§ 11.37 a.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Viscount Cranborne) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1993 (Cm 2270).
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, during the course of the 16 months that have elapsed since the last general election, I have had the privilege of participating in many exchanges on the subject of defence in your Lordships' House. As I believe the Motion of my noble friend Lady Park makes clear, your Lordships are well aware of the importance of defence in the government of this country and are perhaps more aware than another place of the value of regular debates on the subject.
§ On the whole, I do not think it would be inaccurate to say that the tone that your Lordships have adopted has often been one critical of government policy. In saying this I do not for one moment suggest that all of your Lordships' criticisms arise from a common analysis of the defence needs of the nation. As the primary recipient of these criticisms on behalf of Her Majesty's Government in your Lordships' House, I sometimes feel that the reverse is the case. Indeed, 1258 were my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence to adopt all the suggestions I receive on his behalf from your Lordships, Her Majesty's dominions would be defended by a policy at least as incoherent as the Government's critics appear to suppose we have at present. Nevertheless, I congratulate your Lordships on holding this important debate before the other place and before our Recess, in spite of what I thought was a clear hint from the Government Chief Whip that we should all be on holiday today rather than discussing these important matters.
§ I hope that, as your Lordships have studied this year's Statement on the Defence Estimates, those accusations of incoherence to which I have just referred will have melted as the summer snow. Defending Our Future, after all, gives a clear statement of our strategic posture. But it also gives an unprecedented analysis of the defence tasks falling to our Armed Forces as a result, and indeed our judgment of the equipment and manpower we need to carry out these tasks. This is the first time that we have made this degree of analysis public and I am sure that it will greatly help those who take part in debates on defence matters in the future.
§ With your Lordships' permission, I shall return to Chapter 2 of the White Paper in a moment. However, if the House will allow me, it would be sensible to try to outline the strategic context in which we have had to set our policy, for without a clear strategic view all the analysis and frankness in the world are self-evidently useless.
§ The new geopolitical situation following the fall of the Soviet empire has immensely complicated the task facing Western strategists. No longer do we face a clear threat from the East. Consequently, no longer do we have a clear yardstick against which to measure our defence requirements.
§ The changed geopolitical climate has in one sense of course made this country safer. No one, as far as I know, seriously argues that the direct threat to the United Kingdom has done anything but recede. As a result, a number of things have become possible. First, it has been possible to envisage a drop in the proportion of the economy that is devoted to defence spending. Consequential upon that decrease there are operational changes of which I shall give your Lordships examples. Reaction times can be relaxed. The need for anti-submarine operations in the North Atlantic lessens, with sad results for our non-nuclear submarine fleet. A smaller force of Tornado F3 fighters than heretofore is needed to defend the United Kingdom's air space and to play its part in NATO's air defence strategy.
§ At the same time, I find it difficult, like a number of your Lordships, to argue that the world has become a safer place. Instability and uncertainty are everywhere —in the Middle East, in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and in Europe, to take just three important examples. This instability brings above all two evils in its train: first, general uncertainty and, secondly, a series of potential threats to this country's long-term commercial and strategic interests.1259
§ Therefore, as opposed to the world of the Cold War, which we came to know so well, the new world demands a new approach in defence matters. It demands a greater emphasis on flexibility and mobility for our Armed Forces. And these characteristics are at the heart of our plans for restructuring our forces. Indeed, our proposals for enhancing our amphibious capability are clear evidence of this. Incidentally, we have also learned—not least in our operations in the former Yugoslavia—that even bush wars and United Nations operations need equipment that only a short time ago would have only been thought appropriate for high intensity conflict, so that our aim of achieving greater mobility and flexibility cannot, as some have advocated, be achieved by reducing the Army to a lightly armed gendarmerie.
§ It is that change of emphasis that has made most headlines for the White Paper—together of course with the analytical work set out in Chapter 2. Nevertheless, the bedrock of our defence remains the same: above all, our strategic deterrent and our membership of NATO.
§ I am well aware that I have bandied words with many of your Lordships about the deterrent during the past year or so—notably and perhaps most often with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. I will not weary your Lordships with all the arguments again, except perhaps to emphasise this: Her Majesty's Government believe that a minimum strategic independent deterrent remains essential to this country's ultimate security in an uncertain world and we believe equally that the Trident system will provide the safest, most cost-effective and flexible means to that end for decades to come.
§ Nevertheless, no mention of nuclear weapons in your Lordships' House would be complete without the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, twitting me about the decision we all await with bated breath about the future of our sub-strategic capability. Once again fear that I must say to the noble Lord, because I know that he will raise the question when he comes to speak, that he must contain his impatience just a little longer. I can assure him that we are nearly there and that I for one cannot wait to put him—and perhaps myself because of his constant representations—out of his misery.
§ I would also like to say a little about NATO and its role. I have heard it suggested that NATO is a creature of the Cold War and has now passed its sell-by date. Such suggestions are as wrong-headed as they are dangerous. In the turbulent world that I have described, the North Atlantic alliance is a beacon of stability. If the alliance were to fail and North America and Europe were to drift apart, then who could predict the consequences? It is particularly for this reason that we attach such importance to the development of the Western European Union as the European pillar of NATO, a role which the Statement on the Defence Estimates emphasises in Chapter 1, with particular reference to NATO's increased emphasis on the political dimension and on crisis management. Your Lordships will have observed some arguments to that effect on page 15 of Chapter 1.1260
§ And consider, my Lords, what we would be losing. After all, NATO is the only security organisation in existence today with the military capacity to support its guarantees. It provides credible insurance against the re-emergence of a threat of Cold War dimensions, and it is by far the most cost-effective means of providing that insurance. Indeed, to attempt to do so on our own would cost the taxpayer a great deal more than it costs us at the moment through the alliance. I am sure that that is common ground on all sides of the House.
§ Of course it follows that just as the United Kingdom as part of the alliance must adapt to the new geo-strategic circumstances, so must the alliance as a whole. That it has begun to do. Your Lordships are familiar with the agreements arrived at in Rome in November 1991 which we have discussed during the past year and as a result of which NATO began to adapt to the new world.
§ Operationally, for instance, the alliance is beginning to make a substantial contribution to peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. It is providing headquarters and logistic support and helping to enforce the no-fly zone. At a time when it is of great importance that the United Nations should seem credible, NATO and its member states can play an important part in achieving that objective.
§ Perhaps I should add—since I have mentioned the United Nations—that naturally the United Kingdom aims to play a full part in United Nations affairs both as a NATO member and as a permanent member of the Security Council. We cannot contribute to every operation the United Nations mounts, and indeed not every United Nations operation need involve military forces, but I think noble Lords will he aware of the very substantial contributions that this country is already making to a number of United Nations operations world-wide and, indeed—equally important—of the accolades that British servicemen and women are winning on every side for their role in them.
§ It is in the context of this complex geopolitical situation and of the alliance that this country must decide what military capability it needs. The world is, as I have said already, in one sense a safer place as far as the United Kingdom itself is concerned but, paradoxically, a more unstable one overall. Chapters 2 to 5 of the document show how we have come to a judgment about the defence tasks we feel that the UK should undertake and the defence assets that we need to carry them out.
§ The Statement on the Defence Estimates shows clearly the depth of analysis that has gone in to arriving at that judgment, but in the end a judgment has to be made, no matter how much analysis is undertaken. That element of judgment is perhaps most clearly shown in the assets that are available for a number of different tasks—multiple earmarking, as I believe it is known in the jargon. Such earmarking clearly makes assumptions about priorities should unwelcome events occur simultaneously. We do not expect—this is built into the table set Out in Chapter 2—to mount two Falkland campaigns at the same time.1261
§ All NATO nations earmark their forces for more than one task. There is nothing new in that. It is clearly sensible to do so, if only to make maximum use of an asset without detracting from its capacity to perform its various missions. That judgment, allied to our analysis summarised particularly in Table 3 of Chapter 2, convinces us that, contrary to some popular opinions, we can indeed meet our present commitments and can continue to do so with our present and planned force structure.
§ I should he the last to deny that the match between resources and commitments is a tight one, especially at a time when the drawdown in our forces is putting unprecedented pressure in terms of turbulence, and often uncertainty, on our servicemen and servicewomen. Indeed, it is essential that we should continue to watch that match between commitments and resources with the greatest care, and I can assure your Lordships that we intend to do so.
§ Meanwhile, I suspect that a number of your Lordships will continue to show a considerable and justified interest in the matter, particularly the large number of noble and gallant Lords who are facing me like birds of prey waiting to swoop a little later this afternoon. It may help your Lordships to know in that context—I believe that the infantry tour intervals are regarded as something of a benchmark in these matters—we expect the emergency tour intervals for infantry battalions to increase over the next three years. At present, on the basis of current commitments, we expect the emergency tour intervals to be 19 months in 1993–94; 20 months in 1994–95; and 29 months in 1995–96.
§ Some noble Lords will, I know, reject the flexible approach that I have described and call this afternoon for a full-scale defence review. In the swiftly changing world that I have described, such a demand is, I believe, a dangerous irrelevance. I would even suggest, if your Lordships will forgive me, that it reveals a somewhat old-fashioned static mentality at a time when flexibility and continuous adaptability are at a premium. One might almost call it evidence of a Maginot train of thought.
§ Substantial defence reviews of the kind that some noble Lords have advocated in the past take time and assume a static world. By the time the would-be reviewers have adopted a new policy, we can be sure that the world will have moved on. What we in the Ministry of Defence and Her Majesty's Government advocate is both more effective and more difficult to achieve; that is, defence structures flexible and robust enough to respond to changing and often unpredictable circumstances. As I say, we believe that the structures we are introducing in conjunction with our NATO allies can and will achieve those aims.
§ There is one area of endeavour which I should like particularly to mention which is playing an increasingly important role in helping us achieve that objective. Defence buffs—if I may characterise them in that somewhat dismissive phrase which does not reflect my views—are always attracted by expensive toys which whizz and go bang. Far too seldom do they pay attention to the less showy parts of the 1262 organisation, whose smooth functioning is at least as important. I hope that your Lordships will allow me briefly to say something about those less showy parts.
§ Most noble Lords will be aware of the substantial changes that have begun to take place in the way that the Ministry of Defence is managed. Some of that change is a direct consequence of the reduction in the size of our Armed Forces. There are fewer senior officers, fewer senior civil servants, fewer commands and even fewer Ministers. But something a great deal more fundamental than that is taking place. It is taking place in the context of course of the management revolution that has been unleashed throughout the public service during this Government's lifetime.
§ What is known in the Ministry of Defence under a series of different initiative names—new management strategy, the creation of agencies and market testing—will, I am convinced, result in better value for the taxpayer, but, equally importantly, it will contribute towards achieving the robust and flexible forces to which I have just referred. The revolution may not gain many votes. Internally we have to ensure that the initiatives are coherent one with another. But I believe that it will prove to be one of the most enduring and beneficial achievements of the present Government, and I make no apology for drawing your Lordships' attention to what is happening and to Chapter 7 of the Statement on the Defence Estimates where that matter is given proper prominence.
§ Finally, I must pay tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces. Their skills, loyalty and courage are legendary. We owe it to them to equip them properly, to pay them adequately, to train them properly, to house them decently and to help them resettle into civilian life when they leave. Great strides have been made over recent years in many of those areas. We shall continue to pay attention to them and to improve upon our performance so far. I should like also to pay tribute to the department's civilian staff whose contribution to the nation's defence is considerable and often forgotten in these debates.
§ There are many topics that I could have discussed in my opening remarks but upon which I have not even touched. I am conscious, for instance, that I have failed to mention procurement, the reserves, Northern Ireland, training areas and a host of other matters. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me. Many of your Lordships will wish to raise those matters during the course of our debate. I am conscious that I shall have the privilege of a second bite of the cherry and a chance to reply to the matters that your Lordships raise. Meanwhile, I am grateful to your Lordships for allowing me to use my opening remarks to try to set the White Paper in its proper context. I shall content myself for the moment in commending the document to your Lordships' House. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1993 (Cm 2270) —(Viscount Cranborne.)1263
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, let me first thank the Minister for introducing the White Paper, and, indeed, the Government business managers for acceding to an early debate on what is, as I think we all recognise, an extremely important document. I reiterate what I said in response to the statement on publication that, in my view, the White Paper represents a serious effort by the Government to he more informative about the implications of their policy in terms of resources and costs. We are grateful for that. Finally, the debate allows me to join with the noble Viscount in repeating the tribute that I have paid on previous occasions to the efficiency, courage and dedication of our Armed Forces, and I do that with the greatest sincerity and pleasure.
In passing, and at the risk of sounding slightly ungracious after thanking the government business managers for arranging this early debate, perhaps I may say that I have a great deal of sympathy with the Motion to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, both for its call for a comprehensive defence debate in each calendar year and its insistence on the linkage between defence and foreign policy issues. In my view, both propositions have much to commend them.
I would go a little further than the noble Baroness. It seems to me that in this post Cold War world we have to widen the debate about security. By that I mean not only national security but also global security. We must consider not simply foreign policy issues in the traditional sense of that term, but matters which are clearly at the origin of many of the security problems that we shall face in the future. I no longer believe that we can afford to address security without addressing at the same time overseas aid, overseas trade, population movements and the state of the global environment. I shall try to explain what I mean as I develop my argument.
The general linkage of all those matters with defence is the first of the three main themes which I wish to pursue this afternoon. Following the noble Viscount I shall move on to review the general balance between our commitments and our resources. Thirdly and finally, I wish to address the matter which the noble Viscount addressed of nuclear weapons policy, what it is and how it sits with the ambitions which I believe we all share for a successful extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Your Lordships may have noticed that in putting my themes in that order I have somewhat reversed the order of the White Paper. That is not an accident since I believe that what the White Paper calls "Defence Role Three" will assume greater and greater importance as we move towards the next century. Your Lordships will be aware that Defence Role Three is that of promoting the United Kingdom's wider security interests through the maintenance of international peace and stability. To put it in the terms of the White Paper:it is clear that the threat, presence or use of military force, interleaved with other diplomatic and economic instruments, will continue to be a feasible and effective component of security policy".1264 The word "interleaved" is important.
So far, so reasonable; but I would tend to go rather further. I would argue that unless we can successfully use available diplomatic and economic instruments, the use of military force will become inevitable. Since the use of military force is always a policy of last resort —and is always undesirable—we must concentrate our efforts on those two instruments as the highest priority. Defence issues are only, and can only be, part of an overall, properly co-ordinated approach to international political and economic events.
Let me illustrate this. What has become progressively clearer since the end of the Cold War is that the major security problems that will confront us will arise from two sources: the fall-out from the breakdown of communism and social problems in the Third World. The noble Viscount referred to Eastern Europe. The clearest example of the first type of problem is the current situation in the former Yugoslavia. But it is, alas, unlikely to he the last such example. Eastern Europe is, in security terms, in a particularly fragile state. We have only to look at the wrangle between Russia and the Ukraine over the former Soviet Black Sea fleet to be aware that at any moment a substantial conflagration could break out almost anywhere on the Russian Continent. The fighting that is taking place there at the moment is bitter enough but it is confined to the Southern Republics, although we do not know for how long. Today's humanitarian intervention in the former Yugoslavia may he tomorrow's in the former Soviet Union.
The second type of problem is best illustrated by the situation in the Horn of Africa. A combination of endemic poverty and drought has led to the emergence of war-lords who are in reality no better than gangsters, terrorising the population and stealing a large fraction of the food supplies that are sent by way of humanitarian aid. The international community for long tried to ignore the basic problem but found that when it did embark on an aid programme the war-lords stymied it. In that situation military intervention became inevitable.
Again, there is no reason to imagine that such situations will just evaporate or that they will not recur in other parts of the world. But if we are discussing, as I believe we should, our "wider security interests", to use the words of the White Paper, we must ask ourselves whether our interest lies not just in being ready to commit British forces to UN or CSCE emergency disaster relief operations but in stepping up our aid and trade programme so as to alleviate problems, in so far as we can, before they pose a threat to security. The provision of aid to Russia, the promotion of trade with Eastern Europe, famine relief in Africa and elsewhere and the achievement of the Uruguay Round of GATT should be seen not just as desirable in their own right but as an integral part of our own security policy.
The pity of this White Paper is that it goes part of the way to recognising this but seems to draw hack at the last moment. It rightly draws attention to the British effort, under UN auspices, in peacekeeping 1265 and humanitarian operations but then on page 45 goes on specifically to state when discussing humanitarian and disaster relief:There is no specific defence objective in carrying out these tasks".Well there is, and we ought not only to understand this much more clearly than I think we do, but we ought to say so.
This is therefore, my first point of criticism of the White Paper—in fact, not even of the White Paper but of the whole slant of Government thinking on defence. The noble Viscount referred to the Maginot Line. I should prefer to liken the Ministry of Defence's mental construct to a tanker that takes a full 10 miles to alter course. It seems still to be determined by years of fighting the Cold War when, as the noble Viscount said, the enemy was plain and sitting in front of us. If for once Ministers recognised that our "wider security interests" embraced all the matters that I have mentioned, many defence questions would be posed in quite a different form, and the whole matter of expenditure on national security would be seen in a much wider and much more relevant context. If a fire can be prevented you do not need a fireman. Nobody can say that fires will not happen—that would be absurd—but should we not be thinking much more about preventive measures so as to save money on the fire-fighting force?
This leads me conveniently to my second theme, which is the level and disposition of our Armed Forces compared with our commitments. Here perhaps the White Paper has been more helpful in that it has provided us with a great deal more information and material than we have had previously. Again, I do not wish to discuss the detail of the costings that have been given. It would be barren to do so. As I said at the time of the publication of the Statement, figures are worth what they are worth. As the noble Viscount said, the allocations are worth what they are worth because when an unexpected situation arises—and these situations are always unexpected—the allocations may well have to change rather rapidly. I noted that the noble Viscount was reluctant to envisage two Falkland expeditions at the same time. 1 wonder whether we still have the capability of mounting one Falkland expedition. But out of this mass of information there seems to me to emerge three questions.
First, what is the Government's answer to the charge, made by those with much greater experience and expertise than I, that the Government figures just do not add up; that given the level of our commitments that we are undertaking we do not have either the men and women, or the weapons, to meet them? And I put the question in this manner because the analysis in Chapter 2 of the White Paper has quite clearly failed to silence the critics, who claim that "overstretch" is still with us. The Government must be prepared to lay that scepticism to rest or continue to face criticism.
Secondly, does the government analysis mean that we have abandoned any more than a token commitment to a UN-led military operation such as 1266 the Gulf War, given the large (and I say welcome) contribution to a variety of UN-sponsored peacekeeping operations, as well as our commitments elsewhere? Are we slipping in our commitment to remain at the forefront of major UN military operations as befits a permanent member of the Security Council? Am I alone in finding the passage on page 48, which describes our future commitment to the United Nations, as strangely muted?
Thirdly, are we satisfied that the commitment of 19,000 servicemen and women to Northern Ireland is paying maximum dividend? The question has been raised recently by a former Armed Forces Minister, and deserves an answer. The policy is to support the Royal Ulster Constabulary, but is that policy being carried out with maximum efficiency? After all, as the White Paper points out, this operation is now in its 24th year, and there is no sign of its ending. My question raises no issue of fundamental policy. Perhaps I make it quite clear, if there is any doubt on the matter, that I am in no sense advocating the withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland. It is simply a matter of whether our military effort is having its maximum desired effect.
I come now to the nuclear question. I read in the press that just before the publication of the White Paper, three pages were removed. Those pages dealt with nuclear policy. Whether or not that story is true, whether or not one can believe all that one reads in the press, there is no doubt that not just the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, but all of us were expecting an announcement that the nuclear-tipped Tactical Air-to-Surface Missile, known familiarly as TASM, which was to replace the RAF's WE-177 freefall bomb and be the main sub-strategic nuclear weapon, was to be scrapped.
The announcement never came, and we were told instead that the WE-177 bombs are miraculously now expected to last well into the next century. The supposition must now be that the Trident fleet will then take over the sub-strategic role. In that role Trident submarines could be loaded with single warhead missiles. Now the Government have admitted that Trident can perform this role adequately—its missiles are extremely accurate, as they would need to be in a limited strike. So why has the announcement not been made? And if Trident can do the job, why not make the announcement and start negotiations for a reciprocated withdrawal of all remaining WE-177 bombs and Russian nuclear bombs from Europe?
But there are further questions. What, in this case, does "sub-strategic" mean? Is it just another word for what we used to call "tactical" nuclear weapons? If so, how is the sub-strategic Trident to be deployed? After all, our nuclear forces are committed to NATO; what then is their role? And is it not the most likely sub-strategic role to be out of the NATO area? Secondly. what will happen to the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment, which will be unable to test future warhead designs if President Clinton maintains the extended moratorium on testing in Nevada, as we very much hope he will? Without a testing facility what happens to the design capability?
