into a nutshell—that the Government are yet again trying "to do too much with too few".

While welcoming the extra 5,000 men, whatever way one likes to look at it that does not solve the problem. It is just a chink of light on the horizon. I can confirm that the Army recruiting staff have not been told to recruit another 5,000 men; and the extra 5,000 will just cover "the hump" of those awaiting redundancy. While the Army expects to recruit 10,000 men in the next financial year, this will not significantly increase its manning levels—and if it does so, it will be for infantry, and recruiting in the logistics corps will suffer. A shortage of all-important specialist skills will result.

The problem in the Army today is twofold. First, there are not enough men leaving voluntarily because of the lack of employment in civilian life. Secondly, there are too many men of the wrong age groups and of the wrong trades in the Army today.

I want to touch on just one subject which I do not think has been covered in your Lordships' House in this debate. I refer to the Army's real estate. It is one of the Army's major resources. It is large. Although it amounted to 225,000 hectares last year compared to 240,000 hectares in 1975, the cost has risen dramatically from £394 million in 1975–76 to over £2 billion in 1990–91. The question that I should like to ask the Government is whether they believe that they are making the best use of the real estate that they have. In doing so, I refer to the evidence given by Mr. Brian Hawtin, Assistant Under Secretary (Programmes), to the Select Committee on Defence on 25th November, in which he said: Restructuring has also provided an opportunity to make the best use of our modernised estate and as far as possible we are seeking to vacate poor quality accommodation". I should welcome the proposed disposal of Greenham Common, but wonder whether the Minister can say whether there will be any restraint on the use of that land because I have an interest in that I live close by.

The problem that remains for the Government is the cost of reinstatement. I draw your Lordships' attention to just two properties that I know of - I have heard of many more—which are a problem. The first is the very lovely house at Frimley Park, which has been vacant for some considerable time. The second is the large estate of Bagshot Park, the present home of the Army Chaplain's Department. Those are two lovely properties which I believe that the Government would dearly like to dispose of, but they do not have the finance with which to reinstate those properties so that they can be returned to their owners. I have spent many happy times at Bagshot, but I submit that it is high time that the chaplaincy departments of the three services were merged and, further, that the Ministry of Defence should press the Treasury for sufficient funds for reinstatement purposes otherwise it is a nonsense to keep on properties such as these for which we have no use.

Finally, in the short time remaining to me I have yet again to return to the question of reserves. In his Statement on 3rd February, the Minister said: following the publication last year … on the future use of reserves, we have yet to complete our studies of how best to integrate both regular and volunteer reservists into the post-options force structure".—[Official Report, 3/2/93; col. 267.] The Territorial Army swallowed the large and bitter pill brought about by the recent changes made by the Options for Change cuts. It has responded magnificently and weathered the turbulence that resulted. It is fundamental to the security of this country. Proper equipment, training and manning of units is essential. As long as the Territorial Army has a proper role to play and can be given the chance to prove itself, it will flourish. However, it will not flourish if it is cut by cutting off its resources. If it is a question of the infantry battalions adopting the role of the logistics corps, they will accept it providing the regimental and unit spirit is maintained. Unlike regular forces, reserves do need time to adjust to change. Will the Minister please bear this in mind if a future restructuring of the Territorial Army is yet again envisaged? If financial cuts are to be made to the TA, I ask that they are not made in terms of individual items, such as training days, equipment or supplies, but that an overall budgetary figure is imposed so that the reserve forces are masters of their own destiny.

This country is very fortunate is having loyal, hard-working servicemen who have served the nation well since World War II. Today they face an uncertain future for the many reasons that have already been aired. As shown by the second report of the Select Committee on Defence, the options are either to increase the size of the Army or to reduce our commitments. In view of what was said in the other place, the second option is the only one—that is, to reduce our commitments. However, one must question whether our commitment to such organisations as the Rapid Reaction Corps and the ACE Mobile Force is still viable and whether it should continue in the future.

6.37 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for initiating this important debate at a critical time when we await decisions on Bosnia. Britain still has a UN commitment with regard to Bosnia and Iraq.

In both places Russia, too, has an important part to play. While President Yeltsin retains power, he will be largely in support of what the Security Council recommends. But what if he were to fall? He is already seriously hampered in what he is trying to do by increasingly powerful, chauvinistic, nationalist forces, orchestrated—or at any rate manipulated—by the old guard who still instinctively fear and resent the West. He has failed to secure the referendum that he wanted. There is real unrest and insecurity. There are murmurings about the need to protect Russian interests in the Baltic States. Russian soldiers are engaged in "fire-fighting" in at least four parts of the former Soviet Union—the Caucasus being an area of particular concern. Russian refugees are coming into Russia in substantial numbers.

In short, there is a thoroughly volatile and unstable internal situation in which, with one-third of the population said to be living below the poverty line, sadly, there can be no lack of people who might be ready to return to an autocratic system if it restored some certainty to their lives. In saying that, I do not belittle the immense steps to freedom that have been taken—the flowering of so much new liberty and enterprise—but it is all very vulnerable.

The clock could be turned back and one more significant sign of possible reversion is the decree published on 1st February governing citizens' rights to travel abroad. This authorises the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to decide whether citizens deemed to be in possession of information constituting a state secret shall have passports and shall have permission to travel abroad. I do not find that a reassuring development.

Whether or not President Yeltsin survives, it is clear that the defence-industrial complex is growing in power and that it is concentrating, apart from converting a very few defence plants to work for the oil and gas industries or to convert to non-military aircraft, on operating on the twin principles of producing new sophisticated armaments for the new, leaner Russian forces and selling them abroad for hard currency and at the same time building military relationships in support of their diplomatic offensive in, particularly, the Middle East and the Far East. To achieve both those ends, the defence industry has been kept largely intact and unprivatised. President Yeltsin, on his return from India, where he recently concluded a military agreement and confirmed that Russia would he supplying the cryogenic rocket motors which could allow India to become a nuclear power, said that India was, an immense market for Russian weapons". Russia would also be supplying conventional submarines to India. In the Middle East, the Russian warship, the "Admiral Tributs", stationed in the Persian Gulf, is to take part in the arms fair due in Abu Dhabi next week, in order to show Russia's willingness to co-operate in the military sphere with all nations in the area, not only Iran". Russia will be displaying firearms previously kept secret. Their "principled stand against aggression" has, they say, brought substantial economic dividends —a 2 billion dollar loan from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and Oman—and the base is now being laid for military-technological co-operation.

The state committee for the defence industry is giving great attention to expanding export potential. State orders for arms exports for 1993 amount so far to 2 billion dollars. Russia has largely ceased to supply her old allies, Vietnam, Cuba and Eastern Europe, in favour of India, China and Iran, who are to receive up to 80 per cent. of Russian armaments sold. According to Andrej Kokoshin, the deputy defence Minister, in January this year, larger government orders for defence equipment for Russia's own forces are designed to ensure the provision of the most modern weapons. The defence industry was, he said, the main resource for our competitiveness in the world". Then he went on to say that although stocks of arms were considerable, the proportion of obsolete weapons, ineffective and expensive to operate, was much higher. He said: We must rid ourselves of obsolete weapons, a labour-intensive and sometimes expensive process requiring safety measures". He added that: The effectiveness of the nuclear forces and their reliability must be increased, together with high-precision weapons with selective strike properties". He said that Russia needed military muscle with brains—convincing and effective military power. He said: Military might will be among the main means of ensuring Russia's security and its genuine sovereignty". Thus, for Russia, the destruction of weapons required by START II is a step towards more modern weapons and it must come as no surprise that Admiral Gromov, announcing on 21st January the decommissioning and scrapping of 80 outdated nuclear submarines added that this would not tell on the deterrence potential of the Russian navy since new warships will appear, thanks to a new 10-year shipbuilding programme, in which the Government was giving priority to atomic submarine construction at Severodvinsk.

There are some very disquieting aspects for the world in the programme of scrapping obsolete weapons. Admiral Gromov said that there were insufficient dumps for radioactive waste in the country. 4.1 billion roubles will be needed to destroy the first 45 per cent. of the chemical weapons stored in the country. Seventeen nuclear reactors have in the fairly recent past been dumped in the Arctic Ocean. According to the Russian ecology ministry, three-quarters of the industrial waste is toxic, and some 100,000 people live under unfavourable radioactive conditions.

I doubt very much whether, when our own natural resources and capacity to act in support of our national policies were considered in 1990, the Government envisaged the peace dividend that we now have to live with. There is more at stake than national pride, though that is a quality to be valued and cherished. We really must not dispose of the defence resources needed to support our diplomacy. We need to be perceived to be an effective member of the Security Council and important to NATO if we are to advance our whole national interest, economic and social, as well as military. We are listened to and can influence events because we are one of the few countries with an experienced and effective defence capacity to match our diplomatic experience. I submit that we cannot afford not to have that, and it is cheap at the price.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Bridges

My Lords, the perspective I should like to offer the House follows naturally from that which has been presented by the noble Baroness. My perspective is that we should not be too hasty in abandoning defence commitments which serve a real national interest. We should, if necessary, consider increasing the resources in order to meet the commitments.

From our own history it is clear that British governments in the past have done just the opposite and have spent less on defence when the immediate external dangers and pressures were seen to recede. The results of that policy have often been completely disastrous. Perhaps the most notable case in the last century was the reduction of a substantial number of ships in the Royal Navy after the Treaty of Amiens and a brief interlude in the Napoleonic Wars, which cost us dear. There were other cases in the 19th century, of which perhaps the most notable was the Boer War, for which our army was inadequately prepared.

However, perhaps the case which is most recent and most relevant to the situation we are now discussing was the "Geddes axe" in the 1920s, which led to very substantial and savage arbitrary reductions in our defence forces. The effect was very severe. The rearmament of the late 1930s saved us by a whisker only. The absence of an adequate armed force deprived us of the best opportunity of stopping Hitler at the most opportune moment—when he reoccupied the Rhineland in 1936. It also exposed us to the worst and most shameful humiliation we have suffered in this century to date: the Munich agreement.

Of course there were failures of political judgment and will involved, but military weakness was a cardinal factor in the attitudes of those in charge of government at the time. So there is, I suggest, a clear pattern from the past and a disturbing one: the recurrent temptation for British Governments to make defence cuts when there appears to be some diminution of external tension and danger. Of course it is creditable in a democratic state to lower taxes and reduce the burden on the citizen. But the examples I have given show that the benefits are all too often illusory. They have to be put right in a hurry at great expense, and inefficiently, later.

A few general considerations seem to me to arise on the Motion. First, defence technology: this is now so complicated that once a sector is given up it is difficult to resume it in a hurry. If we were to stop producing, say, helicopters, submarines or missiles, we could not press a button and start again as we did with the much simpler military aircraft in the 1930s. The technology is too complex. Sudden needs could only be met by purchase abroad, which means uncertainty, risk and expense.

Secondly, I believe it is wrong to equate our defence effort with the defence of this realm only. Our peace and prosperity may well depend on events far from our shores; for example, in oil-producing states, in the shipping lanes of the world, or the harassment of our citizens or commerce by greedy dictators. Happily, the determination to defend our interests, shown in the Falklands and in the Gulf War, has reduced those risks. Our known capabilities and our readiness to use them if necessary have given us a valuable asset. We should not give up such hard-won advantages by excessive reductions or concentration on defence of our islands only.

Thirdly, defence and international security is now a co-operative, collaborative function, whether in NATO, WEU or the United Nations. We have still an essential part to play in such work. Our armed services are extremely efficient and widely admired for their collaborative military role. That is hardly surprising when we remember that our experience goes back to Marlborough's day. It is a strong national interest of this country that those activities should continue to attract an appropriate national contribution. They represent an investment in peace. British withdrawal from them would be both short-sighted and dangerous.