1267 The truth is that there is a nasty hole in the middle of this White Paper. We are no clearer—indeed if anything more confused—about what the Government's nuclear weapons policy really is. Of course, as the noble Viscount tells us, we shall have to await a further thrilling instalment in the autumn, and we must contain ourselves until the next chapter unfolds, and I look forward to that, but it does seem a fraction odd to issue a major White Paper of this importance and magnitude without a full and clear statement of what future the Government see for what is, after all, the ultimate cold war weapon. I fully understand that it may be right to maintain a nuclear deterrent, given that some day someone may well engage again in the dreadful game of nuclear bluff, but if that is the object of our nuclear effort, why on earth not say so and explain why and in what respect we have the right equipment for the job, assuming that we have?
The one really welcome statement in the White Paper is of the Government's objective to secure the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty when it comes up for review in 1995. We even note, with a certain amount of surprise, a less chilly attitude than in the past towards a comprehensive test ban treaty, though the cynics might say that that enthusiasm has more to do with the new Administration in Washington and the legal requirement on the United States' President to prepare a plan for such a treaty by 30th September 1996, which, by the way, the White Paper signally fails to welcome. As a fully paid-up member of the cynical tendency, I tend to take that view.
But those two expressions of enthusiasm, however limp, sit oddly with the Government's determination to equip Trident with 128 warheads as against the Polaris' 48—although the White Paper does say, rather coyly, that the exact number to be deployed, which may be less than that figure, will be decided nearer the time. If we are really serious about non-proliferation, should we not be setting an example ourselves by refraining from increasing our own strike capacity? It surely can make no sense in today's world to increase our nuclear firepower, and by so doing put at risk the extension of the non-proliferation treaty. That makes no sense at all.
In conclusion, I believe that the White Paper should be seen as a modest advance along what will undoubtedly be a long road, that of re-organising our defence effort to adjust to the realities of the post cold war era. Many more questions have to be asked about the meaning of security which could be avoided before, as the noble Viscount said, when the one overriding strategic objective was clear in all our minds. By all means let us have a peace dividend, but only after those questions have been fairly asked and the answers fairly given. I only hope that this Government have the will and the wisdom to do that.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords. we are grateful to the noble Viscount for explaining to us so clearly the Government's defence policy and we warmly endorse his tribute to our servicemen and women. We are 1268 grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, on these Benches for the content of his speech. These days, on the subject of defence, it is heartening to find so much common ground between the two Opposition parties. That was not always the case and I very much welcome that new development.
On these Benches we should like to associate ourselves in particular with the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, about the need to expand the concept of defence and, when planning to meet threats, to see the problem not just in the sense of military power but bringing in questions of aid, trade, diplomacy, politics and so on. That seems to us to be a most admirable concept which the noble Lord explained extremely convincingly and thoughtfully.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, did not go into the question of our future defence relationships with our allies, on which, on these Benches, we hold strong views. I have no doubt that in this debate, as in previous debates, we shall have passionate pleas from the Benches opposite and from the Cross-Benches, perhaps, for a grand defence role for Britain far exceeding the resources described in the White Paper and, in my view, far exceeding the capacity of the British economy. On these Benches we believe that it is quite impossible for Britain to maintain the capacity to deal with the likely range of threats. That can be done only by joint action through NATO and, increasingly, through a joint foreign and defence policy of the European Community. My noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter, who is to speak later in the debate, will deal with that subject.
In the White Paper we find a contrast between the decisions taken on conventional weapons and those taken on nuclear weapons. The decisions on conventional weapons show signs that the Ministry of Defence is indeed adjusting our conventional forces to the post-cold war world; whereas the decisions on nuclear weapons simply reinforce and reaffirm the status quo and might have appeared in any defence White Paper during the past 10 or even 20 years.
I shall start with conventional weapons. I was glad that the noble Viscount referred to two particular roles which have been reassessed by the Government; namely, the anti-submarine role in the Atlantic and in the Greenland gap and the role of air defence of the United Kingdom. The noble Viscount will recall that noble Lords from these Benches have asked the Government to reassess those roles in previous debates. It may be a little churlish now to ask why those changes were not made earlier. They would have made a good feature of the Options for Change document. However, the trouble with Options for Change, as has often been said from these Benches, was not its overall reductions: it was the way that those reductions fell far more heavily on the Army than on the Navy and the RAF. If the Government had been a little kinder at that time to the Army and had done what they have now done—that is, reassess the anti-submarine and the air defence role of the United Kingdom—it might have been a much better document and could perhaps have avoided some of the most powerful attacks upon it that were made particularly on the Benches opposite.
1269 We also especially welcome the reaffirmation in the White Paper of the Government's commitment to a strong amphibious capability. We also welcome the replacement of HMS "Fearless" and HMS "Intrepid", and the ordering of the new helicopter carrier. That reminds me that I should say something about the support version of EH 101. I see that there was an extremely long debate in another place yesterday morning during which the Minister gave a rather unsatisfactory reply, albeit that he was speaking at 4 a.m. in the morning. Nevertheless, when the noble Viscount replies, I ask him to try to reassure us that some decision will be taken soon on the EH 101. It is seven years now since the Government announced that they were assessing the project.
As for the amphibious capability, we feel that that is of great potential importance. It may well be needed by the United Nations for peacekeeping or peacemaking. We in Britain have a unique experience of seaborne air power and indeed of opposed landings. It could be a most important contribution to world peace in the years ahead.
In general, on conventional weapons, the White Paper shows a welcome increase in flexibility, in defence planning and in the structure of our conventional forces. It is the proper response to the fact that future threats look like being more numerous, more unpredictable and more likely to involve joint action with our allies.
However, it is when we turn to nuclear weapons that the serious doubts arise, some of which were most admirably put by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. I shall not follow the noble Lord on the question of the sub-strategic element. I hand the flag to him. We both agree that that is one of the weaknesses of the Government's policy. In fact, there are four major fields within which the Government's nuclear policy requires revision. First, there is the question of the firepower of the strategic deterrent; secondly, there is the question of the sub-strategic deterrent; thirdly, there is the negative attitude of the Government towards negotiations on the test ban treaty: and, finally, there are the breaches by the Government of the non-proliferation treaty. I should like to say a few words about each of those aspects.
I shall deal first with the point of Trident's firepower. The Soviet Union collapses, the Americans and Russians agree to slash their strategic nuclear weapons and they agree, as they have just done, to respect the anti-ballistic missile treaty, which means that the Russians have only got one around Moscow, which is probably not in operational condition. The Government take that moment of history to increase the firepower of Britain's strategic nuclear deterrent. We know that they have bought 44 Trident D5 missiles so far. If only 24 of those 44 missiles carried their full complement of eight warheads, that would be 192 warheads, which is what Polaris carries. Yet, 44 missiles are not enough for the Government. According to my best information, they are going to buy 20 or 30 more at £25 million to £35 million per missile. Why? We have never received an explanation. No serious scenario has been put before us for 1270 increasing at this time the firepower of our deterrent. We are not told by how much it will be increased. I ask the Government, why not? We know how many missiles and warheads the Americans and Russians have; they are necessary for verification. Why do the British Government keep the world in the dark about their plans for our strategic deterrent?
Once again, in his opening speech, the noble Viscount used the precious word "minimum". It is a minimum deterrent. Experience has taught me that all nuclear deterrents are minimum, but that some of them are more minimum than others. The Government propose a minimum deterrent which is more minimum than that which we have now. In fact, what is a "minimum deterrent"? It is the capability to inflict unacceptable damage on an adversary, or to threaten to do so. I believe that everyone agrees with that and has done so ever since nuclear planning and nuclear discussions began.
However, a single Polaris submarine has far more firepower than is necessary for a minimum deterrent. Ministers agree that, when they say that the Polaris deterrent is credible, they mean that the Polaris is capable of inflicting unacceptable damage on any adversary. It is more than capable of doing so. When we press the Government we receive only one answer; namely, that the new deterrent must be capable of penetrating the ABM defences of the Soviet Union. That is a fantastic idea.
Even if we accept the scenario of Russia attempting nuclear blackmail against us, Polaris does not have to fire at Moscow. Moscow is no longer the centre of a great empire. If it came to the point, Polaris could threaten unacceptable damage on other parts of the Soviet Union. That explanation will not hold water. Therefore, what is the explanation?
Politically, the situation is disastrous. We have been told again and again by the Foreign Office that we must take a lead in the non-proliferation treaty revision. Article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty commits us,to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures to end the arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament".That is what the treaty commits us to. The Foreign Office tells us we will play a leading part in negotiations with the non-nuclear countries on the non-proliferation treaty, but how can we do that effectively if we are in breach of the treaty ourselves? The matter has already been raised in the preparatory committee which is at present making arrangements for the great conference in 1995.
As if that were not enough, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams. explained, the Government are toying with the idea of strengthening our sub-strategic nuclear deterrent. I read that last week the Minister for Defence Procurement in another place said that so far £7 million has been spent on studies for strengthening our sub-strategic nuclear deterrent. No plausible explanation is given either as to why it needed strengthening or as to why we need a sub-strategic deterrent in any case. However, it is plain that the noble Viscount's patience with me is exhausted as 1271 regards this subject. I shall therefore hurry on to the third point I wish to make about the Government's nuclear weapons policy.
Before doing so, I should say that instead of strengthening our nuclear weaponry, the Government might give greater thought to the possibility of co-operation in nuclear fields with our allies, France and the United States. In the present international climate, the need to keep a Polaris submarine permanently on patrol begins to seem excessively cautious when the same patrolling is maintained by the French and the Americans. Surely, there is a case for co-operation here rather than increasing our nuclear weaponry.
In the preamble to the non-proliferation treaty signatories are urged to,seek to achieve the discontinuance of all test explosions of nuclear weapons for all time and to continue negotiations to this end".Once again the United Kingdom is the odd man out and falls behind. For many years, in spite of wide and strong international opposition, the British Government have refused to enter into negotiations for a test ban treaty. If further tests were needed for Trident, I would he the first to agree that we would have to try to provide them somehow or other because we support an independent deterrent. But those tests arc not needed for Trident. We have been told so unambiguously by Ministers. The noble Viscount himself has said so. What, then, do we need new tests for? Why were we lobbying in Washington a few months ago? We were lobbying not only against the Administration but also in Congress to persuade President Clinton to allow us to continue tests.
The reasons why we need future tests was stated by the noble Viscount himself last week. He said that,any subsequent tests that we might have made would he focused on preparedness for subsequent test bans and long-term safety assurance".—(0fficia Report, 19/17/93: col. 519.]That statement lacked the noble Viscount's usual clarity of expression. However, we are saved from having to decipher it by President Clinton who has made it perfectly clear that we cannot carry out any more tests even if we want to. Therefore, a new situation has arisen. Ignoring the pressure of Her Majesty's Government, President Clinton has extended his moratorium on testing and he and the Russians have committed themselves to entering negotiations for a universal, comprehensive ban on tests. We on these Benches warmly support that. We cannot understand why the Government do not also support it. When the noble Viscount replies to the debate and has his second bite at the cherry, will he say why the British Government oppose the American/Russian proposal for a comprehensive test ban? I understand that negotiations could begin in the autumn. The Government do not have much time to take what is surely the only sensible line. If one cannot do any more tests, for heaven's sake make sure no one else does them. That is only good sense.
In this, as in other aspects of nuclear weapons policy, there seems to be some strenuous in-fighting between the Foreign Office on the one hand and the Ministry of Defence on the other. The Foreign Office 1272 calls over and over again for positive British leadership, nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and for a comprehensive test ban treaty. The Ministry of Defence defies the non-proliferation treaty and calls for more nuclear firepower and more tests. It is time that Ministers got their act together. They have gone some way to adapting our conventional forces to the post-Cold War world: it is time they did the same for our nuclear forces.
§ 12.35 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, in rising to speak to the Government's Motion, I shall also address the Motion in my name on the Order Paper. The defence of' the realm, as the Minister said, is one of the most vital tasks of any government, yet this House has not debated the Defence Estimates since October 1991 and the Government's response to widespread concern about the widening gap between resources and commitments and the consequent strain upon our already overstretched Armed Forces has been bland and impermeable.
The Select Committees on Defence and Foreign Affairs in another place sees things differently. Their conclusions and the evidence on which they are based are disturbing. I commend to your Lordships three such reports—that of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on the expanding role of the United Nations and its implications for United Kingdom policy of 23rd June this year and the Defence Committee's reports of January and June respectively on Britain's Army for the 90s, and United Kingdom peacekeeping and intervention forces.
That admirable document Defending Our Future, much of which I welcome warmly, sets defence in the broader context of foreign policy but the theory does not seem to match the facts. With respect, like its predecessors, it is still a tactical and not a strategic document. Moreover, while the Government appear to believe that the Armed Forces, who are to execute the Government's policies, fully support the radical cuts which are being carried out, the conclusions of the Select Committees (quite apart from the anecdotal evidence which many of us in this House have received privately) indicate that the opposite is true. There is disquiet and loss of morale in the forces. Because they are traditionally precluded from any public comment, their silence is being taken for consent. This is why I have moved to resolve that there should in future be a regular opportunity to debate this vital issue.
As there are many other noble and noble and gallant Lords who wish to speak, who will deal with the UK's defences far better than I, I shall concentrate on the Russian scene. But before doing so I should like to make some brief quotations from the Select Committee reports that I have cited in support of my argument for regular debate.
I quote from the conclusions of the report on the Army of January 1993.Everything in the last three years leads to the bleak conclusion that the proposed rundown goes too far and that … even minor contingencies are imposing an unacceptable strain on the army".The report further states: 1273Changes in public expectations and in the strategic environment both point to a greater rather than lesser demand for armed forces capable of interventions over a wide spectrum of activities".It goes on:It is difficult to sec what more evidence on overstretch Ministers can require beyond that adduced in this report".And, in the context of the Allied Rapid Reaction Force, the report states:The drawbacks of double or even triple earmarking of forces are self-evident and are likely to become even clearer with the passage of time".The same report, discussing the effects of the shorter and shorter intervals between emergency tours on training and exercising, argues that if commitments are not reined in or resources augmented the Army will be left,permanently under-trained and degraded in its capacity for high intensity conflict".I was glad to hear the Minister's reassurance on that point. The committee believes that the Army can be expected to face such pressures on a constant basis in a future characterised by international instability and uncertainty.
The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, reporting on the expanding role of the United Nations, warns that any increase in military enforcement of UN resolutions will increase the cost. It says:The use of military protection for humanitarian operations may well increase and could have serious financial, logistical and manpower implications for the UK".This morning on the radio Mr. Cedric Thornberry, speaking from Bosnia, referred to the piling on of mandates by the Security Council and the dearth of resources.
Meanwhile, what of the strategic threat from Russia? Defending Our Future considers that:Although Russia remains the largest military power and maintains significant forces for its defence, its offensive capacity has dramatically reduced, personnel problems persist in its armed forces, equipment serviceability has deteriorated and its defence industry is in decline … at the same time we have made great progress in establishing mutual trust and co-operation with our former Warsaw Pact adversaries".However, it also quotes from Options for Change the conclusion, true in 1990 and still as true today, that:The peaceful intentions of successor governments could not he guaranteed".Finally, perhaps I may add two more quotations, this time from the United Kingdom peacekeeping report, already mentioned. The first is:The possibility of using the North Atlantic Co-operation Council, NACC [which is a part of NATO] as the basis for engaging Russia and other Warsaw Pact countries in future NATO commanded peacekeeping operations is under consideration".Secondly,The UK's position in the world owes much to its defence expertise, and to the level of national commitment to defence. The maintenance of that position is at risk if the UK does not respond to the international peacekeeping requirement on a scale commensurate with membership of the Security Council, let alone the legitimate demands of UK public opinion".There is clearly much to be said for establishing new relations with the Russians and for helping them to dismantle their obsolete and dangerous missiles and their chemical weapons. However, much of the initiative for getting inside NATO and turning it into 1274 a friendly neighbourhood club instead of an effective defence alliance has come from the Russians while we are being encouraged to believe that the initiative is ours. The KGB, the defence industrial complex and the nomenklatura are still in place, still deeply xenophobic and anti-Western. It is still in their interests to create the conviction in the minds of Western governments and of the United States that the Russian bear is now just a cuddly toy. Where there is no threat there is no need for the West to spend money on keeping up our guard. Thus we shall make irreversible cuts while they, naturally for their own defence, retain an army which is still the largest in Europe—a high-tech army, rid of its obsolete hardware and re-armed with sophisticated weapons, just as the 93 obsolete nuclear submarines have been dumped in the sea only to be replaced by a 10-year shipbuilding programme which has already built nine new nuclear submarines. Two new aircraft carriers are also near completion.
In short, the Russians are applying the old communist tactic of neutralising and destabilising the enemy by joining it—the Trojan horse technique. As the Americans see us and other members of NATO drastically reducing our forces while the Russians join every NATO body in sight, they will see every reason to withdraw from Europe. The Russians think long, and Kozyrev's reference recently in Munich to,a sort of partnership axis between Russia and Germanyand to Russia and Germany as the two greatest powers in Europe should make us think.
The Russians are skilfully using Germany to help advance their ambition of joining GATT and of securing, as they have, preferential tariffs for Russian goods in European markets. Chernomyrdin, the Russian Prime Minister, spoke on 18th July of:Germany's stand in promoting Russia's wider involvement in world trade and in European integration processes".In return, Russia is likely to support German membership of the Security Council.
Last week, Kokoshin, the deputy Defence Minister, signed a military co-operation agreement with Germany. There is to be close co-operation between the respective aviation and space industries, and training for Russian officers in Germany. The delegation was given access to the latest versions of the Tornado aircraft, including the version capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
Kozyrev, the Foreign Minister, said on 9th July that the G7 countries and Russia had discussed,changing Cocom into an instrument for carrying out international control on dual purpose high-tech exports".He explained that Russia had become an equal partner with the G7 nations and that establishing joint control on high-tech exports was wholly in Russia's interest as it was important that industrially advanced countries did not transfer nuclear technology to Russia's neighbours. Incidentally, that was one reason, apart from tempting larger contracts in the United States, which persuaded the Russians to hold back such technology transfer on cryogenic rockets as has not already been shipped to India. It is estimated that 75 per cent. has already been shipped. They have begun to realise that Scud missiles could be used against Tadjikistan by Afghanistan.
1275 Kozyrev argues that,it is in the interests of Russia and the G7 countries to change Cocom from an institution against Russia into a mechanism to ensure the joint action of Russia and the G7 countries".That is another classic case of neutralisation of a Western institution. Kozyrev spoke with satisfaction of Russia's success in securing the support of the G7 countries in the current disputes with the Baltic states on the Russian minorities. He said:If earlier the G7 countries had been inclined to extend support to the Baltic states, now their understanding of Moscow's stand is strengthening".All those moves can no doubt be perceived as stabilising Europe so long as the present regime continues in Russia, even though it is also leading to cynical manipulation by the Russians of the CSCE and of the Council of Europe, for instance by invoking human rights in their dispute with Estonia. But suppose that the Fascist Right in Germany and the chauvinistic and Fascist elements in Russia were to join forces. That would not make for a safer world, especially for the Visegrad countries.
The long-term effect seems to be the proliferation of Russian moves to neutralise NATO and penetrate the European Community and the WEU from within. As Khasbulatov puts it:Russia has already had a strong foreign policy, now absorbed into Western organisations and NATO structures".Meanwhile, although the proportion of defence budget spent on procurement has indeed gone down this year from 70 per cent. to 23 per cent., the Russian budget includes, in an important Appendix I (a list of protected items that are to be funded in full) all payments for weapons and military hardware. That excludes expenditure on nuclear-powered submarines and nuclear weapons as well as 78 million roubles for the Black Sea fleet.
It will be said that all those are perfectly proper moves for a country trying to re-establish its international power and influence. It is also argued that Russia and the CIS countries are in such disarray economically and politically that no serious threat exists. It is true that the defence industrial complex is dispersed throughout the former Soviet Union, that many such industries are monopolist, and that with the collapse of financial control and the legacy of a complex system of enterprise-to-enterprise debt, together with the difficulty for Russia of adjusting to the loss of much defence production sited in the Ukraine, there has been a serious fall in production and many millions of workers have been affected. It is true also that there has been widespread corruption and illegal sales of missiles and weaponry.
However, the links between the various defence enterprises are strong and Russophile, and there are already moves for Russia, Belarus and those central Asian states where the defence industry chiefly operates to come together to form some kind of economic and possibly political union.
The Russians are beginning to sell again. They have recently sold 18 MG29s to Malaysia, where they have also secured a contract to supply military hardware and training. Their exhibitions at Abu Dhabi and Paris have secured them over 1.5 million dollars of 1276 new orders for technical equipment. The 19 per cent. decline in defence output this year may soon be made up.
For Russia, according to the deputy Defence Minister, Kokoshin, in February:Military might will be among the main means of ensuring Russia's security and effective military power. The effectiveness of the nuclear forces and their reliability must be increased with high precision weapons with selective strike properties".He added that Russia needed military muscle with brains and that the policy of the government was to place larger orders for defence equipment for Russia's own forces to ensure the provision of the most modern weapons and to rid themselves of obsolete weapons. In July he spoke of an armaments programme up to 2010. Although that has been delayed by general economic problems, he expected a degree of growth when the position stabilised. Meanwhile, it was essential to increase allocations for research and development. In the same month extensive trials and exercises were carried out to test new weapons in order to specify a long term programme for arming the Russian army and navy up to 2005. With the sale of 28 MiG 29s to Hungary and the conclusion of military agreements with Bulgaria and Poland, as well as with Germany, the Russians are rebuilding their military links.