Fourthly, as others have rightly said, the capability to contribute to such peace-keeping activities is a necessary consequence of our permanent seat on the Security Council. Fifthly, there are the well-known dangers referred to by the noble Baroness of nuclear proliferation and the availability of heavy armaments from the rusting arsenals of the former Warsaw Pact. Those factors make the world more unstable and less predictable than it was even during the Cold War.

My noble friend Lord Chalfont is fully justified in raising the issue. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past for reasons of financial stringency. Defence is a long-term national interest which requires adequate financial provision over the years within reasonable limits of our gross national product. It is the task of responsible governments to make such resources available and to increase them if necessary. I believe that our citizens will understand and support the need to do so.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I agree with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. I am sure that my noble friend on the Front Bench listened to it with great care. We must all thank the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for his most timely debate. I agree very much with the general theme of his speech. My only point of difference with him is that I suggest his Motion would have been better expressed had the substantive part of it ended; between military commitments and national resources". Since increased power has been given to the central Ministry of Defence during the past 30 years, it has become accepted tradition, much encouraged by Treasury Ministers and all kinds of non-military officials who have tried to hoodwink service chiefs into accepting it, that increased expenditure on one service is automatically to be offset by equivalent economies in one or both of the other services. The possibility that such a practice may result in an irretrievable reduction in the ability of this country to deter others from seriously damaging essential national interests is calmly ignored by people who apparently do not want to understand the effectiveness of deterrence in safeguarding long-term national economies. Let us hope that such people will read most thoroughly the alarming speech made by my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth.

I do not attempt to know the pros and cons of having a few more soldiers—and it is only a few—and saving the independence of four infantry regiments. I accept that that is probably necessary. However, like other noble Lords I believe that some of our overseas military commitments could be examined to see whether they are truly in this country's interest. Bosnia comes to mind. However, what does distress me is the bland assumption that the extra soldiers must be balanced immediately by reductions in naval and possibly Air Force expenditure. The capabilities of those services in peace-keeping and deterrence are totally different from those of infantry soldiers. The need for them relates more to deterring the invasion of British territories such as the Falklands and the independent survival of important trading partners such as the Gulf States.

Our particular naval and Royal Marine capability of conducting an opposed assault landing is a priceless asset not only to this country but to all our allies world-wide, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, so clearly explained to your Lordships. It would be folly indeed to let it wither without a clear idea of the future pattern of the quarrels of the world during the next 30 years.

As I reminded your Lordships in a recent debate on dockyards —which I am delighted to see was successful—the Navy's ships take many years to design and build and they have a life of 20 to 30 years. They cannot, like a wheatfield, be set aside one year and planted the next. Their replacement can usually be deferred for two or three years while an economy picks up. But that is a dangerous course mainly because the now small UK warship building capability, with its use as a foreign currency earner, may collapse in the meantime. I thus plead with the Government to think again about seeking to save a few million pounds in cancelling the much-needed Assault helicopter carrier and the diesel-powered shallow water submarines, and in reducing the usable destroyer/frigate strength, which newspaper leaks inform us are all in jeopardy.

The Government could save as much and more by deferring other less important national projects such as public buildings—for example, new court buildings—but what would the construction industry say? On the whole the construction industry does not earn foreign currency but shipbuilding companies do. If the Government must look at the services as well, they could probably make a saving in time by recruiting fewer commissioned officers and using more fully the skill of Chief Petty Officers and Petty Officers, and their equivalents in other services. Those officers should be backed up in times of emergency—as, for example with the naval unit in the Aegean,—with reserve officers and senior ratings. That happened at the beginning of the last war. I remember that the destroyer which I commanded in the late 1950s had exactly twice as many officers as had been the practice for the same type of ship 20 years previously. It made for a very happy wardroom but I had quite a task finding worthwhile responsibilities for my very capable senior ratings. That could happen now. When in the 1930s the ships went to war the reserve officers came in to undertake the watchkeeping and other duties within the ship. That kind of pattern could save a great deal of money but not in the short term and not perhaps in the Air Force, which has extremely expensive aeroplanes. However, it will certainly save money in the Navy and the Army.

I shall conclude by suggesting to my noble friend the Minister that while the economy picks up the Government could do better in offsetting any essential Armed Service expenditure, in billions rather than millions, by judicious temporary tax adjustments across the board rather than by trying to push back the services to an unreal situation from which they may never recover. I am sure that the country would accept that if the need were properly explained.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, many noble Lords will be familiar with an anecdote about the great Duke of Wellington. He was accosted in the street by a total stranger who said, "Mr. Smith, I believe". The Duke of Wellington's reply was, "If you can believe that, you can believe anything". If one can believe that the depredations on the strength of our Armed Forces have been anything but Treasury-inspired one can believe anything.

The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, rightly reminded us of the history of our occasional neglect to our cost of our Armed Forces. Having carried out research on the subject relating to the inter-war period, I was struck to find in the documents how often ignorant interference from Her Majesty's Treasury had a decisive effect on the way in which programmes of armament were followed both in general and in detail. Nothing that I have learnt since has made me believe that current civil servants in that department are any less ignorant or indeed any less arrogant.

Therefore, it is important to realise that we are confronting a situation in which almost every noble Lord who has contributed to the debate—and most have real experience in the military world—has recognised that there are serious difficulties for our Armed Forces, that they are undermanned and overstretched and that we are placing upon them burdens which it is wholly improper for us to place. The detail of that was spelt out in the report, to which several noble Lords have referred, of the Select Committee on Defence in another place.

My own military career having been short and inglorious, I look at something with which I am more familiar and which has been discussed and illuminated for us by my noble friend Lady Park—that is, the nature of the dangers and the commitments. We have a rag bag of commitments coming from different bits of history and different bits of our past. Some of those are understandable; for example, the Falklands. Some, like Belize, seem to be incomprehensible since an independent country in the Americas should be protected by the organisation of American states and not by a European country. Cyprus represents perhaps an historical connection; but it represents also our willingness from time to time to go on being a maid of all work for a not altogether competent United Nations.