The two major factions in Russia, the reformists under Yeltsin and Kozyrev, and the opposition (largely right-wing, old guard nomenklatura and the KGB) share an imperialist or at least a greater Russian agenda. They differ only in the methods to be used. Kozyrev's method is to use the West, to emasculate NATO and to neutralise and penetrate Western institutions, and to secure, as has been done in a very short time, preferential tariffs for Russia, a market for Russian nuclear technology, and almost certainly an end to Cocom. They may even secure tacit Western acceptance for some kind of imperial Russian control over the Baltic states. The right wing is anti-Western, chauvinistic and resentful, but both sides support investing in new nuclear weapons, finding money for new sophisticated if smaller forces, and working to re-establish a greater Russia through dual citizenship and the re-establishment of KGB men in charge in the CIS countries, for instance the new Security Minister, Imranov, in Azerbaijan. New secrecy laws are being considered and, as one deputy said, "This law means the legalisation of the secret police. The system of political surveillance is repeating itself." The coup leaders have never been brought to trial, and the news from Russia as recently as last Saturday was that President Yeltsin had had to cut short his holiday to return to Moscow because of what was said to amount to a pre-coup situation, quite apart from the débâcle over the rouble.
A senior Security Ministry official has spoken of a plot being uncovered to frame members of Yeltsin's government with forged documents and accusations of corruption. "Their purpose", he said, "is to plunge the country into anarchy and chaos". The Russians are very good at destabilisation.
It is a war of nerves, but whichever group comes out on top I suggest that, sadly. it is too early to speak of 1277 that peace dividend which is being used to justify the irrevocable destruction of part at least of our Armed Forces. Should an unfriendly successor government appear in Russia, they could easily be in a position to constitute a threat to peace within a very few years. We need to remain strong enough to make a possible successor government think twice about, for instance, walking back into the Baltic states. If they could do that with impunity, it could be only a first step. They would never need to go to war.
The essential cornerstone of our defence policy must surely be the continued existence of NATO and the Atlantic alliance. That could fall for two inter-related reasons: American conviction that we and the other members of NATO are not prepared to invest in our own defence; and Russian action to neutralise NATO so that it unravels slowly and ceases to be a deterrent.
I argue only that in the words of Defending Our Future discussing Defence Role Two, alliance forces should be capable of complementing and reinforcing political action directed to a peaceful solution of any future conflict, and, failing that, to have the capacity to deter. We must surely retain enough force to do that. We cannot count on the Spitfires next time.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Lord Bramall
My Lords, perhaps I may start by congratulating the Minister on a readable and very well presented White Paper. Although there are some rather awkward cross references and a few false trails for the unwary, it is always interesting, to say nothing of ingenious, and I am sure that its helpful detail will add to a greater awareness of what is happening in the defence field. I applaud also the robust and appropriate statement of aims in the very first paragraph echoed so clearly by the noble Viscount in his speech.
However, in case the noble Viscount should run away with the idea that I have suddenly had a miraculous conversion on the road to your Lordships' House, I point out that White Papers, however good, are often just as significant for what they do not say as for what they do. Since much of the White Paper speaks for itself, and speaks well, in particular on the increasing significance of the WEU or something similar, the importance of a modernised NATO, and new developments in equipment, I believe that the best service I can give your Lordships' House is to try to point out where in contrast certain issues have been fudged, as inevitably they have; where serious military weaknesses remain and, rather naturally, have not been highlighted; and where the consequence of what has been done in the name of measured response and value for money may in future, if not corrected, be a matter of serious concern. Perhaps in so doing I may answer some of the questions posed by my one-time comrade in arms, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel.
I shall concentrate on four points and leave with confidence many other aspects of defence to my noble and gallant friends massed on this Bench. I first must deal with a certain sleight of hand employed in 1278 paragraphs 107 and 108 dealing with the improvement in the strategic setting. When Options for Change was launched three years ago, it was generally understood, and certainly defended as such, that it represented a proper and measured response to the radical changes which had been or were taking place in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, bringing about an absence of any major threat of Cold War proportions and of any likelihood of having at short notice to engage in intense conflict against anything as large and capable as Warsaw Pact forces. Instead it was argued that we could now rely on forces which were significantly smaller and at a lower state of readiness and therefore available for other tasks. Yet those are the very same arguments which are now being trotted out in the White Paper, as though they had somehow occurred after Options for Change, to justify still further cuts in our operational capability and thus allow us to confine our response, to what is now admitted to be added uncertainty and new commitments, to certain parts only of our force structure.
That is having your cake and eating it and compounds two basic fallacies of Options for Change. The first was that our original force levels in Germany ever had the strength and sustainability to engage the Warsaw Pact in prolonged operations. In fact, geared as they were to deterring aggression through the threat of quite early nuclear release, that sustainability was strictly limited. I shall not embarrass noble Lords by saying just how limited it was. The second was that there was not somehow a close linkage between the forces no longer required strictly to deter and our ability to react effectively in other conflict and manpower-intensive peacekeeping situations outside NATO and, of course. in Northern Ireland. Yet the two are closely connected, as the Gulf War showed.
Therefore, even if we accepted Options for Change hook, line and sinker, we would be very hard pressed to conjure up any sound military reasons for cutting our limited capability still further in this dangerous and uncertain world by reducing our financial resources by a further billion pounds for a start, and by taking away operational units such as air defence Tornados, a significant number of naval surface ships, reducing the frigates to a mere 70 per cent. of those which John Nott proposed but was unable to sustain in 1980–81, and four conventional submarines, so particularly useful, unlike nuclear submarines, for operating in shallow waters such as the Gulf.
My second point is that one would hardly find a single professional who is not now adamant that the Army manpower ceiling allowed for in the current White Paper will be insufficient to man and sustain the number of units for which provision has to be made even after 1997 when the Hong Kong garrison closes, with a shortfall of perhaps as many as 6,000 men.
To noble Lords who imagine that the newly quoted figure of 119,000–107,000 trained men—will go some way to alleviate the problem, I point out that that is only a temporary relief, and that by 1997 the figure will be back to its original 116,000, or 104,000 trained men, even though it was already agreed, when we were still talking about 38 battalions, that 104,000 would be maintained even after the Hong Kong rundown. 1279 Therefore now we have four battalions—two at the time of Options. for Change, and two recently—which have been reintroduced into the order of battle without sufficient men to support them, let alone to enhance the inadequate peacetime establishments of all combat arms which, designed as they were for sizeable reinforcement on mobilisation, have proved themselves unsuitable for run-of-the-mill emergencies without a massive robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul exercise and an indescribable mixture of cap badges.
The ultimate manpower ceiling is, therefore, critical. Unless it is improved upon more permanently, recruiting has to be capped to keep within it, as it already has been: the wrong people are made redundant, and as night follows day, we will end up, even after the drawdown, which is now being likened to the arrival in the promised land, with all units, not just the infantry, as inadequately established and weakly-manned as they were at the start of the restructuring. The excessive hours in bad conditions which the Secretary of State himself has admitted our troops are currently experiencing will, unless the situation in Northern Ireland is transformed—whatever the optimism of the noble Viscount—continue indefinitely, with serious repercussions on morale and particularly training. That has been mentioned and I am reliably informed that training is already suffering very badly at formation level. Without the help of the Brigade of Gurkhas, not only from the UK, but being brought the whole way from Hong Kong, to take on emergency duties, the infantry arms plot would be in an indescribable mess.
So much for "smaller and better". We are not even trying to alleviate those pressures, and the noble Viscount will understand completely what I mean. We are not trying to alleviate them by a more positive and comprehensive policy for the use of our reserves, which themselves are under threat, although they have much to offer, both to the regulars and to the fabric of the nation, or by a much more economical and flexible organisation for our infantry and its regimental system.
My third criticism is equally serious and it concerns the sustainability of our operational capability. As many noble Lords will have appreciated from what I have already said, when we deployed to confront the Warsaw Pact, we were able quite justifiably to get away with a "Cheshire cat" defence policy. That is to say, on mobilisation, a credible front line in men (after reinforcement by reserves) and equipment, but not much in terms of logistic support and war maintenance reserves, to give it sustainability. There was only the imminent threat of nuclear weapons to confront the would-be aggressor with an unacceptable option.
But such sustainability as there was, was spread over three-plus divisions. That meant that when we needed to put a much smaller force into the field in the Gulf, we were able, by spreading the net wide, cannibalising other equipment and, if necessary, as in the Gulf, virtually grounding the whole of the Rhine Army, to sustain it for a reasonably realistic time.
Now, with the strength of our forces in Germany reduced by about 40 per cent. and the Army's total 1280 strength reduced by nearly one-third, and with no improvement in the scale of our logistic support and war maintenance reserves, we will, in one or two years, have no sustainable operational capability to speak of. By that, I mean being able to field a brigade or more for a month or more. I am not worried about two Falklands at the same time, but, as has been said, we are worried about any operation for any length of time anywhere.
That prospect, too, is generally recognised by professionals and it has been one reason, I believe, among many others, for our very hesitant attitude towards any extension of operations in Bosnia, either humanitarian or the protecting of safe havens. I personally believe that that should have been accepted and undertaken by the United Nations.
Without a proper increase in our manpower ceiling and some extra resources, or at least fewer cuts to those resources in the future, for ammunition, spare parts and other logistic backing, our operational intervention capability will get steadily worse until it becomes virtually non-existent, whatever the ARRC may look like on paper. If that is what we want, we should have the courage to say so. Indeed, those of us who understand well enough the financial pressures would warm far more to Ministers if they were to acknowledge that at the moment, by saying "We're not doing all we ought to, but until we get public expenditure under control, there is no more money and we're being forced to take calculated risks". What is particularly galling is when the whole of our defence effort is represented as a perfectly measured response and in the very best interests of the defence of the realm and the Armed Forces of the Crown. At least I think we have a right to expect, as the economy improves—as we are told it will—some increase in resources, and perhaps even an uplift in the very low 3.2 per cent. of the gross national product which is forecast. In the past, of course, our insurance premiums have been somewhere nearer 5 per cent.
That brings me to my final criticism, for which I hold the Government particularly to blame. I refer to the machinery they have created within the Ministry of Defence for managing our defence affairs. Having myself been closely associated with defence organisa-tion since the era of Lord Mountbatten, I have always been convinced that policy should be properly and effectively centralised. But the day-to-day management (and this applies equally to any large business or organisation, but particularly to the services whose needs in men and equipment are very different, as is the environment in which they often have to operate) should be decentralised under proper professional boards or their executive committees.
Yet the much-boasted-about—and the noble Viscount has been boasting about it—new management strategy has changed all that. Under the guise of financial devolution to functional commands and defence agencies (which by itself would he highly desirable, if only the Treasury had allowed account-holders flexibility to move money between Votes to achieve greater efficiency) the management of all three services is now, to all practical purposes, also 1281 highly centralised with the account-holders answerable for overspend and underspend, not to the boards but direct to the central office of management and budget and, through that, to the Treasury. That has effectively bypassed the service boards whose chief executives, the Chiefs of Staff, have no financial budget of their own whatever, thus greatly reducing their influence.
Of course the Civil Service has an important and distinguished part to play and I admit that all this started with the Heseltine reforms for greater centralisation, when I myself was Chief of Defence Staff. But at that time the Chiefs of Staff fought hard for, and obtained, certain assurances and safeguards which made the arrangements perfectly acceptable and practicable, at least in peacetime. Those have now been swept aside and the power has swung disproportionately to the accountants, as in so many other things in this world. That may be a good way of counting the pennies and responding docilely to the Treasury's continual pressure and demands, but it is not the right way to organise and train and, to quote the White Paper's own title, "to defend" our future. We merely make an unsatisfactory situation worse. Indeed, there is a real risk that with the active help of the new management strategy we will not only get the Armed Forces that the Treasury are prepared to pay for, but those in size and shape which the Treasury, in its wisdom, thinks is appropriate. That is very different from the days when my noble and gallant friend Lord Carver was chairing the Chiefs of Staff and established a critical level below which defence resources could not be allowed to fall. If my memory serves me right, the financial background was equally serious, if not more serious in those days.
As regards resources, the Government may not have been a free agent. On the matter of the organisation of their own department, however, they could have been, had they only flexed their muscles. By not doing so, they failed to appreciate as much as they should the strength of the human factor in managing armed and disciplined services. I only hope that they will not make the same mistake with the police.
Each service, like any other team, will only give of' its best if properly led by captains in whom it has trust and confidence. As noble Lords with considerable experience of their own know well, in war and combat confidence is everything. Indeed, there have been times when, if it had not been for the leadership of the chiefs and others, as professional heads of their services, much of that confidence would have been dissipated. It could not, over the years, have survived the constant salami-slicing of expenditure, the counterproductive contracts moratoria, the savage reduction in training activity and the never-ending administrative cheese-paring and reduction of operational reserves.
It has been the chiefs and other professional commanders, not a posse of managers and accountants, who have kept up confidence and maintained morale and made successes like San Carlos Bay. Goose Green, Tumbledown and the Gulf 1282 possible. But it has often been a close run thing. The chiefs and the expertise of their naval, general and air staffs must not therefore he allowed to wither on the vine through over-pruning of their responsibilities in favour of a virtually wholly bureaucratic central organisation which isolates them from the mainstream of defence policy.
Despite the political nature of military operations at the end of the 20th century, depth of realism and professional expertise are still vital when conflict looms or could loom. Civil servants working primarily in the interests of expediency and balancing the Treasury books must not be allowed to take over completely from the doers. Otherwise, we are storing up for ourselves dire trouble in an uncertain future.
In view of all those things and many other related matters, I endorse and support every word of the Motion tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Park, at a very timely moment.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, there will be many who agree with me that the House has just heard a most remarkable speech. Everything said by the noble and gallant Lord—the Field Marshal, as many of us still think of him—has been clearly visible to those outside the military establishment, like myself, who have no particular knowledge. It is good indeed that it has been said here with such characteristic four-square, forthright eloquence. It is not the first time that the noble and gallant Lord has said such things. I believe that if ever an indignity were to befall our Armed Forces, these speeches of his would be remembered as part of the heritage of this country. Stronger than that I cannot say.
I entirely support the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and the extension of it proposed by my noble friend Lord Williams. Listening to the noble Baroness's account of the new Russia, I wondered when she would come to the natural conclusion, as it seemed to me, and say why our Government and other Western Governments were spending so many billions on helping the Russians to privatise their industry, thereby liberating the few funds that they have to permit the continuation of their arms construction programmes. However, she did not do so; and there we are.
I want this afternoon to add some supplementary points about the non-proliferation treaty to what has already been said by my noble friend Lord Williams and the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. The shape, size and cost of our Armed Forces must always depend on the military facts of the world as a whole. Thus, at present our Armed Forces contain a very powerful nuclear element and our defence expenditure is shaped by the existence of that element. Our main hope of a safer world, and thus not only of defence savings but even of holding down defence spending, must therefore rest on the reaffirmation and prolongation of the non-proliferation treaty.
Therefore, let us ask three questions. Why did nuclear proliferation first happen? Why is it still happening? And is it something that we can prevent?
1283 The Government are in a cleft-stick in approaching those questions. Their argument in favour of non-proliferation has to be "Do as we say and not as we do". But the United States is in a worse cleft-stick —a three-way one. Its argument has to be "Do as we say and not as we do, and above all not as we allow Israel to do".
I trust that those within the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence who are preparing for the NPT review conference have read Margaret Gowing's great official histories of Britain and the development of nuclear weapons. If so, they will know why we, the British, in 1945 became the first proliferators.
President Truman was persuaded by his advisers to repudiate President Roosevelt's signed and solemn undertakings to Prime Minister Churchill about Anglo-American nuclear weapons co-operation in the post-war period. The new American view was that the United States should have and maintain a nuclear weapons monopoly, despite those agreements and despite the critical contribution of British-based scientists to the wartime effort from which nuclear weapons emerged in 1945. Truman reneged on that. So our Labour Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, started up Harwell. Attlee and his Foreign Secretary Bevin had been made sharply aware that the United States' position wasin Attlee's words—"not awfully clear always", and that in the new world of nuclear weapons we had better have our own.
That remains our doctrine but, perhaps partly because Prime Minister Thatcher did not know the history, it is no longer our practice. Our "independent nuclear weapons" are now virtually under United States' control. It is notable that even the various privatisations related to British nuclear weapons have gone to the subsidiary of an American owned firm.
The French logic was the same as the British: better have one's own nuclear weapons—but they have stayed with independence. The Chinese logic was also the same as ours. They found equal reason to mistrust their principal ally, the Russians. In 1963 came the partial test ban—an attempt by the then nuclear weapon powers to stop the "little people" from getting nuclear weapons. It was also a good clean air Bill.
Then followed the days when Robert MacNamara, the United States Secretary for Defense, was trying to get us, the British and the French, to give up our inconvenient and untidy little nuclear forces. He was horrified when Prime Minister Macmillan persuaded President Kennedy to hand Polaris missiles over to this country when certain other missiles failed in development. The non-proliferation treaty itself was an attempt by us—the superpower "haves" and their hangers on—to use the procedures of an international treaty to prevent others doing what we had done and getting what we had got.
There were always two strands in the NPT negotiations: that agreed in advance between the two antagonistic superpowers—the United States (with the UK tagging along) and the Soviet Union—which protected their own duopoly; and that promoted by the non-nuclear powers. They wanted to control all nuclear proliferation: the so-called vertical proliferation of the nuclear weapon powers as well as the 1284 horizontal proliferation of the others. What they proposed was a network agreement which would control all the several aspects of nuclear proliferation.
Our officials ought also to study those negotiations, now 30 years in the past. The non-nuclear powers understood the real and permanent political problem of proliferation better than the Americans or the Russians at that time, and now. Claims to monopoly are always offensive and in the long run cannot succeed as law. International law cannot by its nature embody monopoly claims.
The Americans and Russians did not listen in those days to the non-nuclear powers. Their so-called "naked" NPT was what got signed by some, but it was not signed by most of the nuclear weapon capable powers, nor at the time by either the Chinese or the French. The Chinese and the French have now signed, but they remain worried about the treaty's imbalance. Thus, in practice "Do as we say and not as we do" has failed, and so has "Do as we say and not as we do, and not even as we allow Israel to do".
If the NPT review conference is to succeed, which must he the purpose of all parties in our Parliament, and if nuclear and other proliferation is to be halted, this country, and the US even more, will have to look at reality. There is no future in illusion and the cultivation of illusion.
India developed a nuclear weapon programme in response to China's programme, and refuses to sign the NPT as it is. The United States has just prevented Russia selling to India certain technologies that it believes tends towards proliferation. The Indian Government themselves will therefore develop them.
Pakistan developed a nuclear weapon programme in response to India's programme. The United States ignored Pakistan's nuclear activities while Pakistani collaboration was useful in the Afghan war. Israel has long had a nuclear weapon programme to deter attack from its unreconciled neighbours, if ever it should be abandoned by the United States. The United States has long silently accepted this and has actively collaborated with, and usually funded, this and every other aspect of Israel's military production, including missiles. The nuclear funding has been tolerated by individual Americans rather than by the Government. Israel's nuclear weapons are the font and origin of proliferation in the Middle East.
Iraq developed a nuclear programme in response to Israel's. There was very little international objection to Israel's attack on the Iraqi nuclear facility in 1981. Iraqi nuclear efforts were then ignored when the West supported Iraq during the Iran Iraq war. Then, during and after Desert Storm, the United States showed the strongest objection to those nuclear weapons and has unilaterally attempted more physical destruction of Iraq than the United Nations itself had ever contemplated.
Iran's nuclear programme also developed in response to Israel's and to active American hostility (the destruction of the Airbus etc.). Suitable missiles are still available internationally despite all regimes and covenants.
1285 South Africa's programme and warheads are supposedly dismantled. Let us hope that that is true. Presumably they were tolerated by the United States until the prospect of black democracy arose.
North Korea's nuclear programme, such as it is, has developed in response to US nuclear weapons formerly in South Korea; in response to US refusal now to allow verification of their removal; in response to insistence by the US on conducting its nuclear-capable Team Spirit exercises in South Korea and around both Koreas; and lastly in response to the fact that the South Korean armed forces themselves have now for 40 years been under direct US command. United States threats of a unilateral attack on nuclear facilities in North Korea have been the subject of objection or protest by China, South Korea and Japan; but diplomatic negotiations triggered by China may now be succeeding.
The Ukraine inherited nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union. Russia has claimed them and wished to control them until they are destroyed under various treaties. Short-range nuclear weapons were sent to Russia and there were disputes over payments and so on. Yeltsin's Russia has been claiming sphere-ofinterest rights in ex-Soviet countries. Apparently it even hopes for UN backing similar to that which the US has obtained for its interventions in Somalia and Iraq.
Japan is a signatory of the NPT but is amassing large quantities of material that could be used to make nuclear weapons; and of course all the other technologies are available. Certain words used during the recent Group of Seven meeting seemed to be distancing Japan from any "unconditional" support of the NPT; and if the US were to goad North Korea into producing nuclear weapons, the results would be far-reaching.