What worries me most now—and I believe that this was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Mottistone among others—is the possibility that we are being dragged into further commitments for reasons which are almost beyond our control. Why are our troops in Bosnia performing noble and gallant service? That is because the European Community's policy on the former Yugoslavia was German driven for German national interests, although Germany plays no part in picking up the pieces other than by receiving refugees. We have become involved because of premature recognition of the new republics with no safeguards for the treatment of their minorities.

Now we are told in some quarters that we must further entangle our defence policy and that it should be dictated to us under the Treaty of Maastricht—that ill-gotten document—the European Community and the WEU. I submit that that is not the way to consider the nature of our commitments or what we may have to do in future. It is important, whatever the reduction in this country's world status, that it should be able to look for itself at its own interests. For example, it has been, and rightly been, a legacy of years of experience, including the Second World War, that on the whole we should be close to the United States whenever we are involved in military operations. And yet we know that some elements in the European Community regard the changes that they wish to bring about in the Maastricht Treaty as a way to replace American involvement and a way to separate the defence of Europe from the defence of America.

I am sure that it is in our national interest that we reject anything of that kind. "The special relationship" may be an over-used phrase. It may not, and probably does not, represent the current feeling of the United States. But our connections with North America, which have twice been a saviour of this country, are something we should not abandon in favour of a need for a closer political, military and defence integration of Europe which, alas, as is seen in Bosnia is not only a mirage but a dangerous and bloody mirage.

7.4 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, and other noble Lords who have said in effect that the Treasury tail must not be allowed to wag the defence dog. Therefore, I implore the Government not to disregard the recommendations of the report by the Select Committee on Defence.

I hope that the Government will pay particular attention to paragraph 6 of the introduction dealing with emergent dangers, and paragraphs 18 to 29, which deal with the emergency tour plot, overstretch and amalgamations, and then to the case set out on pages 46 to 50 for the retention of the Queen's Own Highlanders as a separate regiment instead of being amalgamated with the Gordon Highlanders.

I have a certain family interest in the future of the Gordon Highlanders in which my father, my grandfather and two of my uncles served at one time or another. It is our local regiment and it recruiting area is North-East Scotland from Morayshire to Angus. The recruiting area of the Queen's Own is north and west of Morayshire, through Inverness-shire and out to the Western Isles. From the east coast of Aberdeenshire to the Hebrides is nearly 200 miles as the crow flies. I say that because many people believe that Scotland is about the size of Northumberland but a little bit further on.

The descent, history, culture, outlook and interests of the west highlanders and islanders are quite different from that of the east coasters. I do not believe that it would be possible to retain that family spirit, which is one of the strengths of those two great regiments, in a single regiment with such a huge recruiting ground as the whole of Scotland north of a line approximately from Brechin to Tobermory, containing such a diverse population.

Much of the case in the report for the Queen's Own applies equally to the Gordon Highlanders. However, the Queen's Own was formed in 1961 from the Seaforths and the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders. They have already been amalgamated once. To force a second amalgamation on them only 32 years later is not sensible either from the defence, social, economic or the political point of view.

7.7 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for initiating this debate and for giving the House an opportunity to consider the whole area of defence and national security at this time. Furthermore, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord on the wording of the Motion in which a proper balance between commitments and resources is emphasised.

It has always been a cardinal facet of defence planning that if one doubles one's military commitments, one must double the resources to meet them. Conversely, if one halves one's resources, the Government should halve the commitments which those resources are required to meet. That point was argued most effectively by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall.

Options for Change took advantage of the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact to reduce significantly our military forces to a level at which we are now, in my view, sailing extremely close to the wind with little chance of being able to combat the unexpected. The Government appear to have cut back our forces because at that time—and I refer to the time at which Options for Change was being formulated —there was no particular threat. However, noble Lords will know well that the human being has almost no ability to foresee what future threats might develop. That has been amply proven by the Gulf War, which started about a week after Options for Change was originally announced. More recently there has been the break up of what was Yugoslavia.

That significant threat to what the late Sir Winston Churchill might have described as the weak underbelly of Europe has now stretched our forces to near breaking point. If another threat, which could not possibly be foreseen today, were to develop, how should we respond to it? I was of course delighted with the recent decision not to amalgamate four infantry regiments. But, whatever has been said in another place, this certainly does not provide the Army with extra manpower. It merely interrupts the process of running manpower down. I was distressed to read recently in The Times that an order for a £170 million helicopter carrier for the navy, due to be made later this year, is expected to be cancelled to meet new demands for defence cuts.

I read in the same article that Ministers may delay the construction of two amphibious assault ships to replace HMS "Fearless" and HMS "Intrepid". Those ships represent the backbone of our amphibious capability and their departure from the fleet will further reduce our ability to provide a flexible and speedy response to threats in the future. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, referred to that point.

I am also anxious about the size of the UK Merchant Fleet which has shrunk from over 1,100 ships in 1980 to fewer than 300 today. Reversing the decline of the UK Merchant Fleet would be of invaluable strategic benefit enabling realistic support for our Armed Forces in times of tension and crisis, as well as providing a significant boost to Britain's invisible earnings and increasing still further British shipping's major contribution to the balance of payments.

Finally, I wonder whether we are taking a big risk in failing to pay our insurance premium with regard to defence. I urge the Government to think again about the present planned reductions, to heed the report of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee about the British Army of the 90s, and to acknowledge that Options for Change may be leading to the reduction of our armed forces beyond what is prudent.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is to turn on the radio. That is not a military secret. One never knows what one will hear on the radio. I listened to Radio 4 this morning. That is popular among noble Lords, especially with my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing. I congratulate him on making such a powerful speech today as he enters his 82nd year. Some noble Lords might like to take tuition from him in mountain warfare!

Yesterday morning I turned on the radio to hear, as is so often the case, that an explosion had taken place in Northern Ireland and members of the security forces had been wounded. There had been casualties. On entering your Lordships' House I learnt from the ticker tape of the death of Lance Corporal Beswick. This afternoon I did a little research and discovered that he was the 638th soldier to be killed in Northern Ireland in 23 years.