The interest of the world's arms makers must not be omitted from this list: they benefit from threats and counter-threats, fears and counter-fears. Proliferation, not excluding nuclear proliferation, is their friend.
Clearly this is a dispiriting picture. I return to the three questions that I began with. Why does nuclear proliferation happen? It happens because of realistically perceived threats which nuclear weapons can nullify. Israel's fears are not unreasonable; nor are Iran's; nor were India's; nor those of Pakistan or any of the other countries, except possibly those of South Africa.
Why is it still happening? It is still happening because it is still not unreasonable.
Is it still something to prevent? All armaments and arms races are something to prevent. But the new United States' doctrine of rapid, virtually unilateral intervention with powerful weapons, together with the hunger of the arms industries, promotes the spread of weapons of all kinds, including nuclear weapons. Can it be prevented? Not unless there is indeed a New World Order in which international law applies to all and is accepted by all. The non-proliferation treaty cannot be imposed and prolonged by strength. It can prevail only when all states without exception 1286 understand that their problems are simply the problems of one state among the others. To believe anything else is to make oneself part of the problem.
But when the non-proliferation treaty does prevail, why then, what different defence White Papers we shall be debating.
§ 1.25 p.m.
§ Lord Colnbrook
My Lords, since the list of noble Lords wishing to speak in this debate contains more names than there are to be destroyers or frigates in the Royal Navy, I think I had better be fairly short and confine myself to making just two or three comments about the defence White Paper. I start by joining those who congratulated my noble friend and the Government on the presentation in the White Paper.
For a long time many of us have been concerned that the defence White Paper did not make an attempt to match the commitments and resources and explain how the whole policy was worked out. This one does. It certainly does not indicate much reduction in the number of commitments. I am not talking about real wars such as the Falklands or the Gulf but about our commitments to the United Nations, not to mention our commitment of troops to Northern Ireland, which is at a level that places great strain on the Army. Indeed, it is a good deal higher than when I was there. Britain has commitments all over the world.
Figure 1 on pages 12 and 13 shows that our forces are stretched all over the world, in 34 different countries and oceans. They are not getting any less. It is helpful of the Government to try to match the two.
I then turn to Table 3 on page 22, to which my noble friend and others referred, on the requirement for each defence role. It is not very difficult to follow. There are two columns for each of the defence roles. The column headed "T" shows what apparently is needed to fill that defence role, and there is another column which we shall leave just for a moment. That seems a good idea. If I may say so, there are some extraordinary things in it.
Perhaps I may direct my noble friend's attention to the table. If he looks about a third of the way down, under Defence Role 1, which is the protection of the United Kingdom, he will find that the requirement for armoured and reconnaissance regiments is apparently 4.99. 1 could understand if it were 5, but will my noble friend be good enough to tell me what 0.01 of an armoured regiment is? Presumably it is about three soldiers. One could go on. If one looks two or three lines further down at engineer regiments under Defence Role 2, which is the major one—namely. the great attack on NATO—we see the figure 17.43. I could understand 17½ I could even understand 17⅓ or possibly just with a stretch of the imagination 17⅖ but 17.43? No, no, please, my Lords. If such figures appear here, it must, I am afraid, cast doubt on what they really mean.
I am sorry to have to say that that doubt is increased in this way. One looks at the number of units required. I look at the first two, partly because they come at the top and partly because I was in the Navy. I see that for Defence Role 2, the major problem, we need three aircraft carriers. That is all right; we 1287 happen to have three. We need 35 destroyers and frigates. Yes, that is also what we are having. So we continue down the list. I have not done the same for the Army and the Air Force contributions, hut I dare say that the figures are much the same.
I am sorry to have to say that in response to these figures a suspicion comes into one's mind that this is not a real matching of resources to commitments. I honestly find difficulty in believing that NATO chiefs sit down and work out what they need to fill Role 2, which is an attack upon NATO, ask us to supply what they need and we say, "Yes, we will". It is the other way round. My noble friend and his colleagues do battle with the Treasury; they lose, and then they have to go to NATO and say, "It doesn't matter what you say you want. This is what you are going to get". That is a suspicion I have and I know it is fairly widely felt. If at the end of the debate my noble friend can tell me I am wrong, I shall he more than delighted.
The other point f want to make relates to something that does not appear in Table 3. I make no apology for referring to this because I have done it many times before and I have a nasty feeling that I shall have to do it many times again. Table 3, about the force structure, makes no reference to the fourth arm of defence—the Merchant Navy. The only mention the Merchant Navy gets is in two tiny paragraphs on page 82; paragraphs 723 and 724. The depressing thing to me is that those paragraphs are word for word what has appeared in every White Paper for years and years: that there are still sufficient vessels on the British Registers for defence purposes, and that no special measures are required at present.
I have referred to this matter for a long time. I made this point in my first speech on defence in your Lordships' House in 1988, because exactly the same thing was said in 1988 as is being said in 1993, regardless of the fact that in those five years the Merchant Navy has reduced in size by a terrifying amount. We all know that, whereas each White Paper says that there are enough merchant ships. when we need to take troops anywhere to meet an emergency there are not. We have to borrow them or hire them from someone else.
I should like to draw my noble friend's attention to a debate, which he may not have seen because he did not take part in it, which took place in your Lordships' House on 28th April at the instigation of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, about the Merchant Navy. In that debate speeches were made which he might find interesting. I do not suggest that he should particularly read my speech save only for the quotation in it of a speech made by our late colleague, Lord Fieldhouse, two years ago in June 1991, when he, who ought to know, said:The number of British manned ships sailing under the British flag and available for defence purposes is now at a critical level and may already he too few. We ignore this situation at our peril".—[Official Report, 28/4/93; col. 389.]When Lord Fieldhouse said that, there were around 480 ships available. There are now fewer than 390 available. I hope that my noble friend will address this problem with his colleagues, because without the Merchant Navy it is impossible either to project our 1288 force or to maintain it when we have projected it. It is essential that we have that ability if our influence is to remain.
My conclusion about the White Paper is that, while it is a refreshing document and while I know that the Government have done their best to justify what we are doing in the defence field, it indicates that there is a significant risk. It is not a risk to the integrity of our shores. The break-up of the Soviet Union enormously reduces that risk. I tend to agree with those who say that, as we stand here today, that risk barely exists. The risk I am talking about is twofold: first, to the effectiveness of our forces. The fewer we have, and the more we make them do, the less attractive do the armed services appear to people as a career. We pride ourselves, and always have, on the knowledge that our forces, although small, are highly efficient and more than a match for anyone else. But if the burdens of service become too severe and too onerous, the right people will not join; and what is even more important, if they do join they will not stay, which brings up the second risk already mentioned by my noble friend Lady Park.
If we have fewer and fewer forces, and if their effectiveness declines—I hope it does not, but it may do—our ability to influence events and promote peace in the world will diminish too. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, discussed the possibility of our losing our place on the Security Council. I do not think that that will happen, but that influence is something that we treasure and it is an influence, I believe, for the great good of the world. But those are the risks that might come about. Are they acceptable risks? I suppose, just on balance, that they are today, but if my noble friend and his colleagues succumb to further pressure from the Treasury, I shall not be so sure.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Lord Carver
My Lords, I was as bemused as the noble Lord, Lord Colnhrook, was by the entries in some of the tables and in particular to find, in table 6 on page 25, 12 regular infantry battalions under "Nuclear Deterrent". But I assume that they are the new sub-strategic force. I do not intend to go further down that line. I intend to confine my remarks to the area covered by the inset at the end of chapter I under the heading "Recent Developments in International Security". It deals with NATO, the United Nations, WEU and CSCE. I regret that no distinction is made in the paper—nor did the noble Viscount make it—between the North Atlantic Alliance, of which France is a full member, as also is Iceland, and NATO, the military organisation with its American-dominated command structure, from which, by their own will, those two countries are excluded.
Events in what was Yugoslavia, since we last discussed a defence White Paper nearly two years ago, have, I believe, taught us a few lessons about how European security should, or should not, in future be organised and conducted. Once the Maastricht Treaty has been ratified, the so-called European Union which it will create will have to address more seriously how 1289 to develop what is called a "defence identity". It was agreed at Maastricht, as the paper states, that WEU would,be developed simultaneously as the defence component of the European Union and as a means to strengthen the European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance".The paper goes on to enlarge on ways in which it is developing, stating that:The United Kingdom continues to play a full part in the development of WEU's operational capability and in the work of its Planning Cell in Brussels".But there is a blanket of fog over what operations both WEU and NATO should plan for and have a capability to conduct, and which organisation should he responsible for what.
The defence White Paper's approach appears to be that all organisations—WEU, NATO, the United Nations and CSCE—should be capable of planning and doing everything, and that the answer lies in "transparency": that is, that everybody should be a member of everything, and that every organisation should let every other one know what it is doing—a recipe for confusion and conglomeration of committees. Transparency usually means something you can see through. I can see through it, and that it is a hopeless muddle, with no clear idea where we are going.
What has Yugoslavia taught us in this field? First, that the United Nations must be involved. It is the only organisation which can, in however limited a fashion, be regarded as impartial, which can claim to represent international public opinion, and which can, in the last resort, confer legitimacy on the use of armed force. It was a mistake to envisage, as many did, a European organisation which would act within Europe independently of the United Nations.
The second lesson is that the CSCE, although it has done, and continues to do, good work, can neither take the place of the UN nor act as an executive body in the field of either policy-making or executive action.
The third is that the North Atlantic Alliance, and certainly its military organisation NATO, is not a suitable political or military organisation through which to decide policy or implement action in a situation in which it is not appropriate for the United States of America to play the major part, or in which the American Government do not wish to do so. Finally, it is urgent that Western Europe, which must include France, should develop methods of arriving at a common politico-military policy and of implementing it on a common basis, if necessary by the use of armed force.
What are the threats against which a European organisation must try and provide security? They are, first, that posed by the very large forces to which the noble Baroness, Lady Park, has referred, and particularly nuclear forces which still remain within what was the Soviet Union, primarily, as far as Europe is concerned, in Russia and the Ukraine; and secondly, the threat to European interests and some of its territory, from outside, primarily from the Middle East and North Africa.
There are many potential threats to security within Europe itself, almost all having their origins in ancient 1290 historic rivalries, but some likely to arise from the movement of populations caused by those rivalries or by demographic or environmental changes.
I believe that we need to clear our minds as to who should do what; and having done so, try to move governments and institutions in the direction in which that process points. First, I am convinced that as long as the ex-states of the Soviet Union have nuclear weapons, the North Atlantic alliance must be kept in being; the balance to those weapons being provided by the USA, which should also be the prime-mover in negotiations to reduce their number as far as possible. I do not think that the permanent presence of US forces on land in Europe is necessary for that. I believe that that, and the number of them, will depend on the extent to which, once former Soviet troops have left East Germany, (as they are due to do next year) the conventional forces of Russia, the Ukraine and Belorus appear to pose a threat to their western neighbours.
I believe also that the presence of the US sixth fleet in the Mediterranean provides a strong counterbalance to the threat to European security from the Middle East and North Africa. I do not believe that an integrated command organisation, dominated by the United States, is required for any of those purposes.
I therefore advocate a return to the original concept of the North Atlantic alliance, at least as it was seen in American eyes in 1949: that is an alliance by which the USA and Canada would support, particularly by the ultimate backing of nuclear weapons, an integrated European defence effort. It was only later, when events in the Far East and Europe convinced the Americans that they must become committed to stationing their forces in Europe, that they agreed to an integrated command structure, while insisting that it must be dominated by them; the organisation's two supreme commanders being respectively the Commander-in-Chief of US forces in Europe and the C-in-C of the US Atlantic fleet. That is still the case, but it is not appropriate today and certainly not for the future. It has the undesirable effect of—by their own choice I admit—excluding the French.
I therefore suggest the abolition of NATO (that is the military organisation) but the retention of the North Atlantic alliance which would have three principal functions: first, to support the defence of Europe west of the frontiers of Russia, Belorus and the Ukraine, by balancing their nuclear weapon potential and helping to balance, if necessary, the conventional threat they pose to their neighbours; secondly, to support the countries of southern Europe by the presence of a fleet in the Mediterranean; and, thirdly, as a forum for consultation for co-operation in the support of common interests worldwide. If any of those involve the employment of European forces, either on an integrated or a national basis, with US forces, the former should accept that the United States would exercise operational command. That was the case in Korea and in the Gulf, and in reality it would also have been the case if NATO had ever commanded an operation—which it never has—whatever the window-dressing about integrated command.
1291 In that context what sort of security organisation or defence identity should Europe aim for? We must not forget that the European Community already provides security to its members in that it is not only inconceivable that any of its members should fight each other, but that it would in practice be very difficult for them to do so. Nor must we forget that the Community is due for enlargement. The larger the Community, the less appropriate would be some form of integrated military set-up to train, and possibly command in operations, the forces of all its members, particularly as the next four applicants are so-called neutrals, whatever that may mean in present circumstances. Although I accept that it is desirable that all members of the Community or Union, or whatever it is to be called, should accept the same obligations, I foresee considerable difficulty in insisting on that in the defence field.
I believe that the future Union needs a two-tier security system. At its heart it needs a more or less integrated element which must include Britain, France and Germany and should also embrace, I hope, at least the Benelux countries and Italy. It should establish a command organisation which would train the forces of its members together, standardise their procedures and equipment, and be capable of commanding them in operations as well as commanding the forces of any other members of the Union who chose to participate. It should also have an integrated arms procurement agency. The forces of other members could be associated, permanently or temporarily, with that central core to the degree that that particular nation wished. As with NATO, forces would remain under national command until placed under the integrated command for a specific operation. It would be desirable that all members of the Union should be members of the North Atlantic alliance, whose guarantee that an attack on any one member would be regarded as an attack on all would then certainly have to he modified.
CSCE should not aspire to be an organisation which involves the use of armed forces. It should continue its good work aimed at the prevention of armed conflict by the establishment of confidence-building measures and procedures to resolve conflict; by the encouragement of discussion between neighbouring nations as to how to reduce the threat they appear to pose to each other; by furthering and monitoring arms control measures to give effect to that; and by providing an arbitration and mediation service. In these fields it would be acting as a regional agent of the United Nations, but would not itself employ armed forces. If the organisation, or any of its members, felt the need for armed forces in a peacekeeping or any other role, it should request the UN Security Council to provide and control them.
I see no need to change the role of the United Nations itself. I am very chary of involving it in peace enforcement rather than peacekeeping, as I am of providing it with a permanent standby force. Apart from other considerations, I fear that it would encourage the Security Council to dispatch a force, as a result of media or public pressure, when that was not 1292 necessarily the right solution at the time. I endorse the comments made on this subject in the inset on page 48 of the paper.
The future of our own Armed Forces can only be considered sensibly in the light of the future of the defence and security of Europe as a whole. There is an urgent need to chart the way forward for that. With the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty in prospect, that must be taken in hand and, as in other aspects of European affairs, Britain must try to take the lead and not just hang about waiting for something to turn up or hang on to her American nurse for fear of meeting something worse.
In commenting on previous defence White Papers, I have said that I regarded Options for Change as a sensible interim solution, but that when the future of the ex-Soviet Union became clearer we must be prepared for radically different solutions; and that our Armed Forces should take advantage of the interval to adapt themselves more readily to change.
In this paper I see little evidence either of forward thinking about European security generally or of preparing the Armed Forces better for change, except perhaps in the radical reorganisation of the Army's supporting services. I am afraid that a more appropriate title for the paper instead of Defending our Future would he Defending our Past.
§ 1.49 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming this debate. The defence of the realm is a subject of such importance that Parliament should debate it regularly. It is unfortunate that we appear to be in the realms of government by public opinion poll rather than government with a view to meeting the essential requirements. Therefore, I welcome the Motion that has been tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth.
The fact that so many noble Lords wish to speak today demonstrates the importance which your Lordships' House attaches to the subject of defence. We have heard some very interesting contributions so far and I am sure that we shall hear some equally important speeches as the debate continues. I hope to keep my remarks brief and wish to refer to only three elements of the defence situation.
The first is the problem which the world in general —and this country in particular—faces through the spread of weapons of all sorts throughout the world (and into the United Kingdom) because of the process by which virtually every country, as it reduces defence expenditure and the need for arms, appears to be offering surplus arms on the open market to whoever is prepared to buy them. We have seen reports recently in our newspapers that one can buy a tank for the price of a Fiesta. We need to be very careful. We appear to be going down the road of flogging off our surplus military hardware to whoever will put up the money.
Twice in the past 15 years we have seen British servicemen under attack and being killed by weapons that we have supplied to the belligerent forces opposing our Armed Forces. The first time was in the Falklands when British military hardware that had 1293 been sold to the Argentinians was used to kill our people. Latterly, during the Kuwait-Iraq conflict, we saw the same problem when military hardware that had been supplied largely by the United Kingdom was used against our own Armed Forces. We only make the problem worse by flogging off our surplus military hardware. Unless we stop doing that and try to persuade other countries, such as the United States and the countries of the former Soviet Union, not to flog off their surplus weapons to whoever wants to buy them, we shall store up immense problems of instability and conflict for all of us world-wide in the future. I suggest that we address that by investing in peace and destroying those weapons. The weapons may well have some notional financial value, but the future security of this country and the world is worth investing in by scrapping such surplus weapons.
The next topic to which I should like to refer is nuclear weapons and devices. As a number of your Lordships have already referred to this. I do not need to speak extensively except to say that surely we must recognise the horrors and risks involved in the very existence of nuclear weapons. Surely we must all have learned the lesson of Chernobyl: that a nuclear device going off anywhere is likely to damage significant parts of the world and will almost inevitably affect our direct interests. Surely it is sensible for us, as a nuclear power, to join all the other nuclear powers in the world to seek to find some way of agreeing to eliminate nuclear weapons and nuclear devices on a world-wide basis.
Noble Lords will remember that the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Iceland gave a commitment to aim for the abolition of nuclear weapons world-wide by the year 2000. We have only seven years left. I hope that our Government will set their sights on working towards that objective in conjunction with other nuclear powers with a view to eradicating nuclear weapons world-wide for the future stability, peace and security of the whole world.
I refer finally to the United Nations. I support the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, in saying—I am changing his words slightly, but this is my understanding of what he said—that the United Nations is the only respectable forum within which the armed forces of different countries can come together to seek to resolve the security problems which might exist and which could blow up around the world. During the past few years we have seen actions that have been conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. The Iraq-Kuwait conflict and the situation in Somalia are just two examples. One of the unfortunate things to have come out of those actions is that it appears as if they were, first, dominated by the United States and, secondly, engaged in for the advantage (particularly the domestic advantage) of the United States. That may or may not be true, but it is damaging to the whole concept of world stability and to the future of the United Nations. We must take action to get away from that concept.
I hope that the Government will listen to calls for the military staff of the United Nations to be injected with some authority. I do not think that it is a question 1294 of saying that the United Nations military operations should be under the control of the permanent members of the Security Council. Surely in the command situation that we hope to envisage, such operations will come under the command and control of the Secretary General, who will be answerable to the Security Council and to the full United Nations, not just to the five permanent members. Surely we should seek to ensure that peacekeeping and peacemaking interventions by the United Nations are seen to be independent of the interests of any one nation or any small group of nations, as unfortunately they appear to have been in recent history.
In conclusion, it is sometimes said that defence is of little concern in peacetime. If we adopt that attitude we will not he prepared for the risks and action that may be required to be taken effectively when political mistakes are made and the use of armed forces is required. I strongly support the arguments of my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel. He stated that prevention was far better than cure in the sense that we should invest far more in economic, political and diplomatic terms in the prevention of conflict. In that context one of the fundamental things that we can do is prevent the dissemination of weapons of war that we appear to be engaged in. Let us invest in peace by scrapping weapons rather than selling them off.
§ 2 p.m.
My Lords, I believe that in the White Paper we are debating today the Government have gone a long way towards winning friends for their defence posture. In a nutshell, it is an apocalypse or new testament in arms, if I may put it in that way. Though it is a fairly complex document that contains a good deal of cross-references, tables and figures and takes some time to digest, if it is a deterrent to any reader. I hope that by reading it a potential aggressor will feel deterred.
I hope that the House will forgive me if I leave before the end of the debate. I have a long-standing engagement that I cannot avoid but I hope that I shall be able to stay for the end. I am sure that our insights into the White Paper today will give the Government proof that they are continuing to provide excellent value for money. At the same time, I sense a widespread feeling that the cuts are too sweeping. If multiple earmarking compensates for that, I believe it is sensible to use it. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, has said, we are in a lower state of readiness and it is possible to do this, but it does not deal with the problem of overstretch which has been aggravated by other factors, such as new management strategy and market testing.
The discussion in another place in the recent debate on the 1992 Defence Estimates centred on restructuring, UN peacekeeping and reserves. However, I believe it is more accurate to put it in one word: overstretch.