Many speakers tonight have referred to the defence committee in another place. Many noble Lords have served in another place and those who have done so may visit another place from time to time. We would do well to consider that the 638 soldiers killed in Northern Ireland equal the total membership of another place. Those soldiers have been killed while serving in an infantry role in Northern Ireland. I wish to address the rest of my remarks to that matter.

The motto of Options for Change is to seek an army that is fully manned, properly supported and well-equipped. I understand that the aim of Options for Change is to have 116,000 soldiers serving in the mid-1990s—that is two to three years away—104,000 active soldiers and up to 12,000 in a training role. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said, exactly a week ago, in response to the Statement that was presented by my noble friend the Minister, The strain and stretch on the individual soldier will remain".—[Official Report, 3/2/93; col. 270.] I hope that I have quoted the noble and gallant Lord correctly. That comment was made after the great announcement by my noble friend the Minister that two more infantry battalions would be available for duties in the Army. My noble friend the Minister, let alone the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, or any of your Lordships who have any knowledge of infantry training—I acquired such training about 35 years ago—will know of the "work up", as we call it, that is required for emergency tours in Northern Ireland for one infantry battalion alone. There are now more roulement battalions in Northern Ireland serving emergency tours that last on average six months.

Last week my noble friend the Minister said that one of the results of the changes he and his right honourable friend had announced would be that the extra two battalions would increase the average interval between emergency tours to 17 months. My noble friend admitted that at present the interval is 15 months. I hope that I have quoted him correctly. In paragraph 21 of the report of the defence committee of another place the interval would appear to be totally different. At least that is how it appears to me, but I am a simple country boy from Angus.

Paragraph 21 refers to the short, one-off deployment. Emergency support is also mentioned. That might comprise an additional platoon, company or similar group on duties in Northern Ireland. The assistant under secretary responsible for programmes from the Ministry of Defence uses the immortal phrase in the report that soldiers serving on extra emergency duties are "volunteers". I take the comments of the assistant under secretary with a gentle pinch of salt.

I was startled to read in the report of the committee of another place that the 24-month target interval between tours was initiated in 1974. My honourable friend the Minister of State states in paragraph 26 that in 1990–91 the interval between emergency tours for battalions was 18 months and that in 1991–92 it rose to 32 months—I do not understand those statistics, but no doubt they will be explained one day—and that for 1992–93 it is 17 months. Last week my noble friend said that at present the interval is 15 months. I understand, however, that it may rise to 16 months. Already eight out of the 10 emergency tour battalions who are scheduled to serve in Northern Ireland next year will have had less than the 24 months interval which is sought by my noble friend. I hope that he can give us some encouraging news on that point. I will not forget the soldiers who are serving in Northern Ireland and I, and I am sure other noble Lords, will not forget the relatives and the regiment of Lance Corporal Beswick.

7.17 p.m.

Lord Mayhew

My Lords, we are all agreed, of course, that resources and commitments must be matched. The debate has shown that most speakers agree with the Select Committee's view that that must mean increasing the number of infantry battalions beyond that provided for in Options for Change. But all too few of those speakers have ventured an opinion on the three awkward questions that follow that decision. First, should we have a bigger defence budget? Secondly, if we should not, should we make cuts elsewhere in the services? Thirdly, if neither of those things can be done, what commitments should we cut?

Heaven knows, I hold no brief for the Government, but I think it is a little hard to attack them without offering clear alternatives to what the Government are doing. There has been a lack of alternative suggestions in this debate. We on these Benches have not ducked these questions. We think that an increase in defence expenditure would be unnecessary and undesirable. From time to time we put forward suggestions for modest and safe reductions in our naval, air and nuclear programmes. We have maintained that our commitments must be strictly limited. I agree with my former colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Healey, on that point. I agree with his comments on Brunei and Cyprus. I also agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ridley of Liddesdale. I pay tribute to his maiden speech. Like the noble Lord, Lord Healey, I found those comments a little more to my taste than the admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont.

I recall the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Ridley, about the Falkland Islands, which we should consider carefully. I recall him making a speech about leasehold in the other place. I thought then, and I think now, that it was a pity that he was let down on that occasion by his government.

The remarkable feature of our discussion about commitments in the debate and the Select Committee's report is the reluctance to place any limit on our commitments to UN peacekeeping. How can we have a plan for Army manpower unless we lay down—if only for planning purposes—a ceiling on the forces that we can commit to the UN? It is obvious that we cannot have a defence policy or a manpower policy without doing that. That, the Select Committee did not do. Instead, it envisages a wide, open-ended commitment to the UN. Paragraph 16 of its report reads: Part of the price of a refusal to reconsider the proposals contained in (Options for Change) will be the inability to respond to requests from the United Nations for military assistance on a scale commensurate with the United Kingdom's position as a Permanent Member of the Security Council". But when we became a Permanent Member of the Security Council, we were the third most powerful nation in the world. Things have changed. The British Army has become much smaller; the demands on peace-keeping forces have become stronger, and are increasing; and to follow the commitments suggested by the Select Committee would call for increases in Army manpower far beyond those recommended by the Select Committee and rejected by the Government.

Surely it is enough that, today, despite our huge commitment to security in Northern Ireland, and despite deploying other forces on peace keeping in Belize, Brunei and the Falklands, we can still commit more peace keeping troops to the United Nations than the great majority of our fellow members, some of whom are bigger and richer than ourselves. By reason of its training, discipline and experience, the British infantry is probably the finest peace keeper in the world. We owe it to its members not to stretch them too far.

7.26 p.m.

Lord Howell

My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity of participating in the debate. As a maiden speaker from the Front Bench perhaps I may be allowed to extend the courtesies of the House to the two maiden speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Annaly, spoke with great personal knowledge, which is clearly of value to the House. I am sorry that my old colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Ridley, is not here for the moment. I am sure we all greatly appreciated his speech.

I wish to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and to congratulate him,, first, on his perseverance. He brings this matter to our attention from time to time. I appreciate that greatly, because I have always believed perseverance to be the most important quality in public life. I hope that he will continue to persevere and give us further opportunities to debate these matters. Perhaps I may say, in the presence of the Whips and other people, that I hope that that may be done in a more intelligent and commonsense manner than appears now to be the case when we debate important questions and everyone is restricted to a ludicrously short time in which to express themselves. Coming new to the Dispatch Box, that seems to me a matter that the appropriate committees of the House should be noting.

I also express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for his impeccable timing of the debate, coming, as it does, one day after the publication of the report of the Select Committee on Defence of the other place and one week after the Government's announcement which was no doubt intended to anticipate the report we all received yesterday.

There has been a remarkable degree of unanimity on all sides of the House that we need a fundamental review of defence policy. We should review it with regard to matching resources to commitments and relating the economic and financial considerations and constraints to those two factors. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, quoted the Foreign Secretary, and I shall not repeat what he said. I noticed this week, making the point that I wish to make, that General Sir Michael Gow was reported to have said: Soldiers cannot understand why the Government and the Ministry of Defence experts do not assess commitments first and then determine an army to meet them". I believe that most of us would have to agree with that sentiment. It is, in a nutshell, the case that I wish to make from these Benches, especially as it is something for which the Labour Party has been calling for some two or three years now. An example of the opposite approach is illustrated by the £80 million needed to meet the small number of additional forces announced last week. It is clear that the Government have not thought through that addition. They cannot tell us where the £80 million will come from. They could bring us no comfort as to whether it would be at the cost of helicopter landing ships, RAF mid-term refits or anything else. The Government showed that they had no strategic review of our defence forces in mind when they made that announcement last week.

Yesterday, the Select Committee on Defence published what can only be described as a devastating, scathing, almost contemptuous report. I shall not go through it all again. In palmier days, if a Select Committee or party in this place produced such a unanimous report, Ministers responsible would have been considering their position. They should still do so. I except the Minister, because I do not hold him responsible for those strategic decisions.

I do not wish to recite all our existing commitments because I agree with almost every dot and comma of what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, and with what my noble friend Lord Healey said about finance and economic considerations. I adopt everything said by the Select Committee about our existing commitments. I pay from these Benches my tribute to our forces in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and elsewhere for the superb job that they are doing on behalf of this nation.

There are new questions about commitments. Some changes are being urged upon us which are almost breathtaking. New attitudes are emerging from the most unexpected sources. They seem to make an overwhelming case for a strategic and fundamental review. Who would have thought, for example, that last week we would have heard the Secretary-General of NATO, Manfred WOrner, speak about Yugoslavia in these terms: The peace process may require the ultimate sanction of enforcement to succeed … We must not shirk from the legitimate use of force if we are to remain credible"? That is an astonishing statement. Was the Secretary General of NATO speaking on our behalf or with our authority? Whatever comes of that speech it will require a commitment of forces well outside anything which Options for Change ever contemplated.

There is another new factor. President Clinton talks of withdrawing a sizeable proportion of US forces from within Europe. On the subject of Yugoslavia we also have the question—it has not been raised today —on the Owen-Vance peace plan. If it succeeds, how many thousands of troops will it take to police it? If the plan does not succeed, what will be the consequences for our forces then? Those are absolutely critical questions which have to be contemplated in any defence review.

Finally we have to consider the situation of the United Nations. The Secretary General told us only the other day that in four years 13 new commitments world-wide have been undertaken by the UN. That was as many as in all the preceding years.

A fundamental review has to consider the contribution made by Germany and Japan, in particular since they aspire to be permanent members of the Security Council, in which case they have to accept the permanent responsibilities for world peace and make their proper contribution. In the Charter of the United Nations they are still referred to as "enemy states", along with Spain, Bulgaria, and Finland of all countries. That needs to be reviewed.

The case made out by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is overwhelming. It has the support of all of us on this side of the House.

7.31 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Viscount Cranborne)

My Lords, I feel more than my usual sense of pleasure in extending what is more than a conventional welcome to our three maidens today. I very much welcome the noble Lord, Lord Howell, to the Front Bench—I shall not refer to it as the bear pit of the Front Bench—and I look forward to his future contributions from it.

I also extend my heartfelt congratulations to our other two maiden speakers. My noble friend Lord Ridley is well known in the body politic. His particular style made a great impression on me when I was briefly in another place. That style has lost none of its point or pith. Your Lordships will surely agree that our House will be greatly enriched by his future contributions. My noble friend made a most helpful and notably scholarly contribution. I refer to his suggestion as to how the defence budget might be further helped by a referral to commercial enterprises. If we were to ask Scots to pay a right of passage across Hadrian's Wall I hope that as a former Treasury Minister he would make sure that the Treasury did not pinch the money from the defence budget.

My noble friend Lord Annaly spoke with great experience as a commander in the cavalry. We greatly look forward to his contributions in your Lordships' House. It is a constant source, not of surprise but of satisfaction, to me as a relative newcomer to your Lordships' debates to find the extraordinary depth of experience of noble Lords who sit on these Benches.

Many points have been made during the course of debate. As usual I shall do my best to cover them. If I fail I hope that your Lordships will forgive me and allow me to write in due course. However, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for his initiative in yet again proposing a Motion for us to debate on national security policy. I was grateful when he did so in October and I am grateful to him today, as I suspect are your Lordships.

The previous debate enabled me to lay before your Lordships, as I began to do in May last year, the basis of Her Majesty's Government's security policy. In doing so I stressed the fundamental importance of the NATO alliance and attempted to summarise the progress that the nations have made in adapting to a changing world since 1990, and in building basic machinery for a new security system—the alphabet soup with which we are now becoming so familiar; CSCE, CFE, NACC, and so on.