Before I go any further perhaps I may declare an interest. As the whole House knows, I am involved in a number of major defence projects that are currently under way. I have been able to follow their fortunes through tough and testing conditions before the 1295 in-service date is reached. In my view, there is now very good reason for the success or failure of a project. I do not believe that it is skin off anybody's nose if a project fails to survive the course. In the case of the Upholder class submarines, hardly have they been accepted by the Royal Navy than we hear that they are no longer needed and are up for sale or lease, with two endorsed staff requirements still hanging over their heads. Presumably, this makes them more difficult to market until completed. Cryptically, the MoD's contracts bulletin compendium on staff targets and requirements—which has been published in the last few days—says that there are no further major decision points in relation to those boats. Surely, that is one of the understatements of the year. What happens to them is of interest to all of us. They are blue water boats with excellent platform and weapons capability and survivability but are largely unproven assets. If a blue water navy like ours does not want them, how can we persuade other navies that they are good value for money? I should like to hear more justification from my noble friend Lord Cranborne for the decision to dispense with them. I always thought that the merits of these boats were that they could go into waters where the nukes could not go—the shallower waters of the Continental shelf—and run silently if required. I believe that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, thinks the same about these particular boats.
If there is no role for these boats other than plugging the Greenland-Iceland gap, have they become too vulnerable to be used in any role at all? With an endorsed staff requirement shared with the US Navy for a surface ship torpedo defence system, I begin to wonder whether that may be the case. I know that it is always more difficult to abort a programme than to conceive one. When a project like this comes to life a staff endorsement to kill it off is surely needed. I ask my noble friend whether the Government are satisfied that they have the staff endorsement to do it. I am told that there is a requirement for them to be used as targets in nuclear hunter-killer training exercises. Perhaps that role should be more seriously looked at and considered before we get rid of them.
I turn to our nuclear deterrent. I read that the future theatre nuclear weapon staff endorsement is in existence as the substrategic replacement for WE177. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, I am prepared to wait for the Government's decision on that particular issue. I am reassured to read in the annual Trident report that it is running on time and to cost. It is very much to the Government's credit that they have kept on course. The most important outcome is that it strengthens the Royal Navy's underwater warfare capability which is now a vital part of fleet operations. It has not been achieved without major investment in facilities. We must not forget that the Clyde naval base and armament depot, with a floating warhead-handling jetty, syncrolift, submarine shiplift and wrap-round de-gaussing range, will become valuable assets to the Royal Navy for decades to come.
The genetic manipulation of the Clyde to make it a base and safe haven for the submarine fleet and 1296 gateway to the Atlantic is something by which one can set great store. It illustrates how right the Government are to look at the way in which the defence roles are interfaced with the various other building blocks of defence. How the building blocks are moulded into force structures needed for military tasks is a matter of judgment, but the cement needed to hold together the force structures is logistic support. I believe that the Government deserve a lot of credit for creating Naval Support Command, RAF Logistics Command, and the Army Logistics Corps to ensure that the means of sustaining platforms and weapons in future are in place. I also believe that the market testing of logistics support is an excellent initiative. It makes better use of industrial resources, releases new money for contractors and, above all, brings the defence industrial base closer to the front line. It allows United Kingdom industry to take on more functions than just the design and manufacture of things. It also allows them to take on major contracting tasks from the operation of dockyards and the Atomic Weapons Establishment to the upkeep of establishments and all existing catering tasks. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of entrenched feeling in the Armed Forces about doing things in-house, particularly where it involves equipment close to the operational scene.
Some experiences of working with industry have not exactly won over serving personnel for contracting out tasks, but whether it is market testing or contracting out , we must go on finding ways of bringing industry—I mean UK industry —closer to the Armed Forces so that the gap between the two is narrowed. There always will be a customer-contractor relationship with which to reckon. But I hope that the gap can be bridged finally by widening the scope of tasks, lengthening the terms of contracts and achieving the right mix of responsibilities for both parties. All that leads me to say that I believe the major issue exercising the Government's mind now is how to provide the capability in defence.
I am a defence buff who recognises new management strategy. The introduction of new management strategy has been welcomed in the services. It has brought about remarkable changes for the better throughout the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defence, even though the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, had some reservations about that. We all understood what he said. In fact, the Government have done the nation a great favour by forcing through change, adopting competition policy, beefing up quality assurance standards and doing so many other things to improve performance and to give better value for money.
The new look in management is strange to servicemen who are faced with having to make it work. It is beginning to work well. There is still some way to go. I hope that the Government will not relax their efforts.
The Rosyth-Devonport issue has been an agonising one to resolve but, let us face it, we have fewer more powerful ships which need less dockyard capacity to support them. UK industry welcomes the greater role it can play, but in a world of diminishing defence budgets, I am concerned about some of the effects of 1297 defence policy in procurement where the Government still place so much reliance upon competition. They can fairly claim that over 95 per cent. —I believe that that is the figure—of their expenditure is with British firms. We can see that from the lists of who was paid what during the year.
From what I can see, of firms gaining up to £50 million per annum, there were listed in Defence Estimates 1990, 93 firms, of which 29 were foreign; and listed in Defence Estimates 1993 there were 119 firms, of which 16 were foreign. It seems to me therefore, that the Government can claim that they are contracting out much more work and that UK firms are driving out foreign competition. But above the £50 million per annum mark, the picture is different: listed in Defence Estimates 1990. two firms out of 22 were foreign; and listed in Defence Estimates 1993, six firms out of 36 were foreign. So the foreign penetration at the top end has grown, although above £250 million it can be said that there is zero foreign penetration of the UK super-six, which now includes other government departments.
Those top six, or really five commercial enterprises, are the backbone of our defence industrial base, but the rise in foreign penetration above £50 million per annum means that warning lights are flashing. Once a foreign firm is in place. it tends to stay put. The Government must watch that trend carefully as it is happening largely in the field of prime contractorships which carry so much greater influence over the future of the defence industrial base.
The Government's fall-back position in the past has been to negotiate offset to compensate UK industry for doing that, but offset is now of questionable value to UK industry in the worldwide shrinking defence markets. It is difficult to find injection points for it which will directly stimulate UK industry in the defence field. The value of offset in defence now is much greater to the giver than to the receiver. We see that in the Saudi Al Yamanah programme where British Aerospace's image has been raised several degrees of brilliance in the eyes of other potential customers. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, might feel that the value of offset to the UK is a subject worth studying to assess its value to the UK.
I should like to raise two further points. First, it is clear that the growth area in defence is now rapid reaction forces which focus on a greater use of helicopters. I am glad to see that this is well supported by government through a number of actions such as the ordering of the helicopter carrier (the LPH), putting the landing ship docks (the LPDs) into a project definition phase, setting up the helicopter support authority and expressing the intention of buying the support helicopters and an attack helicopter as well as establishing 24 Air-Mobile Brigade at Colchester. As the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, if, as I hope, the Government are going to select EH101, then I would urge them not to delay their decision in view of the export prospects of the 1298 Westland Group, particularly in places such as Holland, which is to make a decision about all that later this year.
I applaud the Government's decision to get into amphibiosity and airmobility with rapid reaction reach and strike forces. Those developments need more political exposure and parliamentary backing. The All-Party Defence Study Group has started to touch upon those developments and, I hope, will he able to visit units, establishments and contractors involved in those activities.
I should like to thank my noble friend for the arrangements he has made for parliamentary visits to home and overseas units which have been valuable. In the past few days we visited "HMS Marlborough" at Plymouth to see what an ordinary working day at sea is like. We found that of value. While scrutinising operations and service conditions, we can learn directly from our experiences on those valuable occasions. Later this year. members of the group expect to visit the Falkland Islands. It is another expedition to the Falkland Islands which is now possible. I can assure my noble friend that all those taking part feel that the visit has come at a time where there is a need to look much more carefully at how our foreign policy interests out there should be linked to our defence policy interests, and how the islanders are looking at market testing opportunities there. We have in our sights Target Antarctica.
Finally, I hope that the House will not have to wait, as my noble friend Lady Park said, for two years for another debate on the Defence Estimates.
§ 2.19 p.m.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
My Lords, I join in the welcome for greater openness in explaining defence policy. I support entirely the plea made by the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for more frequent debate. But I was more than a little surprised to hear in the Minister's Statement introducing the Estimates on 5th July that it was the view of the Chiefs of Staff that the right choices had been made to:Face up to the challenges which confront us".—[Official Report, 5/7/93; col. 1108.]Are we really to understand that the First Sea Lord believes that there is no future use for a conventional submarine, that CGS sees no need for his indirect fire anti-armour weapon or that the Chief of Air Staff is content that there should be only 100 fighters?
There is now to be a cumulative reduction of our front line fighter strength of almost 50 per cent. in a little more than three years. Gone without replacement are all our Bloodhound surface-to-air missiles. Going is No. 1339 Wing Royal Auxiliary Air Force, which provides surface-to-air protection for the Royal Air Force operational bases. The Royal Air Force is to be left with around 120 fully-trained aircrews, and no medium-range SAM, to provide the fighting element of their area air defence capability.
Air superiority is a sine qua non of modern war. Such major erosion of our air defences, coupled with some earlier aircrew losses in conflict, could leave us not with the few who won the Battle of Britain but with too few: too few to protect us and our surface 1299 forces, wherever deployed, from the enemy's air power. What we shed now in human skill and capability will not be retrievable quickly, if at all, should they be required at some future date. I urge the Government to think long and hard about the interdependent needs of a viable air defence system. There is still a long wait before Eurofighter 2000 joins the front line. Ministers must not be tempted into further and further erosion of our air defences and of such a vital component of national defence capability. It has gone too far already.
Rightly, the Government are no longer attempting to match our force requirements to hypothetical military threats. Today that approach would lead only to endless debates about likely and unlikely threats and no clear basis for structuring or training our forces. I have argued previously that we need a range of sustainable capabilities. We have adopted that rationale for our nuclear forces and I am sure that it is right to do so for our conventional forces too.
But is there not a flaw in the White Paper's logic? It eschews the threat-based approach to force structure, but then argues that where a threat has gone so too can the forces that we once provided to meet it. Force mix provides capability for the unforeseen as well. As long as we aspire to he a major player on the world stage, a member of the Security Council, a puncher above our weight, our forces must have a good spread of up-to-date capabilities, conventional as well as nuclear. Even low level, low intensity operations now require sophisticated equipment and training, as the Minister and the White Paper points out. Without these, and that spread of capability, we will not be equipped to undertake unexpected tasks worldwide as we have done for many years past.
Nothing that I have seen in the latest defence statement leads me to any other conclusion than that, once again, MoD has had to accommodate significant downward pressure on its forecast budget. It is a racing certainty that pressure will continue in the next PES round. Will we see another squadron here, another regiment there, another running ship or two lost to the front line year by year? It is a grim prospect. It has no end. Further slicing off the front line calls into question the operational HQs structure established in the aftermath of Options for Change. Every front line loss of capability must surely be matched and more by HQs level cuts. The White Paper gives us little detailed information on this.
Meanwhile there is uncertainty about future equipment decisions. The White Paper refers to a number being under study; replacements for HMS "Fearless" and HMS "Intrepid", the attack and support helicopters and Hercules and Nimrod updates. All of those have been studied for years. Ministerial decisions on the way ahead for support helicopters were taken in 1987. Surely, six years for a procurement order is too long. It would be helpful for industry and the forces to have an indication of timescale for future decisions.
Sustaining operational capability involves a mixture of issues. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, in his eloquent speech, referred to some. But an important one which, I believe, can be overlooked 1300 in the arguments about equipment, is the ability to man and operate a capability over the years. The men and women who operate, who support, and who maintain our capabilities, are constantly changing. Last year's raw recruit first becomes a professional in his specialist role. But he does not stand still. He needs the training and experience to move on through the ranks; to take on new and more important responsibilities; to lead and to command in battle when lives are at stake. Unless we provide for this development from junior right up to the most senior ranks, we will end up with services which lack the ability to operate together effectively and if needs be to fight.
The White Paper rightly emphasises that all forces must be trained and exercised to carry out the military tasks to which they are assigned. But if our forces are to be ready for the unforeseen they must have the opportunities to train and exercise at the levels of intensity which they might be faced with in a major as well as a minor skirmish. They must have had opportunities to fire the whole range of their weapon systems. Surely it can never be right that the first time a serviceman sees his weapon used with live ammunition is when it has to be fired in anger.
Although "smaller but better" was the Ministerial catchphrase when we put Options for Change together three years ago, there are still many instances of troops not having the right range of ammunition or training areas or even the opportunity to train tactically. Today training is too often limited to the immediate needs of the moment. I hope that the Minister can reassure your Lordships that operational training will be taken seriously and properly provided for.
During the run-up to the Gulf War, when we turned to our territorial reserves and auxiliaries to fill many key appointments and tasks in theatre, Ministers insisted that these should be found from volunteers from within the units involved. It was a political decision with which I and many others were extremely unhappy. Indeed, many of those concerned were themselves unhappy about it. They argued that by joining the reserves they had already volunteered to serve if required. To be asked to volunteer to go to the Gulf on top of that cut across the whole concept of reserve and auxiliary service.
If this approach were to be generally adopted, it would be impossible to rely on the contribution of formed units—if some personnel were to volunteer and others not—and would ultimately lead to a charade where the fair-weather few would, by their attitude, besmirch the true sense of duty and commitment, which has been the hallmark of our reserves over many generations.
I hope that in the MoD's review it will be made clear that those who commit themselves to reserve duties, with honourable exceptions for those caught up with family or other personal crises, will be required to serve on operations without being asked or expected to revolunteer and that their employers will be required to safeguard their jobs while they are on duty.
1301 The Minister admitted recently in your Lordships' House that market testing was causing disruption and anxiety in the forces. Having discussed that with a cross section of our forces I know that he is right. I have had some experience of the turbulence which follows on from defence reviews. While units reduce, reorganise and relocate over a period which can be measured in years and not just in months or weeks there needs to be time for the individuals, for servicemen and servicewomen and their families, to adjust to the new order.
The reason so many defence reviews were not as successful as their authors had promised and expected is that there has always been a tendency to heap yet more change and, therefore, uncertainty on top of that stemming from the review itself—what the management consultants call "initiative overlay". The changes announced in the White Paper have certainly caused further disruption at a difficult time. I believe that reorganisation needs the wholehearted support of those most closely involved if it is to be achieved properly. My message is not to fall into the trap of thinking that it makes sense to be always seeking new economies. The outcome of excessive zeal is likely to be more expensive, less efficient and damaging to morale.
Of course, your Lordships will recognise the need to make the most of resources allocated to defence. But let us beware, at a time of major change and upheaval, compounded by further so-called fine tuning, of the impact of the officious few who nevertheless pile further study upon further study so that no one has the time to implement properly and consolidate the major restructuring.
The new management strategy and the follow-through of Options for Change have generally got off to a good start. But those encompass quite massive change in the way in which the services manage and run their affairs. Let us not screw them up by asking the implementers to tackle in addition new and clearly unpopular studies, such as market testing appears to be, before new and major reforms have had a chance to bed down and produce results.
The White Paper is a more open document than we have seen before; I welcome that. Sadly, it confirms that we are still not getting the modern fighting capability which we should have from the resources being made available. I, for one, am greatly concerned about our air defence future.
§ 2.31 p.m.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, I suppose that Westminster and Whitehall are the chief habitat of that verbal rubber stamp—the cliche. One reason may be that for people who have to talk or write a good deal, or both, it provides a ready made phrase bunged in as nearly as possible without thought. It represents a considerable saving in both mental effort and time. Moreover, it sounds clever—to some ears anyway.
I suppose that almost any statement or phrase can become a cliché if it is repeated often enough. Sometimes it matters, and sometimes it does not. It all 1302 depends on whether or not the meaning of the words has disappeared. For example, Options for Change is a rubber stamp all right. It is a convenient piece of shorthand. We know to what it refers; and it never meant much anyway. Therefore, we need not bother unduly about it. Far otherwise is it with "Treasury-driven" or "Treasury-led". Those are two versions —and I am sure that many others are possible—of a rubber stamp that seems to have developed into a kind of verbal hand grenade. It has various curious effects. One is to bring about a polarity among those who interest themselves in defence. The Government in general and the Ministry of Defence in particular are on one side of that divide and everyone else is on the other. Thus we ordinary people who are neither in government nor the MOD may say of the proposed defence cuts that they are Treasury-led, meaning that their primary aim is to save money. That tends to start civil servants twittering with rage and Ministers pounding Dispatch Boxes in a frenzy of indignation. I believe that "present company excepted" is the appropriate cliche at this point.
I have thrown that grenade or hanged down that rubber stamp myself, I confess. I have begun to wonder whether we are, any of us, being entirely grown up about it. I, at any rate. have seen a glimmer of light, if not quite enough to cause total conversion. I feel marginally more grown up as a result.
However, I am still worried about the Government. Their indignation at the suggestion that the cuts may be Treasury-led is largely misplaced. I say that because, except in one particular circumstance, defence cuts are always made to save money, and that particular circumstance is the outbreak of peace. When war comes. large numbers of men—and women nowadays—are called to the colours, as we used to say in the old days. With peace comes demobilisation and release. Try to keep a million time-expired soldiers in uniform and see what kind of mutiny you will have.
In all other circumstances, the only possible reason for reducing the Armed Forces is the need for economy. The Forces cost a great deal of money which is urgently needed for other purposes. That is the only logical reason for reducing them. You do not have to reduce the Army, Navy or Air Force because the Warsaw Pact has fallen to hits. You certainly do not have to do it in order to get more workers at a time of high unemployment. The important point is that it must be done as a matter of sheer economics. Why then do the Government get so steamed up when people tell them that that is what they are doing?
I now ask the other side of the question—the side to which, as I freely said. I instinctively belong. I ask the Government why they get so steamed up at the idea of defence cuts being made in order to save money. I shall not ask the question because I know the answer. The Government are annoyed about the word "led". The Government imply, indeed they say, that the MoD has made its plans in the light of what the Treasury has told it it may spend. There are some in very high places who say that that always happens. If that is what the Government really mean, it is an extremely brave accusation. What is the Treasury? It is a department of state; it is not superior in some 1303 godlike way to the Government. Who is at its head? Why, the First Lord of the Treasury, the Prime Minister, the same Prime Minister who wrote the words spoken by the Queen from the Throne just over a year ago:My Government attach the highest importance to national security".In every Queen's Speech, that promise comes, not somewhere down among the small print, but first. That in itself contradicts the accusation that cuts are made primarily for economic reasons. What then is the truth? How are such matters decided? I am no expert. I know practically nothing about them. I rely on experts such as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who knows a great deal about them. However, I should like to see rather more openness from the Government and their Ministers, with more information for Parliament in particular and the electorate in general—more openness such as that which would be provided perhaps by the implementation of the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lady Park which calls for frequent defence debates. I ask the Government to tell us what is happening and how such matters are organised and carried out.
Perhaps the Government will be rather more open with us. That would increase our confidence—my confidence, certainly and I am sure that of other noble Lords—that the Ministry of Defence is not pulling the wool over our eyes. That task is not made any easier or less pressing by the defence White Paper debate, in abeyance for two years, being placed on the Order Paper at 11 o'clock on the morning of the last day before the Summer Recess.
§ 2.39 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, 1 rise to speak to the Government's Motion, but also to support the Motion tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. It would he difficult to exaggerate the significance of the speech which the noble Baroness made in support of her Motion. I hope that everyone, whether they heard her speech in the Chamber or missed it for some reason, will take the opportunity of reading it in the Official Report with some care. I hope that they will read not only what she said, but also that they will read between the lines. I say that because the facts and figures were not made up for the occasion; they are real facts and figures. I believe that, when noble Lords come to study them again, they will recognise the profound significance of what the noble Baroness said in the light of the subject of today's debate; namely, the defence of the realm.
I hope that the Government will either accede to the suggestion that the noble Baroness put forward for an annual defence debate, incuding its foreign policy implications, or that they will at least give us sufficient encouragement to believe that they will consider the matter for the future. In that event, I suspect that the noble Baroness will feel inclined to withdraw her Motion. However, if she does not, I for one will certainly vote for it.
Oddly, in the context of the speech made by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, in opening the debate, criticism of defence policy is not necessarily 1304 directed at the Ministry of Defence. Certainly, my criticism of defence policy is not. Although, if I may say so with the greatest affection and respect to the noble Viscount, I thought that there was lacking a little of his customary sparkle and clarity in his defence of the White Paper today. I came to the conclusion towards the end of his speech that, perhaps, his heart was not entirely in it.
I understand, as I believe do all noble Lords, the need for financial constraints. We all know why the Treasury is demanding cuts in public spending and why it is demanding some of those cuts from the Ministry of Defence. There is no great magic or secret about it. However, sooner or later there must come a time when the Ministry of Defence and the chiefs of staff, who are the guardians of our defence policy and our national security, must say to the Treasury—and, if necessary, to the Cabinet—"Enough is enough; you've gone far enough in your demands for economies in the Ministry of Defence and we can't go further without posing the danger of great peril to the nation".
We have already had the curiously named Options for Change, which was a defence review by another name. Some of us were concerned even then at the scale of the economies being demanded. However, we were told that that was what was needed for the new order in the world and that troops and equipment would he supplied to meet that need. Therefore, with ill grace in some quarters—certainly, on my own part —it was accepted. We have now had another defence White paper published in the course of the past week or so which is, I will concede, an excellent document. It is ingenious and informative, but it foreshadows and implements yet more cuts and economies in the strength and equipment of our Armed Forces.