I shall not risk boring your Lordships by repeating what I said then except to reiterate that our fundamental approach remains the same now as in May and October of last year and as it has since the collapse of the Berlin wall. It is perhaps a good example of why Opposition accusations that the Government have a passion for U-turns are, as in so many of their pronouncements, greatly exaggerated. That may be of some consolation to my noble friend, Lord Ridley.

Your Lordships would expect me to reassure you therefore that the objectives of our defence policy are consistent with our overall security policy. Indeed, I took great comfort from the ringing endorsement that Her Majesty's Government received, in that respect at least if no other, from my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall when, in referring to the Ministry of Defence objectives set out in the statement on Defence Estimates 92/3, he said in our October debate: I doubt whether one can do … better than that as a guide to what the Armed Forces ought to be able to do."—[Official Report, 21/10/92; col. 791.] I may be wrong, but neither the Opposition spokesmen nor the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, despite what he has said today, have shown any sign whatever of quarrelling with the framework and the objectives of security policy we have tried to establish and which I attempted to describe in May and October last year. Equally, I have not detected any fundamental criticism by your Lordships of the objectives of defence policy as set out in last year's SDE; indeed, rather the reverse. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in correspondence with my right honourable friend said—I quoted it in a previous debate—that my right honourable friend had addressed a number of specific concerns in the Statement on Defence Estimates. I am glad to see that the noble Lord nods.

I welcome that fundamental agreement. In itself it adds a great deal of credibility to our security arrangements. Indeed, I think I observed in our previous debate that that was so. That is why I must confess to a measure of disappointment that in talking about the wider framework of security policy the noble Lord did not address himself to the substantial achievements of the past two years.

I do not wish to say more than that on our objectives. Where, unsurprisingly, there is disagreement it is on how those objectives are to be achieved. That is why the noble Lord's Motion is so apt. For it is over how much money should be devoted to defence and to what programmes that money should be distributed that the argument arises.

I hope therefore your Lordships will allow me to concentrate most of the remainder of my remarks on the important question of money. I hope that I shall manage to satisfy my noble friend Lord Fanshawe about the anxieties that he expressed. Somehow I rather doubt it.

During the course of the debate some noble Lords have drawn attention to the economic argument. The noble Lord, Lord Healey, and my noble friend Lord Ridley were notable in that respect. Indeed, I have argued in the past that the United Kingdom's relative economic decline at least in part can be attributed to the proportion of national resources which we devote to defence. As the noble Lord pointed out, Germany and Japan were defeated in 1945. But they are now great economic powers and, after all, spent next to nothing on defence on the early crucial years of reconstruction.

Clearly that is not the position taken by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, nor indeed the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. As I understand it, they believe that we should, if necessary, increase our defence expenditure to match what they feel our position in the world should be.

Unlike those noble Lords, the voices to which I referred deplore the results of devoting a substantial proportion of gross national product to defence in both the United Kingdom and the USA. They point to what they regard as too much research and development expenditure being devoted to defence matters, to the dependence of national industry on foreign and domestic defence sales—the noble Lord, Lord Healey, referred to that—and to the crowding out of investment for civil and commercial purposes.

Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, to a large extent I can recognise all those arguments in theory and I take them extremely seriously. To that extent, perhaps, trade does not always follow the flag, which seems to be the underlying argument of many noble Lords this evening. In practice, however, like the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and my noble friend Lord Beloff, I believe that we have to start from where we are. The price of inadequate defence, particularly in a nuclear age—as your Lordships have often pointed out —is extraordinarily high. Just as in the past the Soviet empire had to be faced down, today we face an uncertain world and we as a trading nation have a strong interest in that world's security. Nevertheless, it is at least arguable that a level of defence expenditure higher than that of competing economies can put a nation such as ours at a serious competitive disadvantage in the long term. Perhaps that is a reason —and I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and to my noble friend Lord Ridley—for asking Germany and Japan to shoulder a bigger share of the burden. Back to the level playing fields my Lords? I use that expression with due caution in view of the presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, on the Liberal Benches. She reproved me eloquently some weeks ago for using it to the extent of rendering it a cliché.

Nevertheless, our security and defence objectives commit us to a substantial defence effort. That is something about which I may be able to reassure the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. It is something that we accept, but the expenditure that that commitment implies must be rigorously allocated and accounted for.

As noble Lords know, resources are allocated to government departments through the annual Public Expenditure Survey—the famous PES round. On it, noble Lords like the noble Lord, Lord Healey, have batted on both sides of the wicket throughout their careers, usually gaining a reputation as a cutter rather than a spender. Like other departments, we put forward a programme and argue our case strongly throughout the negotiations. I am sure that it is right in a system of representative government, with competing demands on the public purse, that we should have to do so.

The enormous changes for the better in the strategic setting mean that defence budgets are no longer sustainable at previous levels. That, I hope, is common ground among your Lordships, although listening to the debate this evening I began somehow to doubt it. I point out to your Lordships that this is as true of our allies as it is of us. Between the year 1990–91 and the year 1995–96, we in the United Kingdom expect our underlying defence budget to decline by 11 per cent. in real terms.

Other NATO nations have been even more drastic, both in cash and capability. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Healey, referred to that. In 1992 average NATO defence expenditure was 2.9 per cent. of GDP, compared with the United Kingdom which plans to spend 4.1 per cent. of GDP. Some of our NATO allies such as Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands are contemplating force level reductions of the order of 50 per cent. compared with our 20 per cent. And our troops are trained professionals, as a number of your Lordships pointed out during the course of this evening's debate.

What we have to do is to try to decide what is the proper balance between the demands of defence policy and other demands on the taxpayer. Although it is not something to which I am altogether accustomed, here I have to follow the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. I am grateful for his clear recognition of that fact. Despite what my noble friend Lady Park says—and she knows that I have considerable sympathy for her knowledge and experience of the former Soviet Union—and despite what my noble friend Lord Beloff said, given the security climate I think I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that it would be highly unrealistic to expect an increase in our defence expenditure for the foreseeable future.