Let us look for a moment at the impact of those two developments; namely, Options .for Change and the new defence White Paper, Defending our Future. First, there is in the Armed Forces—and I say this from first-hand personal experience, and not from hearsay —a high degree of uncertainty. It is an uncertainty which is leading to some real and dangerous effects upon morale. It is no good expecting to hear members of the Armed Forces whining in public. They will not do so; indeed, they are trained not to do so. But to those of us who visit them and live among them from time to time, it is absolutely clear (and it is certainly clear to me) that what has happened so far has already had a damaging effect upon the morale of many of our soldiers and of many officers, including senior officers. As noble Lords will know, that morale is essential to the efficiency of any armed force.
The second effect is upon training to which several speakers have referred. I should like to concentrate upon one point; namely, what is known as formation or higher training. It is the bringing together of units and formations of the Army to train together in the task that they will have to perform. There is no formation training in the Army at present. I personally know divisional commanders who have never commanded a division, not only in action but even on an exercise. I also know brigadiers who have never commanded a brigade in action. What sort of an 1305 army is that for a nation of our kind? Are we to be content to have a number of penny packets of battalion groups and even smaller organisations going off to fight in the United Nations' peace-keeping operations? If that is all we are to have, it is not an army and we do not have armed forces. We cannot have them unless higher commanders are trained in commanding their formations for the task that they may have to face in battle.
My next point concerns the stresses and strains involved, although I believe that we have probably heard enough about them. We have also heard about the impact that the overstretch in the Army is having, again, on the morale and on the well-being of our Armed Forces. The noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, who was to have been here today to speak on that aspect is, unfortunately, indisposed. But I know that he would have made a telling intervention on the subject of the impact of those cuts on some of our Army regiments. Indeed, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. in his remarkable speech made a most effective point in that respect.
The impact of what has happened so far is already very significant upon our Armed Forces. An army, an air force or a navy is a living organism; you cannot chop bits off it and then replace them later on when you think that the occasion demands it. If things continue. there will come a time when the Armed Forces will no longer be capable of carrying out the tasks that we will ask them to perform. Indeed, I now hear from all quarters of the Armed Forces—and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, mentioned this in his speech a short while ago—a fear that there will be new cuts in the autumn when the Treasury demands yet more economies from the Ministry of Defence in the public expenditure round. If that takes place, in my view it will be the point of no return. If the Ministry of Defence and the chiefs of staff do not stand their ground and say, "We have gone as far as we can safely go", then our Armed Forces will be irreparably damaged and, with them, the foundation of our national security.
Now is not the time to talk of things like threat assessments, the matching of commitments and resources, multiple ear-marking and the like. That is the language of the civil servant and the junior staff officer. What we want to hear now is the language of the statesmen. In his opening speech the noble Viscount said that we have no clear yardstick against which to evolve our defence policy. However, I believe that we do have a very clear yardstick. No country can have an independent foreign policy unless it has effective armed forces. What we are doing now is damaging the potential of this country for conducting an independent and effective foreign policy.
Over the years in this House I have tried to impress people with quotations from Clausewitz, Burke and Thomas Hobbes on the subject. But I thought today that I would try someone who, in the current circumstances, might, perhaps, carry a little more weight; in other words, Adam Smith. In The Wealth of Nations, he said very early on: 1306The first duty of the sovereign, that of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies, can be performed only by means of a military force".He thereafter concluded than an effective standing army—that is, regular armed forces—was essential for the survival of civilised nations. He also said:It is only by means of a standing army therefore that the civilisation of any country can be perpetuated, or even preserved, for any considerable time".That is as true now as it was in 1776. What we now need is not just a defence review. I do not say that because the noble Viscount has characterised defence reviews as dangerously irrelevant and old-fashioned. I do not believe that there is anything irrelevant or old-fashioned in looking at something that does not work very well and seeing how one can make it work better. However, we do not just need a defence review. What we now need is a comprehensive reassessment of foreign and security policies, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, so eloquently said, because, as the Motion of the noble Baroness indicates, defence and foreign policy are inextricably mixed.
What we have to do now is to decide as a nation —this is the function of government—what role Britain is to play in the 21st century. Who are we to be in the world? To what extent will we be involved, for example, in United Nations peacekeeping, which seems to he one of the growth industries of the last part of the 20th century? Some people might suggest —I would be in some sympathy with them—that there is a tendency at the moment for the United Nations to interfere much too readily in the internal affairs of other countries. But be that as it may, we are permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations and if we intend to remain so we shall presumably have to become involved in the kind of operations which it mounts.
What will be our role in the control and combating of' international terrorism? This threat has not gone away simply because it no longer appears on the front pages of newspapers. It is there and when the time comes for those who sponsor it to sponsor it again, they will do so. What role will we play in that? What role will we play in defending ourselves against the galloping proliferation of weapons of mass destruction? That is another great problem which the world will have to come to grips with before many years are out.
For obvious reasons I shall not say much about nuclear weapons or defence against nuclear weapons today. I shall, however, say in parenthesis that some of the contributions which I have heard in your Lordships' House today seem to me to be familiar. I suddenly realised that some speakers were using the same phrases and arguments that appeared in a brief of a somewhat dubious organisation of doubtful parentage and even more doubtful credibility which appeared in my post about three days ago. I suspect that that brief must have appeared in other speakers' mail too.
However, as I have said, I shall not dwell on the subject of nuclear strategy for obvious reasons. All I shall say again is that I think that we now need a clear vision of this country in the 21st century. I see in the defence White Paper, as I see elsewhere, no clear 1307 evidence of that whatever. There is a grave deficiency of national leadership in this very important area of policy. We have to decide what role we are going to play in the world. We then have to decide what kind of armed forces we need to do the jobs that we shall undertake. We have to take into account of course financial restraints. No one believes that one can have armed forces of any given size or of a size that chiefs of staff might like to have.
When we come to judge and construct the size and shape of our Armed Forces—the only guarantee of this nation's safety—we must surely do so on some kind of respectable intellectual basis. It cannot be done simply by deciding how much money one will spend and then, in the language of the Ministry of Defence, "matching commitments to resources". As I have said, any junior staff officer can do that and any Ministry of Defence official can do that. What we need now is some national guidance about the role we are going to play and the forces we need to carry out that role.
The main attraction to me of the party of the noble Viscount, and its principal virtue, has always been its realistic and resolute approach to defence and foreign policy. It has been refreshingly free of any romantic notions about universal peace or total disarmament. Above all, it has always, much to my encouragement and satisfaction, rejected unilateral disarmament of any kind. I do not, I think, exaggerate when I say that what is going on now looks to me very much like the beginning of a process of unilateral disarmament. I believe that we must pause and think very carefully before we go any further.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, at the risk of seeming to agree with at least one point that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has just made, I wish to begin by saying that it is extraordinary that in this debate so far there has been no mention at all of much the greatest threat which is before the world today—the threat of nuclear terrorism. Until the passing reference of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, no one had touched on the subject. However, there is nothing more dangerous and more completely out of control. There is nothing we should be more frightened of. The fact that some noble Lords have been so frightened by this matter that they have left the Chamber will not deter me from referring to it again later in my speech.
My noble friend Lord Williams said that he had heard that three pages had been pulled out of the White Paper. I do not know whether that is true, but it is at least possible to believe that, if the Government had longer notice that nuclear testing at Nevada was to be put into question by President Clinton's decision, we might have had a quite different paper, at least in that respect. It was possible to hope that they might have seen that to concentrate on nuclear multiplication while other major nuclear states are into subtraction and decommissioning would run them into difficulties. But that hope, alas, did not survive the opening speech of the noble Viscount.
Today's problem—although one would not have know n it—is how to free forces and to find resources 1308 for United Nations humanitarian peacemaking and peacekeeping tasks. There was, alas, in the White Paper, and I am afraid even in the noble Viscount's otherwise customary competent introduction, no recognition at all that with the end of the Soviet Union the increase of submarine missile capacity became even more obviously a sinful waste of money. Today's problem as regards nuclear mega-death capability is how to get rid of or to reduce rather than how to increase it. One would not have known that from what we have heard so far today.
But the Government were into a White Paper confirming and extending this defunct policy. Even now it has perhaps not really dawned on them that those of us who were urging new policies were not necessarily crazy peaceniks but might, perhaps surprisingly, be talking sound military sense. One curious result of the Government's dilemma—or possibly of their opacity—has been that Questions on nuclear matters are no longer answered. The Government's reply is a comment, an observation or a reference to a previous Question. It is seldom, if ever, an answer, although an answer is always possible, provided the will to utter the answer is there.
In case that seems unlikely perhaps I may take up a little of your Lordships' time by giving one or two examples. Before doing so perhaps I may mention that in a book which I borrowed from our Library called Parliamentary Questions by Franklin and Norton, a 1981 arrival in the House of Lords from the other place is quoted as saying:On the whole I find the question procedures here rather preferable".The authors go on to say that Questions in the House of Lords often have the appearance of mere shadow boxing.
My impression today is that, made blase by long years of office and immune from the pressures of' a fierce, raucous and implacable Opposition, Government Front-Benchers in this Chamber often treat Questions with contempt, refuse to answer and get away with it. Our tradition of courtesy is exploited by some Ministers and Government Front-Benchers to the extent that the Executive is not subjected to a rigorous and persistent examination by the legislature in this Chamber as it is in another place.
I turn now to my examples of avoidance and evasion on matters relevant to the defence White Paper. On 26th May the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, gave me one of the last answers that I have received when she agreed that it was important to move forward quickly down the path of getting rid of nuclear weapons. Quite understandably, she added:However, we should do so only when it is safe to do so".—[Official Report, 26/5/93; col. 282.]When I had a chance I asked what conditions would need to be met before it was safe to get rid of nuclear weapons. That was on 1st July, and is recorded at col. 930 of Hansard. This time the noble Viscount responded, saying:for as long as our security continues to depend on the possession of nuclear weapons".1309 In other words, he said that it would not be safe to give up nuclear weapons while it was not safe to give up nuclear weapons. There was no answer to the Question, which was what those conditions were.
Therefore. I asked the noble Viscount to spell out those conditions. He avoided replying again, this time by quoting the earlier reply of the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker—the very one to which I was seeking elucidation. This time he added:The element of uncertainty and lack of precision in itself contributes to the power of deterrence".He did not say who was being deterred. He used that rather outdated observation presumably as a means of avoiding answering the question. When I pressed him again he said that he could not answer because to do so would give aid and comfort to our enemies.
On 19th July I asked who those enemies were. The noble Viscount made no attempt to answer the question. Instead, he repeated (at col. 519 of Hansard) in a slightly different form that it would not be safe to give up nuclear weapons until it was safe to give up nuclear weapons. He gave no answer to the question. He did not name the enemies that he had conjured up. He made no attempt to outline the conditions which would need to be met to constitute safety. He gave no answer. I pointed that out, but instead of at last getting an answer, all that I received was some chat about my persistence, about Cassandra and about the noble Viscount's opinions and mine being different, as if we did not know that. The Under-Secretary of State said that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, had answered the question. It is true that the noble and learned Lord had come a great deal nearer to doing so than had the Under-Secretary of State. However, perhaps unfortunately, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, no longer speaks for the Government.
Then my noble friend Lord Sefton pointed out that all the shilly-shallying seemed to suggest that there were no circumstances in which the Government would give up nuclear weapons. The noble Viscount denied that, but found it difficult to envisage those circumstances.
Perhaps I may suggest to the noble Viscount that it is not so very difficult to answer questions if one really tries. After all, although a hereditary peer he is not an upper class twit. If he studies the matter he will find that some other members of the Government have found it possible to essay the task. True, their answers have differed, but they had the aspect of answers. Long experience of these matters has taught me that with a little ingenuity Government uncertainty can be covered up and the question given a kind of answer. Therefore, perhaps I may offer a little help. I suggest to the noble Viscount that when he comes to wind up he answers the question—which I believe is inherent in the White Paper although not explicit—in one of the following ways.
First, he could follow the line of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. That amounts to saying that we shall hang on to our own nukes until such time as we can be sure that no one else has any.
1310 A more sophisticated answer would be that the Government are examining the alternatives to explosive nuclear testing to see whether they can adhere to a comprehensive test ban without persuading the Americans to allow them back into Nevada, which, incidentally, they will not succeed in doing. It could be added that that would give strength to the non-proliferation treaty, in this way: it might at length be possible with safety to give up nuclear weapons altogether. That answer has the advantage of making a virtue of necessity.
Alternatively, the noble Viscount might say that the Government recognise the increasing peril of nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands. And here, before I sit down, I come to what I referred to earlier as the greatest threat hanging over the world today.
Recently "The Cook Report" on Carlton Television suggested that the terrifying possibility of nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands is imminent, if it has not already happened. It seems that there are strong reasons for believing that that has already occurred. If so we are all wasting our time or, as the posters which used to he carried up and down Oxford Street used to say, wrongly then thank goodness, the end is nigh.
As a consequence of that realisation the noble Viscount may conclude that the Government were re-writing the White Paper and would be taking immediate action designed to make the world aware of the unprecedented peril which threatens the very existence of civilisation, if not life on earth. But I suppose that that is too much to ask, or at least too much to ask today. Let us hope that tomorrow is not too late.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Lord Murton of Lindisfarne
My Lords, I shall seek not to be quite so hard on my noble friend on the Front Bench. This latest White Paper is a very comprehensive document and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is to be commended not only for its clarity but also for its attempt to come to terms with that most difficult of all political military problems: how to assess the tasks which the Armed Forces may be called upon to fulfil in a still most unstable world. The difficulties are frankly set out. Perhaps I may also commend the notable speech of my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth. It will indeed repay rereading. I support the Motion which she has put forward.
In the days of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact there was a recognisable potential opponent and it was possible to plan accordingly. Now the Russian Federation is but a fractured part of the original whole. There is possibly even greater danger from the nuclear weaponry which is no longer under the original control of the old Soviet Union.
At a less lethal level there is currently the tragic civil war in the former state of Yugoslavia. Sadly, history in the Balkans is but repeating itself. Successively the province of the empires of Greece, Macedonia, Rome, Bulgaria, Byzantium, Venice and finally, Ottoman Turkey, that unhappy part of Europe, over the centuries has become a polyglot mixture of races and 1311 religions. Once the Turks withdrew finally, they left a regional power vacuum which resulted after 1877 in the two Balkan Wars, known to our fathers and grandfathers as the Balkan Question. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire followed.
As recently as the Second World War, subjects of the modern Yugoslavia were fighting in alliance with either Germany or Tito, supported eventually by the Western allies. It is believed that up to 1 million Yugoslays died at the hands of their compatriots through internal conflict and through mutually inflicted atrocities.
There is thus a warning for the United Nations and other peacekeeping organisations and for all engaged in humanitarian aid. Public opinion is rightly distressed and indignant when the tragic pictures of death and human suffering and degradation appear on television screens and there is a desire to put an end to this internecine war. However, in that there is the danger of media-influenced decisions which have to be resisted. It might be easier to go in with a major armed force but almost impossible to achieve anything on the ground; and it might be anything but easy to get out again.
There are other areas of severe unrest, perhaps overshadowed by the Bosnian dilemma. I refer to Somalia, Cambodia, Angola and Southern Sudan. There is also the mounting threat of international terrorism to which the noble Lord referred recently. We read of 20 million Kalashnikov automatic rifles on the black markets of Eastern Europe and the suggestion that tactical nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of revolutionary groups. Meanwhile I understand that North Korea is busy selling Scud missiles.
The United Kingdom already boxes above its weight in world influence. It is well that it should do so because of the importance of maintaining its seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. The significance of that leads to military commitments of some magnitude, and recent developments appear to be leading to increasing demands at a time when our Armed Forces are being drastically reduced. The danger of overstretch is now very real indeed.
Against that somewhat gloomy background, I should like to take a few minutes to discuss the problems of the infantry arm. On St. George's Day this year, I was privileged to be present at a most impressive ceremony when on the 25th anniversary of the formation of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, the Colours of the former First and Third Battalions were trooped and marched off and the new Colours of the now amalgamated battalion, styled the First Fusiliers, were consecrated and then presented to the battalion by the Colonel-in-Chief, His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent.
The significance of that event should not be lost on anyone who takes pride in our infantry of the line. The original English Fusilier Brigade once comprising four individual regiments is now reduced to two battalions of the Royal Regiment and is a component of the Queen's Division. The Royal Anglian Regiment, which comprises the other part of the division, has 1312 likewise to reduce to two battalions, its origins being in nine former regiments. A similar contraction is being undertaken in the Light Division.
The burden of complaint—I speak for many—is that the amalgamated regiments comprising the Queen's and Light Divisions, having accepted loyally and long since the concept of the larger regiment and the necessity for it, now find themselves once again the victims of contraction while certain other line regiments in other divisions remain either as one battalion regiments without amalgamation or as one battalion regiments on amalgamation.
I have no hesitation in voicing an opinion held by some—it will no doubt be highly unpopular with others—that however proud and ancient the traditions of existing regiments are, they will sooner rather than later have to be put aside and larger infantry regiments formed. It is inevitable in a shrinking Army; and it is no good fudging the issue by continuing to resort to half measures and unworkable compromises to avoid awkward political decisions. That is a sad fact, but it is true.
At present there appears to be no coherent policy regarding reductions in manpower. For instance, I understand that the Queen's Division is to be left with one band. At present there are four. If there is to be one band shared between two different regiments what uniform will be appropriate? Fusilier hands in full dress wear sealskin, or more correctly nowadays racoon, caps and the red and white plume or feather. Royal Anglians wear helmets. Has that discrepancy yet been considered or even discovered? Alternatively, is there some frightful compromise proposed whereby all remaining infantry hands wear a similar uniform perhaps dreamed up by the Adjutant General's Corps? At the regimental headquarters of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in Her Majesty's Tower of London, the official representative staff has now been reduced to four and the area headquarters covering the original regiments have lost their regimental information teams. The fusiliers as a whole must now rely on the First Fusilier Battalion Display Team.
To put the matter into perspective, the Warwickshire Fusilier recruiting area, covering a population of 3 million, will now have exactly one sergeant in post. The future administration of the museums, regimental associations and all the other factors which keep alive the spirit of a regiment have yet to be resolved. Uncertainty is bad for morale.
It is imperative that a fundamental review of the present organisation of the infantry should he undertaken. Only as a result of that can there emerge a sound regimental structure with a guarantee of long-term stability in which the number of battalions can be raised or lowered according to the current requirements of the Army Board and of the chiefs of staff.
I have one final point on the subject of defence procurement. Seeking the elusive peace dividend, but in a volatile security climate, no nation in the Western alliance can afford to rely on arms or equipment which arc on the way towards obsolescence. It would be folly to cut deep into the industrial base. It is essential to 1313 maintain a reasonably high level of research and development and to keep our domestic defence industry alive.
It is a salutary fact that a listing of world defence companies shows that of the top 15, just five are British or Western European. Only British Aerospace and GEC rank among the top 10. The European defence industry compared with the United States is small and fragmented. Yet I have read that the combined market value of the six largest domestic defence suppliers in the United States is less than that of the McDonald's Hamburgers chain. That indeed gives us food at least for thought. Let us not in consequence starve our own industrial base.
The Patriot ground-to-air anti-missile missile, so effective in the Gulf War, was bred from the technology of the 1960s, the development of the 1970s and the production of the 1980s. By the time the war began, it was not even operational. The missiles used in action which proved so effective were in fact those intended only for testing. As the late United States Admiral Rickover said, "The more you sweat in peacetime, the less you bleed in war". That is a colourful epigram, which contains an essential truth which we and all our allies would do well to remember at the present time.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Lord Moore of Wolvercote
My Lords. I am concerned that we are once again debating Defence Estimates which involve a reduction in our Armed Forces. Options or Change was bad enough, but to be presented so soon with still more cuts is extremely worrying.
I wish to make two points. First, the threat: no one disputed that the break up of the Soviet Union considerably reduced the threat and that there should be what has been called a peace dividend. No Secretary of State for Defence could have faced up to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury without proposing considerable reductions in defence spending. But that was done in Options for Change. Severe reductions were made, much too severe in the case of Army manpower. To follow those cuts with yet more weakening of the services seems to me to be very unwise.
The danger from the former Soviet Union may have largely gone, though not entirely while large stocks of nuclear weapons remain in Russia and the Ukraine. But we still live in a very unsettled world. The Secretary of State said in the introduction on page 5 of the White Paper on the Defence Estimates:tragic and dangerous conflicts have already broken out in the former Yugoslavia, the Caucasus, and many other areas. The potential for other disputes to deteriorate to open conflict is considerable, though whether we would choose to intervene would depend on the circumstances".I could not agree more. The possibilities are endless and are unpredictable. Who would have forecast either the Falklands War or the Gulf War? Certainly, we would not always choose to intervene on our own, but there is more and more possibility that we shall be required to play our part in action by our allies or by the United Nations.
1314 That brings me to my second point. The British Armed Forces are the best in the world and they are the subject of envy and admiration on all sides. These days there is much talk about the pursuit of excellence. Defence is a field in which Britain truly excels. Surely, therefore, it is sensible for us to maintain our armed services at the highest possible level. Our forces are much in demand and I find it hard to be told that we do not have sufficient forces to meet the requests of the United Nations. We must be in a position to go on doing something which we do superlatively well.