I could go on about these matters at some length but I would risk being accused by your Lordships of teaching my grandmother to suck eggs. There is one point, however, which I should like to make in the context of resources which I believe is important. We build hospitals and keep them open because we believe that there is good reason to build them—at least I hope that is the reason. The same applies and should apply to defence programmes. We initiate them or persist with them because they make sense for defence. As we reduce our defence expenditure, rightly or wrongly, the consequential adjustments that follow have distressing consequences for employment and the coherence of long-established communities and industries. We saw that particularly coming through in the recent defence debate on the future of Rosyth and Devonport initiated in your Lordships' House.

However, if those consequences are to have a call on government resources they should not have a call on the Defence Budget but on the budgets of other government departments. Our concern is and must remain to bring the most cost-effective defence capability consistent with our aims from inevitably scarce defence pounds. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, made the point more cogently than I am able to. Cost-effectiveness is extremely important. I have already mentioned that the support area plays a big part in our efforts in that direction. I do not wish again to repeat what I said to your Lordships last week in the debate on Rosyth.

I wish to mention two other areas which make great contributions in that respect and I suspect that outside the rather arcane world of the sixth floor of the Ministry of Defence their effect has been greatly underestimated, both in the press and—dare I say it? —in Parliament. I know that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, out of the great depth of his experience, is highly sceptical of the accuracy of what I am about to say.

First, we have introduced a whole range of efficiency measures. It is always difficult to measure efficiency, but it is fair to say that at a conservative estimate the efficiency programme is anticipated to provide savings of about £300 million per year throughout the PES period. In that respect, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, for mentioning the defence estate—an area of the activity of the Ministry of Defence for which I happen to be responsible. One of the first actions I took when I entered that august building was to ask my officials to begin to prepare for a review of the overall strategy of the defence estate. We have now come a long way down the road towards producing it. It is important not only in the context of making the best use of resources but also in view of the increasing interest which the public take in the land which the Ministry of Defence occupies. I hope that fairly shortly I shall be able to share with the public our thoughts on the subject and also to invite comments. In that context, I announced yesterday that we have a plan for the sale of Greenham Common and I can reassure the noble Viscount on that.

Secondly, on efficiency, I believe that we ought to give due credit to the new management strategy which has caused such grief and angst within the Ministry of Defence. It is already proving a substantial contributor to efficient management and that contribution can but increase with time.

There is little time left to me. The other half of that to which the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, addressed himself during the course of his speech was the important question of commitments. I wish first to address the subject of manpower. That is what a number of your Lordships expressed understandable worry about, including the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, my noble friends Lord Vivian and Lord Beloff, and others, notably the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall.

At a rough guess, I would say that if we were to implement all the proposals which the House of Commons Defence Committee suggested for manpower it would cost the Ministry of Defence budget approximately another £2 billion over a 10-year period. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, advocated the complete implementation of that budget. If I may make a party political point for one moment, it perhaps comes ill from a representative of a party which for many years has advocated a decrease in the defence budget to advocate that kind of increase in the present climate.

There are many ways, your Lordships invariably suggest, in which we should preserve the capabilities. Many suggestions have been made by noble Lords, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, and my noble friend Lord Mottistone, over our amphibious capability. Amphibious capability is something in which we are at the moment well engaged. So far as the LPH is concerned, tenders are at present being evaluated. HMS "Fearless" and HMS "Intrepid" will run on until their replacements are available.

In this context I would say that your Lordships' reasons for taking up these matters are always cogent and well argued in isolation. But I am also bound to say that a balanced programme is not just the sum of its parts. It is a sum of the balance struck between and the integration of its parts. Striking that balance is substantially a matter of judgment. And matters of judgment are, almost by definition, susceptible to challenge. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, made that point. We go to great lengths to ensure that we strike the right balance. The world has changed and with it the full structures that we need to ensure the security of the nation and its ability to pursue its legitimate interests have changed as well.

I say to my noble friend Lord Beloff, and my noble friend Lord Ashbourne, that I wholly accept that if the present budget proves inadequate to perform the task demanded of it, despite all the efficiency gains we may make, either we have to increase the budget or we have to cut commitments. To do otherwise would be to destroy the morale and capability of the best and most professional armed forces in existence. I was much moved, as I am sure your Lordships were, by the tribute paid by my noble friend Lord Lyell to the hundreds of soldiers who over the years have been killed in Northern Ireland. He asked by implication whether we would rather loose 638 Members of another place, or 638 soldiers. All I would say is: please do not tempt me.

The Armed Forces are one of the things that are demonstrably excellent in our nation. Were the Government to destroy that excellence we would not be quickly forgiven. In that respect, I take very much to heart the strictures of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, on defence reviews and their effect. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and the noble Lords, Lord Healey and Lord Shackleton, spoke about the importance of the long term and continuity. In that context I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will take to heart the remarks of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and realise that chopping and changing constantly is sometimes as dangerous as persisting in the long term.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, will the noble Lord answer my question about hydrography and hydrographic ships?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am well aware of the constraints of time. I had intended to answer that question. We recognise the importance of specialist hydrographic capability. I am the Minister responsible for the hydrographer. We regard it as absolutely essential to retain the specialist hydrographic personnel in the Navy. I have the greatest admiration, for the reasons that the noble Lord gave, for the work that they do.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, the noble Lord speaks for the Government, and it is not just his responsibility. Are the hydrographic ships to be phased out?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, at the moment, there are no plans to do that. That is all I can say to the noble Lord.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, all of whom made extremely valuable contributions sometimes against the irksome constraints of time.

Perhaps I might take mild exception to one aspect; namely, the suggestion that I had omitted the economic factor from the equation. I had thought that the whole of my proposition was based on the economic factor. Either the economic resources must be reallocated to meet commitment, or commitment must be reduced to match the available economic resources. I am delighted that the noble Viscount, when he answered the debate, seemed to agree that we had to do one of those two things. We may do either of them, but to do neither will invite disaster.

Finally, I thank the Minister for his courteous and, perhaps I might say, ingenious defence of his government's policy. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.