Perhaps I may turn now to the cuts themselves. Earlier this year the Government at last heeded the desperate appeals we made to them not to cut the Army from 160,000 to 116,000. They have relented to the extent of 3,000, but 119,000 will still leave the Army terribly stretched to meet its existing commitments, well enough any additional ones.
The Royal Air Force is to lose 22 Tornados. That cannot be right. Air power today is more important than ever before. The Gulf War demonstrated vividly the value of air superiority, and the Falklands War was a terrifying example of the risks you run without adequate air cover.
But this time, the heaviest slashes have been reserved for the Royal Navy: five destroyers and frigates, nine minesweepers and all the conventionally powered submarines. That is a frightening total and by doing that the Government will be reducing the effectiveness of the Royal Navy, both in war and in peace. Submarines, especially the tremendously fast nuclear boats, remain a deadly threat to surface ships. It is surely very rash to reduce the destroyers and frigates to 35. What happened to the magic figure of 50 which we were once assured would be maintained?
The threat from mines is very real and we excel at minesweeping. Why reduce the number of minesweepers by nine? I am truly appalled that we are abandoning the four brand new conventionally powered submarines, with their capacity to operate in shallower waters, which might be so important in a limited conflict. It is clear that the wartime capability of the Royal Navy will be seriously weakened by these reductions.
Mercifully, the three small aircraft carriers and the 22 Harriers have survived the cuts. But the air cover they provide is terribly thin and we so nearly paid a dreadful price in the Falklands for not retaining conventional aircraft carriers in the Royal Navy. So please, let no one ever contemplate any cuts in our carriers and their aircraft.
The other damaging result of the proposed cuts in the Royal Navy is that they will also affect the role of the Royal Navy in peacetime. "Showing the flag" is an unfashionable term today because of its association with Empire. But it is still a very important contribution by the Royal Navy to British trade and to our standing in the world. You see, my Lords, the Army and the Royal Air Force cannot play this role. Foreign countries are not exactly keen to welcome visits by a battalion of soldiers or a squadron of Tornados. But visits by ships of Her Majesty's Royal Navy are always received with great pleasure. Anyone who has been present on such an occasion in a 1315 Commonwealth or foreign country will be able to confirm this. But if you cut the number of destroyers and frigates from 40 to 35, you significantly affect the capability of the Royal Navy to carry out this valuable peacetime function.
I urgently ask the Government to reconsider these reductions. The Statement on the 1993 Defence Estimates is called Defending our Future. My fear is that these latest cuts, together with the huge reductions under Options for Change, will seriously endanger Britain's capability to defend her future.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Lord Ashbourne
My Lords, I have good news for the House, I shall he extremely brief and resume my seat in three or four minutes. First, I wish to say a word about the four Upholder class submarines. On page 10 of the White Paper we are told:[The Government] are now examining options for the sale, lease or storage of the four submarines in this Class".These are brand new, conventional submarines, fast, very silent and extremely difficult to detect. They have a broad range of modern, sophisticated sensors. I merely ask the Minister whether we are getting value for money by disposing of the submarines which we have designed and built and which are now coming to fruition. Are we now to get rid of them? Is that really good value for money which the Ministry of Defence, quite rightly, is always talking about? Would we not be better advised to accept the ships? I give that thought to the Minister.
Secondly, I wish to touch on a letter in the Daily Telegraph earlier this month from the Member of Parliament for Finchley. It is headed "Defence is key to sovereignty", and, with the leave of the House, shall quote it:Sir, May I, as an international lawyer, widen the point made by Rupert Allason … Britain as a sovereign nation has the inalienable right to make or terminate treaties.
"No statement made in Maastricht or anywhere else relinquishes this power. All this treaty does is to cede some sovereignty until such time as we decide to terminate the treaty. Both the High Court and the Government have stated that nothing would prevent our withdrawal subject to negotiating the terms.
"However, Britain must retain the independent military power to back up our possible decision to terminate any treaty in years to come. Only if we become militarily impotent or dependent on others for our defence could our sovereign right to make or dispense with treaties be regarded as useless, as many fear is already the case". That is signed by Hartley Booth, MP.
Informed defence commentators feel that we are approaching military impotence and certainly we are getting close to the point where we are dependent for our defence upon others. I give one thought to the Government in the form of a question: will they consider that relationship between defence and sovereignty, which is much more topical now that we have just ratified the Treaty on European Union, to give it its full name?
There are two ugly rumours that I hear emanating from the Ministry of Defence. One is that the Chiefs of' Staff are being challenged because the Government are considering introducing performance-related pay, which is causing them much alarm. The other rumour is that the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, where 1316 for a great number of years all officer training has taken place, is under consideration for the chop. I merely ask the Minister when he winds up to state whether there is any substance to those rumours or whether he can set our minds at ease.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Viscount Slim
My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for the debate today. Certainly I support the noble Baroness in her Motion. She should certainly consider carefully what the noble Viscount says before she withdraws it because I believe that there is a strong measure of opinion in the House that would support her from all sides.
I should like to follow up the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in one area. He said that we must look ahead and have a national strategy. We seem to have become a nation of short-term thinkers. The average Minister and average Member in another place cannot see beyond the next election in five years' time. He sits hoping that he will still he there. There is no real long-term thinking. Particularly I liked to hear the other day that the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence might move further together. Personally I have no objections to that as long as it does not erode the position of the Chiefs of Staff in their tasks.
I should like very quickly to draw the noble Viscount's attention to one area; namely, with the paucity of our forces and the limited operational capabilities that they will have or do have, it is necessary to emphasise the prime importance of intelligence. There has been much debate about internal intelligence for our battle against terrorism. When we deploy our forces, we must have the very finest intelligence, intelligence that is up-to-date and good. There are lessons about that to be learned from the Gulf but I shall not worry the noble Viscount further on the matter because he is aware of it. However, there is a proliferation of organisations and it seems to me—I have some slight experience in these matters—that it needs pulling together.
I must also tell the noble Viscount that I was perturbed to hear, because I believe that this would come into the deliberations of the Ministries concerned, that £250 million were to he spent on a new procurement office and sales office. Those are vital areas of defence and economic recovery. They have to be well run and made cost-effective. Sales are important too. But £250 million sterling represents a large number of bayonets. The Government have to prove that the spending is worth it. I merely say that instead of building offices there is enough office space going abegging in the City and throughout Great Britain at the moment. I should have thought that suitable premises could be found at good prices. I ask the noble Viscount to look carefully and consider whether that is a real spend that we need.
With regard to the new White Paper, I also welcome the openness and congratulate the noble Viscount on it. However I find it very difficult to agree with the assumptions upon which the force levels are now based. Perhaps I may follow on from what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said. Over the years I observed that our force levels in Europe were 1317 used very much as a pool to reinforce Northern Ireland and our overseas stations. In those old days we always agreed that, come a battle on our roughly 50 miles of front, to save our forces from destruction we would very quickly fling a tactical or strategic nuclear.
Therefore, in the comfort of that, the infantry levels in particular were used as the main pool of the roulement for the whole of the dispositions of Her Majesty's Army around the world. I should like to remind the noble Viscount that even in those days, when we had some infantry, we still had to convert gunners to the infantry role to keep Ulster going. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, was quite right to make the point and ask whether we are getting a cost-effective outlay in Ulster.
I turn quickly to Ulster. The other day I listened with interest to a colleague of the noble Viscount who said, if I understood him correctly, that as he went around the world he felt that we were doing a very good job in our war against terrorism. I go around the world too a great deal. I notice nations which have dealt with their terrorist threat. I notice nations which are working at dealing vigorously and effectively with their terrorist threat. When I meet and speak to people, they do not think much of the way that the British handle the matter. They think that we are weak and rather ineffective. Certainly we have not won the battle and certainly we do not look like winning the battle. I am concerned that politicians should think like that and I hope that in all the main departments that is not correct. The point is that we have not won and I do not think that we are very good at doing it.
Let me put one suggestion to the noble Viscount. I simply cannot understand, with noble and learned Lords in this House and many different hues of lawyers in another place, why we cannot change the law—amend the law—to deal with terrorism so that our police forces, the security forces and the Armed Forces, can get on with the battle and win.
There is such a defeatist atmosphere throughout that we have to live with the situation and take it. It stems from the fact that politicians, who are not always very brave (as I do not mind saying), will not take tough and harsh decisions so that we can deal with the problems of terrorism. In my view it is almost ridiculous that we are in our 25th year or whatever of engagement in this problem.
But I have said enough about that. Wherever I go in political circles the next thing I hear is the cry that because everybody else is disarming we, the British, can disarm. I find that to be erroneous. Obviously no one has read the history books. We have heard politicians say that for many years. We have always regretted disarming to such a state that we are almost powerless. Only a few of our friends are disarming. If noble Lords listened to the speech of the noble Baroness, they would understand that we still have to be a little suspicious of our new Russian friends.
Going round the world, if one looks at South America, Asia, the Middle East, certainly parts of Africa, and the countries of the new independent nations of the old Russia, one would see that there is a bit of a rat race over arming. There is very heavy 1318 arming by many nations in the areas I have mentioned. New alliances are starting. It is a very dangerous situation. Before the non-proliferation treaty that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, is always talking about comes fully into force, the race to get nuclear, chemical and biological weapons will be rampant. The glossy way in which people tell us that that we need not worry, that all is well and we may disarm is most dangerous. I have to say to the noble Viscount that I do not think any nation except the British has been so stupid as to cut its teeth arms in the percentage that has been done in these latest cuts. I am told that to have two battalions back is good. Of course that is better than not having two battalions at all. But I am concerned about the whole emphasis and the whole ethos of the way in which the Government set about these matters.
All this definitely leads me to say that of course we have a Cabinet that is Treasury led. One or two noble Lords have asked why they do not stand up and say so. Why do they not say: "This is all we can do for the moment. When things get better, obviously the Armed Forces will be looked at again within the national strategy plan that is made"? At present the Government are not serving the nation as they should.
Let me turn quickly to the reserves. I think that our reserve forces need complete modernisation. We are still working on structures that served us in two world wars. There were lessons to be learnt from the Gulf, and the noble Viscount will be aware of them. We were perhaps again politically not bold enough to deploy our reserves, call them up and mobilise them in sufficient time. There were deficiencies and discrepancies. Not all were called. There are areas from which we can learn. Perhaps we can learn from the Americans and Canadians, who are much cleverer than we are at working and mobilising their reserves. Those countries seem to have instant political action that gets them going when danger threatens.
Of course, perhaps you are a young staff officer, sitting clinging on to your seat in the Ministry of Defence as long as you can. With the stringent financial economies that are coming, it does not take you long to do the sums. If you can get rid of six reservists you can get one more regular. That is roughly a sum with which I believe the noble Viscount will agree. Therefore, obviously the chiefs of staff and others are not applying their minds to the business of reserves. They are fighting hard for what little regular forces they can get. In a way one cannot blame them. But I would have thought that we need reserves.
Over the whole area, the chiefs of staff can say what they want. There are areas where we can plan and train properly —tri-service, jointly. We need two types. We need a chap who can go straight to the front line with a rifle which (if the noble Viscount will let me say it kindly) works. He either has to be there as an individual in a front line unit or go in a small group. We need all the logistics, the communicators, the medical people and everything else that we understand. Again, I would have thought that much of the training could be done on a tri-service basis. Putting it over-simply, if my scout car, (my Land Rover) breaks down, I cannot mend it. I do not mind 1319 if a sailor, soldier or airman comes along and fixes it. Many of us have worked in combined headquarters where a signaller can come from any of the three services. So I believe that there is an exciting area there. Given their head—the TAVRA are kept singularly ill-informed and are seldom consulted properly—we could have a really new look and a modernised reserve force.
I do not know why, but the Lords of the Admiralty have annihilated the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR). I am particularly worried about that. I shall ask the noble Viscount to read a letter that was sent to the Under-Secretaries by General Sir John Akehurst (I believe it was dated 6th July, ref. 328) in which he put forward some very firm and sensible proposals for the new development and what the RNR could do. We all agree that we can cut the reserve force levels a little if we cut our own levels of the regulars.
I am not happy, as I think is apparent to noble Lords, with the state of the armed services and what has happened. I believe that we are being badly done by, and that the Government are failing in their duty.
I also sense calamity. I see such a tight wire of things happening. I am not impressed by 50 different tasks, and multiple this and multiple that. I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who said that nowhere is the unexpected catered for.
It is also a time when we should think of the chiefs of staff. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and other noble and gallant Lords made mention of that. They need support, and they have our sympathy. In my view we are entering a decade into the next century which is far more dangerous than the old-system that we were used to, where everybody knew just how far they could go and then they would stop. I think the dangers are immense for the next 20 years. With the greatest respect, I say to our chiefs of staff that under our tradition—which is a good tradition and one in which we bend over backwards in the services to do what the politicians want—there is a higher responsibility; namely, to the Sovereign and the nation. I believe that perpetual acquiescence without a squeak is not necessarily the best generalship for the next few years.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I rise to speak in this debate with some trepidation. I am not in any sense experienced in the ways of the military. I am a civilian. I speak, as it were, more as an economist. I welcome this opportunity to debate the Defence Estimates. I agree with the noble Baroness that we should have frequent and regular opportunities to do so.
I find Defending our Future a very interesting document to read. It is very explicit in the way that it sets out the problems. It has a kind of analytical view. It is that which I wish to discuss.
First, as many noble Lords have said, we live in a different world. There used to be a world in which we more or less knew who the enemy was. Although we hoped and prayed that the possibility of overt conflict would be small, the loss attached to such a conflict would have been so large that, as it were, if one multiplied the two together there would have been an 1320 enormous cost of letting our vigilance slack. We live in a different world today. There is much greater uncertainty. We do not know who the enemy is. But the loss attached to any particular conflict happens to be not all that large. We are not contemplating, except in a very remote sense, the possibility of a nuclear war. Therefore it is quite correct that if we face a different world with greater uncertainty but one in which each possible event has a smaller loss we may find that we have a different situation—a different expected loss, if I may say so—and that we need a different strategy.
I am no expert on choosing what strategy to have. The world has changed in terms of military capabilities and over the past 40 years the United Kingdom economy has declined in its relative position. This is an all-party, not a single party, problem. We no longer have the capability in terms of our wealth that we used to have. Therefore, we have, whether or not the Treasury says so, to cut our cloth appropriately. In that respect, if people would like a larger defence budget they have to say whether they believe that there are strategies open to increase our growth rate so that we may have a larger cake from which to share; or they must say that some other parts of public expenditure should be cut to give more to defence; or perhaps—I have said this before and I do not mind saying it again—that we should have more spending and more taxation. I am quite happy with that as well.
But we cannot say that we do not like large taxation and we do not have a policy to expedite economic growth but we still want to maintain a much larger defence force unless we ask where the money is going to come from and what are we going to cut. That is very important. Within the total one may dispute whether it is infantry, Navy or Air Force. I believe that that larger context has to be set. Although there are reasons for believing that when we finally get out of this recession the long-term growth rate of the UK economy will be in a slightly better position than it was in the 1970s and early 1980s, it will he 15 or 20 years before we finally see the fruits of it and are able to afford a much larger defence budget. In the meantime we have to look for where possible savings can come from or where we can possibly rejig the sectoral distribution of public expenditure.
I have been of the opinion for a long time—perhaps I am wrong but I do not believe so—that we have historically spent much more on defence as a percentage of GDP compared with our European NATO partners. Although for a long time there was some justification for that, the justification is now wearing thin. We are not, unfortunately, any longer a great power. We are a middling power and therefore we have to do what a middling power does. Basically, what the Government are doing—let us make no secret of it—is steadily cutting defence as a percentage of GDP. The table in Defending Our Future gives the numbers for 1992 and shows that we are spending more than 4 per cent. of GDP on defence. However, if one looks at the projections in the Autumn Statement. one sees that we shall he sensibly down to under 3.5 per cent. within a couple of years. This Government are the first government to have frozen 1321 defence expenditure in nominal terms, which is therefore a real cut. I welcome that. It is entirely in agreement with my beliefs.
Having said that, what they have not done is to examine carefully the downside effects on our armaments industry, especially the unemployment of highly skilled personnel. The skilled personnel who work in our various defence industries are very necessary and important to enhance the growth rate elsewhere in the economy. The Government should have thought about that. They should have thought about the redeployment of highly skilled people. They should have thought about the redundancies and sackings being caused in those firms, especially the refusal to take on younger apprentices. It is not a good thing. Perhaps the Government should even now think constructively about how to redeploy some of those people. Otherwise, the peace dividend we talk about will not only not come but the closure of many of the shipyards and defence firms will cost us money. Cutting defence expenditure will be a more costly option than going on spending money. This shows a lack of systematic thinking and I believe that we should do something about that.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel that in situating our problems in the larger context it is Defence Role 3 that should be regarded as even more important in the future than Defence Role 2. I presume that in the future it will be Defence Role 1 and Defence Role 3. I am surprised therefore that in Table 5 of the document, where the Government project defence expenditure, they say under Defence Role 3 that they see incremental costs going down to zero by 1995–96. There is absolutely no justification for that assumption except to make the numbers come out right. I wonder what is the justification for that.
I should also mention, as some other noble Lords have mentioned it, that Table 3, which happens to be one of the significant innovations of the report, is very confusing. Having said that, as much as there is a multiple use of the same resources—I refer to Table 3 on page 22—if one looks at the last two columns T and I, "Grand Total", roughly the relationship of T to I is the amount of multiple use, the multiplier we wish. Some of those multipliers look unconvincingly large. I cannot believe that one can get that much multiple use out of that little force. But there may be a proper technical defence of that. The document is trying to promise too much. It is trying to say, yes, we can do all those things, but all the same recognising quite correctly that there is not money to do all those things. Someone has to think rather hard as to which parts of this document are window dressing and which are for real defence planning.
I now come to two points which may be somewhat controversial. There are two areas in which the Government will have to think carefully as to whether there may be room for re-examining expenditure. The first will come as no surprise to some people. I refer to the Government's nuclear policy. My noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney has said quite a lot on this matter, as have other noble Lords. What I find surprising is that in the Government's defence of their 1322 continuation of current policy the reasons have changed very much. Indeed, it is a moving feast as to why the Government go on believing in what they do.
On 16th June 1977 the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—she was the Leader of the Opposition at the time—said in Parliament to my noble friend Lord Callaghan:Is the Prime Minister aware that we support him in entering talks to achieve a comprehensive test-ban treaty?" —[Official Report, Commons, 16/6/77; col. 558.]I ask the noble Viscount to say what has happened to that desire for a comprehensive test ban treaty, which was not only affirmed by the noble Baroness at that time, but later on the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, when he was Foreign Secretary, said in a speech to the UN Association in 1980, and again in 1982, that a comprehensive test ban treaty remained an objective of the British Government. Until 1986 that remained the Government's stand.
It was only after the thaw between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, and after Mrs. Thatcher had discovered that she could do business with Mr. Gorbachev, that, paradoxically, the UK's stance on the comprehensive test ban treaty has become much harder. But even then, Mr. David Mellor, when he was Minister, said in a Written Answer that there were only technical problems of verification to a test ban treaty. It is only much later that we have the astonishing doctrine which Mr. William Waldegrave mentioned when he was an FCO Minister. He said that an immediate move to a comprehensive test ban would be premature and perhaps even destabilising.
From then on the matter has continued in that way, various reasons being given as to why we cannot have a comprehensive test ban treaty and why we must continue testing. One has to have in mind especially the changed stance of the US Government as regards testing. It has been made clear that we are very much dependent on them as regards our own nuclear policy. Given that the United States is taking such a clear and progressive stance, that President Clinton has committed himself to achieving a comprehensive test ban treaty—there is the Hatfield-Exon Mitchell amendment in the US Congress to the Energy Act going through—and that the United States is committed to working towards a comprehensive test ban treaty, I am surprised that our Government remain the one government against such a treaty.
It should be obvious that we should go along with a comprehensive test ban treaty and also strengthen the non-proliferation treaty which is coming up for review very soon. In itself it is a very good thing. There is also a dividend attached to it which may slightly ease the problem, not this year or the next but in the near future.
If not, the Government have to make sacrifices as regards other defence matters and those sacrifices have to be justified by an insistence on one rather large item. Looking at the table, that item is about £4 billion, or one-sixth of the total budget. In the context of the changing situation as regards the United States and the French working towards a comprehensive test ban treaty, it would be good to know why we insist on following a lonely path.
1323 The second item, as many noble Lords have mentioned, is our policy in Northern Ireland. I find it astonishing that in Chapter 3, under Defence Role One, I do not see the full statement of the 18 battalions required which are currently deployed in Northern Ireland. While I am not an expert, if tables are included they should be made easy to read. I cannot see the point of including a table if it is not made clear. As the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, said, we have been in this situation for 25 years. We go on reiterating that we shall not let the terrorists win. God knows what happened last Thursday evening and what deals were or were not made by the Government. I do not know whether those deals will prolong the problem.
Although it is part of domestic policy, as well as being a problem for defence, there should be much more openness and clarity about what the Northern Ireland policy is. It cannot be that the Government contemplate this level of commitment, or even a higher one, for any reasonable length of time. The problem has to be solved for the sake of all of us. I do not know how the Government will solve it. Perhaps they should try again with a comprehensive look at the Northern Ireland problem. Until that is done it will be another great drag on the defence budget which will not go away. It will restrict more and more the provision available for elsewhere.
In the reasonably near future there is going to be a considerable problem of resources. Our role has changed: we may be deploying more forces abroad in a UN peacekeeping operation and things of that nature. If we are to carry out those commitments as well as looking after other matters, besides allowing for uncertainties and the unexpected, we have to re-examine very carefully and rapidly the kind of things we do today to see whether we cannot do them a little better.
§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Lord Vivian
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Park and support the Motion she has put before the House. In this debate I am going to confine my remarks to the Army and concentrate mainly on its resources and commitments and touch on the training, equipment and reserves which are so badly needed if we wish to continue to have the best Army in the world.
There are serious doubts about the proposed future size of the Army, which will now have an establishment of 119,000 personnel of which only 107,000 will be combat troops. I am convinced that the continued rundown in these uncertain and dangerous times goes too far too quickly and that we should cease any further Options for Change reductions now.
Many of your Lordships have emphasised the current dangers. It is more likely that the risks facing Britain will increase rather than decrease during the next decade. Some of the examples of these dangers are the continuing existence of the massive nuclear arsenal of the former Soviet Union and the 2 million or so conventionally armed Russians, which, even after the reduction of about I million troops, can only be regarded as an existing military threat to Europe 1324 —not in the terms of Russian armies sweeping across Europe, but in the seemingly endless potential for violence as a result of national and ethnic rivalries in the former Soviet Union which could spill over into Eastern Europe or elsewhere. One such example is the current conflict between Tajikstan and Afghanistan. Other dangers include nuclear proliferation and the spread of chemical and biological weapon capabilities, particularly in the Middle East, Libya, India, North Korea and China; regional power imbalances, including in the Gulf area where Iran has recently purchased diesel submarines and other military equipment from Russia as well as Scuds from China and North Korea; and the threat to stability presented by mass migration, whether for social and economic reasons or as a result of violence and insecurity, which can cause a resurrection of ardent nationalism.
I now turn to resources and commitments—and here I think I am cast in the role of the junior stall' officer referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. However, a little detail is necessary. I am convinced that we have, and will continue to have, insufficient infantry battalions and armed reconnaissance regiments to deploy in the face of our commitments. It is those two types of unit that are more likely to be required in support of United Nations or Western European Union-type operations. Although the tables in the Statement on the Defence Estimates show the tasks and units required for Defence Roles 1, 2, and 3, they also illustrate well the degree of over-commitment, even with the double earmarking policy.
In the Army, there are two types of tours. known as Arms Plot Tours, which are accompanied tours for a minimum of two and a half years, and Emergency Tour Plots, which are for six months and are unaccompanied. I shall refer to those tours as "accompanied" and "unaccompanied". The Ministry of Defence has decreed—in my opinion quite correctly that no unit should undergo a second six-month unaccompanied tour without a 24-month interval between tours. That not only enables a family to be together for 24 months; it also ensures that the unit is carrying out its primary role for an unbroken period of two years.
That interval of 24 months between tours has not been achieved. It must he understood that to sustain any one infantry battalion on a six-month unaccompanied tour requires five other battalions. Regrettably, I disagree with my noble friend over the tour intervals for unaccompanied commitments. For instance, the average six-month unaccompanied tour interval for infantry battalions was only 18 months in 1990–91. It will be 16 months in 1993–94, reducing to 15 months in 1994–95 with, in my opinion, little improvement suspected for the late 1990s. So why has that occurred?
This chronic overstretch, which is a major factor in the deterioration of morale, has occurred and will continue to occur because the cuts and planned cuts in the infantry go too far. By the mid-1990s we shall be reduced to a total of 41 infantry battalions to which can be added three Royal Marine Commandos making a total of 44 infantry units.
1325 Looking ahead, and even using a most conservative estimate, there are likely to be not less than 29 infantry accompanied commitments, excluding the Berlin and Belize garrisons from which three infantry battalions will be withdrawn, and excluding a further two battalions in Hong Kong, which will have been withdrawn by 1995. Using the sustainability factor of five for unaccompanied tours, there is, and is likely to continue to be, a requirement for seven and a half unaccompanied commitments which will need a total of 37 and a half battalions to sustain. Based on those commitments, there will be a shortfall of 22 and a half battalions if government policy of 24 months between unaccompanied tours is to be retained.
There are a number of possible solutions for overcoming the shortfall. None is all satisfactory. To reduce the unaccompanied tour interval from 24 to 18 months is, I believe, unacceptable. To stop any further reduction in the infantry may provide a further eight battalions but will not on its own overcome the overstretch problem. And to reduce the number of commitments, particularly in the unaccompanied sector, or to task more Royal Armoured Corps, Royal Artillery and Royal Engineer regiments in the dismounted infantry role for unaccompanied tours will only lead to a deterioration of their primary roles.
I turn briefly to armoured reconnaissance regiments, which have been reduced from five to two, and armoured regiments, which will soon have been reduced from 13 to eight. It is easy to see that if either of the two remaining reconnaissance regiments should be committed to a six-month unaccompanied tour, the interval between tours will amount to only six months and not the 24 months promised by the Government. Clearly, this shows the need for a third armoured reconnaissance regiment. The eight remaining armoured regiments, six of which are dedicated to the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, are faced with additional commitments which will cause severe overstretch. One regiment will be in the infantry role in Northern Ireland; another will be in the observation post role in UNFICYP; and a third regiment (or the major part of it) will provide the enemy force at BATUS.
I am well aware that I have left myself little time to mention training and equipment. However, the overcommitment of our fighting units in the future is a most important and critical question to be addressed —and addressed again urgently. During the past few years training has been severely limited. This will lower the high standards of our professional Army.
There have been few, if any, large-scale all arms exercises involving divisions and brigades, with all their units in the field, in Germany or the United Kingdom. However, the training area in Canada provides excellent facilities for the all arms battle group, which exercises with live firing. The Soltau training area in Germany is due to he handed back to the Germans in the near future. It is essential that another training area is found relatively close to the British area in Germany; otherwise the overall training budget will he spent on moving to and from the training area.
1326 Simulators are in some respects an attractive alternative to field training. They save money and wear and tear on operational equipment, but there is no real substitute for training in the field, experiencing all elements of the weather and working through fatigue due to lack of sleep and arduous conditions.
I turn now to equipment. The replacement of Chieftain tanks by Challenger 2 is a most welcome step. When will Challenger 1 be replaced by Challenger 2, giving the remaining armoured regiments an up-to-date and highly effective tank? Can it also be confirmed when the balance of 171 AS90s will he delivered to the Royal Artillery? Can it be explained why the AS90 cooling system has to undergo an expensive modification before the vehicle can operate in hot climates?
If the Regular Army, including its vital teeth arms, is being reduced, it is essential that the Territorial Army and reserves are established in sufficient numbers and formed as as a general reserve. To tie reservists to specific tasks in some respects makes them less flexible but fulfils roles that the Regular Army does not have enough units to do itself. A number of Territorial Army units could be formed into logistical support units for the Regular Army in the United Kingdom, provided some adjustments are made to regimental establishments to incorporate more first-line logistical support. That would reduce the number of Regular Army logistic support units, which could save a number of teeth arms from further amalgamation. The Territorial Army could be reformed to provide the fourth squadron for armoured regiments and the fourth rifle company for battalions, if further reductions are contemplated for regiments and battalions. Those reservists would be badged to their parent units and become part of the regimental system, with all the benefits that that would provide.
It is illogical that when reducing our regular forces we also reduce and weaken our reserves. Strong reserve forces contribute to national cohesion and a sense of identity. They provide training and a challenge for the younger element of civilian society. Without sufficient and fully established reserves, the security of the nation will be put at risk.
There is a belief in the Army and elsewhere that the unofficial but significant long-term costings for the next 10 years provide the finance required for an Army of only around 101,000 personnel, signifying that the money to pay for the remaining 18,000 will have to be found from the equipment and support budget. Can the Government confirm that the figure of 119,000 personnel, with their equipment and support costs, will be completely funded by the Government for the foreseeable future?
In conclusion, I consider it inappropriate, ill-advised and unwise to carry through any more Army reductions, and that the Government should cancel now all amalgamations or disbandments of the remaining teeth arms currently planned.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, in October 1991 in the last debate upon the Defence Estimates I spoke about Options for Change and the proposed reductions in the size of the infantry; of the need for a comprehensive review of our defence requirements; of the problem of overstretch; and I questioned the wisdom of some of the proposed amalgamations of our fine regiments, the Queen's Own and the Gordon Highlanders in particular. Now, two years, five nagging speeches and a couple of Questions later, I stand by everything I then said. I have some sympathy with the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Park, although for various reasons I am not sure that I am prepared to support it in the Lobbies.
The all-party Select Committee on Defence of another place has been calling for a thorough review of the defence of this country and our military commitments worldwide ever since Options. Now we have a sort of mini-review, but the cuts proposed in Options were based on the starry-eyed idea that upon the disintegration of the Soviet Union world peace had broken out. As the Minister agreed in his opening speech, it has not. At present there are 26 major conflicts in progress throughout the world; 24 areas where major levels of insurgency are likely to develop into war; and 25 other areas which display acute tension. That is scarcely world peace.
The Select Committee on Defence says in paragraph 54 of its second report, published on 14th January this year, that it is not impressed with the leeway allowed in the Government's plans for the Army to provide for the unexpected. Whereas the Army makes a supernumerary allowance of 4 per cent. to cover soldiers away on courses, ill or unavailable, the Ministry of Defence was unable to demonstrate, when questioned, that such a figure existed with regard to the force structure envisaged in Options, and its silence confirmed the committee's conviction that no leeway existed. Provision for the unexpected is not mentioned as such in Defending our Future, as other noble Lords have said.
In paragraph 56, the committee expressed concern that the additional emergency tour tasks assumed by the infantry since the beginning of 1992 in Northern Ireland and Bosnia have led to an unacceptable reduction in the emergency tour interval. It was concerned that the increasing use of non-infantry units as infantry to meet emergency tour commitments would threaten the effectiveness of those units. It was concerned that overstretch will be the normal state of affairs in the Army, even if the additional deployment in Northern Ireland and Bosnia does not continue. It believes that that overstretch will continue after 1995 when the amalgamations of the regiments have been completed. It recommends that all amalgamations and disbandments of infantry battalions be cancelled.
In a memorandum the Ministry of Defence rejected those criticisms. It did not refer to the criticism that there was no leeway for the unexpected; it just ignored it. On 16th June the Select Committee published a response (its fifth report) to that memorandum in which it said: 1328We in our turn are not convinced that the Army is large enough to meet all of its present or prospective commitments without unacceptable strain: we are disturbed at the apparent inability to find even a brigade to send as reinforcements to Bosnia and we intend to continue to press for the implementation of our earlier recommendation that the amalgamation or disbandment of UK infantry battalions be cancelled".It goes on to say:Ministers must accept that, while the problems of restructuring were indeed foreseen, the strains of additional commitments in Bosnia and Northern Ireland were not, and that the current state of overstretch is worse than anticipated in July 1991".I understand that the Ministry of Defence admits that operational tour intervals are already down to 15 months instead of 24. Non-infantry units are having to be used as infantry in Northern Ireland. The Minister said that the intervals between operational tours would lengthen again until they reached 29 months in—I think he said—1997. I wonder why he is so sure of that when the Select Committee is so doubtful.
A report in the Telegraph on Friday 18th June of an announcement made by the Secretary of State for Defence stated that Territorial Army volunteers were to be deployed alongside regular soldiers on peacetime operations, including United Nations duties; and new legislation would be introduced to simplify call-up procedures for the reserves. I believe that my noble friend Lord Erroll and the noble Viscount, Lord De L'Isle, will have more to say about that. I shall not poach on their preserve beyond saying that if we are so short of infantry that we are contemplating using territorials in Bosnia, surely it is quite clear that there is a total lack of provision for the unexpected, and, therefore, the proposed amalgamations of regiments should be cancelled. I should like to remind the Government once again that we did not expect either the Falklands war or the Gulf war. Trouble so often comes from a totally unexpected direction. The Government should take most seriously the misgivings of the Select Committee instead of attempting to dismiss them.
Double earmarking may not be unreasonable, but surely you need larger forces to be double earmarked if you are to avoid serious overstretch and a quality of life unacceptable in peacetime for personnel, wives and families. I am not quarrelling so much with the estimate of the Ministry of Defence as regards our commitments, with the exception of inadequate or no provision for the unexpected. What I am quarrelling with is its estimate of the resources in general, and the number of infantry battalions in particular, necessary to carry out those commitments. At the end of the day it is up to the Government. The Cabinet decides how much is to be spent and not the Ministry of Defence. It is up to the Cabinet to decide to spend what is necessary.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, it was interesting and sad to read that the Royal Yacht no longer has a war role. There is a wealth of goodwill towards "Britannia" and I have never heard anybody voice any 1329 criticism of the Royal Yacht being included in the naval estimates. Indeed, whenever she appears people are proud to go and look at her as she passes by.
Many people are aware of' the value that "Britannia" has given to the nation not just as a Royal Yacht offering vital security to the Head of State in certain difficult parts of the world but also her work in rescuing British people from trouble spots, hosting trade exhibitions and other practical uses to which she has been put including good public relations for the country. Indeed, during peacetime she has given greater service to the nation than have the guns of the rest of the Royal Navy.
But everybody knows that "Britannia" is a hospital ship in wartime. Now that is no longer the case due to the different fuel oil that is used by the rest of the fleet. Without that wartime role I believe that it is only a matter of time before people will start to query why "Britannia" is a charge to the Navy. It may be possible for her engines to be changed to run on heavy oil but I doubt that. In addition to that is the electrical problem whereby her life is in danger anyhow through the difficulty of replacing her generators.
The reason why I raise the question of "Britannia", apart from the points that I have made, is that it would probably be an ideal time for her to be replaced with a modern vessel able to perform all the duties, including that of hospital ship, fully to justify her existence and cost, or alternatively for her to be fully modernised. The new vessel could be built in the North of England at one of the shipyards crying out for work and make a great contribution to revitalising the economy of that area. The North-East would take an enormous pride in being able to build a new "Britannia" probably on a very competitive tender.
I have recently read with interest the history of the Navy in the Second World War. I was reminded of the outstanding lesson concerning the large number of ships needed to locate the enemy on the ocean wastes and the comparatively small number of ships needed to deal with him once he was found. The same principle applied to the other services. All that has now changed with satellite observation, drone aircraft, electronic intercept and so forth so that a huge force is no longer needed to find the enemy, but force can he concentrated in the right place and time to knock it out wherever it is.
We have seen that happen in the air with the single bomber dropping a precision guided bomb and achieving more than a carpet of bombs by a fleet of planes. Again, on land, the emphasis is equally on reconnaissance so that a powerful small force can be brought to bear where needed and that force does not waste time swanning about looking for the enemy.
Like my noble friend Lord Vivian, I am surprised that the number of reconnaissance regiments has been so greatly reduced, because it was those regiments which were best able to identify problems over a wide area and call down the appropriate heavy and technical support to deal with them. That must be missed particularly in Yugoslavia. It is impossible to cover all the towns and villages that are suffering from 1330 ethnic cleansing due to the shortage of small patrols which can cover and report on a limited number of places.
I always wonder why the military has not taken more advantage of the microlight as a reconnaissance vehicle. A regiment equipped with a large number of microlights would be able to cover and report on a very large area at extremely low cost in military terms allowing the heavier forces and support to be directed from one trouble spot to another, based on good information from a wide area. Microlights are of course of particular value in mountainous country with their high rate of climb and hedge-hopping ability. I believe that my noble friend the Minister is well aware of the capabilities of microlights and has seen in the past the military appreciation written about them. In fact I believe that he has flown in one and I hope that he was as impressed as I was by their stealthy characteristics.
The key to a small numerical defence force is superior technical equipment as was amply proved in the Gulf. Surely that principle justifies the need for Trident over Polaris, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. It is pointless having Polaris if it is known that it is out of date and can be countered.
Likewise, as the noble Lord, Lord Murton, said, it is essential to keep R&D thriving so that our small force can deal successfully with larger forces when required. As the noble Lord said, "The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war".
The White Paper rightly points to terrorism as being a continuing serious problem and there is no indication that that nuisance can ever be reduced as most of the terrorists are fighting for insoluble aims or for criminal gain. One of the most successful and cost-effective elements is the special forces and of course intelligence. It is infinitely cheaper to catch a bomber before the bomb goes off than it is to clear up the mess; while special forces can cause dislocation out of all proportion to their numbers. There is understandably very little said about special forces in the White Paper and nothing about intelligence but clearly money spent on those departments can save an infinitely greater cost both as regards damage and the use of heavy forces. I hope that they are given all the funds that are needed.
It seems that "HMS Revenge" has completed her last patrol and is to be decommissioned. I should be very interested to know what will be done with all her contaminated nuclear engines and parts and to be assured that there are satisfactory plans for dealing with her when she is scrapped. Concern about the decommissioning of nuclear installations will increase rather than diminish as more and more come to the end of their lives. Even those who support the nuclear industry wish to be satisfied that there is a satisfactory way to deal with the refuse of contaminated parts.
Likewise, there is the danger brought about by the nuclear disposal by other countries of vessels such as sunken nuclear submarines—quite apart from Chernobyl-type accidents—which may contaminate our seas and fish. Some reassurance as regards nuclear disposal would be extremely welcome.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, I warmly welcome the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, that we should have a new Royal yacht. The noble Lord will forgive me if I say that I should prefer it to be built on the Tyne rather than on the Tees, which is where the noble Lord lives. In practice it would be cheaper to do that than to put several thousand people out of work at Swan Hunter. I hope that the Government will take seriously the noble Lord's suggestion.
I am not surprised or even dismayed that the defence policy of this country should be what is called "Treasury led". In the circumstances of this country's finances, it seems to me inevitable that that will be the case for a long time to come. In defence matters we shall be facing a situation where contraction in real or other terms is likely to continue for some time. It is against that background that we must examine most carefully whether the Government have achieved value for money in the excellent and very informative White Paper. It has never been more important to get it right and more dangerous to get it wrong.
There is a great deal of information in the White Paper, especially on page 76 where we are compared with other NATO countries in certain matters. Perhaps I may suggest that, in future, we should have a table which gives the percentage of civil servants to soldiers. We now have more civil servants in the Ministry of Defence than we have soldiers in the Army. It would he very interesting to know if that is the case in other NATO countries. I doubt it, but I do not know. However, there will be 135,000 civil servants as opposed to 119,000 soldiers. Is that really value for money?
No doubt noble Lords will soon become fed up if I turn to the reserves, as I have been concerned for so long with them one way and another. However, they are an important element in our defence forces precisely because they are such a very small part of our budget. Perhaps a few statistics will help—very few. A volunteer reservist costs about one-seventh of a regular. He does not need a house or a pension. We are talking about 0.3 per cent. of the working population, although probably much less because many of them are on the dole at present. The whole cost of all the reserve forces at present is almost exactly the same as three days of the National Health Service.
There are many who would argue that we should expand the reserves precisely because of their relative cheapness. However, they are going to be cut—not, I believe, for sound financial reasons, but because of the military policy of everyone taking a fair share. Even the smallest unit must not escape. It is known as the "equality of misery" theory. I fundamentally question whether that is the best way to get value for money.
Other countries are increasing their percentage of reservists. Australia will shortly have 50 per cent. of its army as volunteers but our Territorial Army is now the same size as that of the Republic of Singapore whose population is about 4 per cent. that of Great Britain. In paragraph 124 the White Paper says that we shall be,more reliant than previously on Reserves1332 in certain areas. Again, at paragraph 737, it says that reserves are a "key component" of our defence. The Government frequently say that they,attach the greatest importance to Reserves".That phrase, repeated recently by the Prime Minister, has come to be seen as a dreaded precursor to drastic reductions.
However, I warmly welcome the Secretary of State's promise to consult those involved. For good reasons, it was only possible to do that 24 hours before the RNR and RAAF decisions last month. But we are assured of discussions about the future of the TA in due course. I shall therefore say nothing more about it except to note that there is considerable anxiety in its ranks.
There are many snags to further use of the reserve forces. Employers' reactions are just one example: uncertainty about their readiness at a given moment is another. I personally believe that the time has come, in the name of value for money, to ask for a more definite legal commitment from a volunteer which would go a long way towards greater efficiency and less wastage. I believe that that would be well worth exploring.
I should like to speak more of the Royal Naval Reserve, already mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Slim. A reduction is proposed from 4,700 to 3,500; that is, over 25 per cent. Of that figure, only 500 will ever go to sea. Apparently there are no boats to go in, but never mind. The figure is derisory. I am afraid that it is the end of the Royal Naval Reserve. At least, that is what its members think. As the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, said, they feel that the Royal Navy has abandoned them. They feel that they have, perhaps, been thrown out of the back of the sledge by the Navy to feed the Treasury wolves lurking behind.
I am very worried about the long term damage to the relationship between the various parts of the Royal Navy as a result. Of course, the failure to find a role for them is at the bottom of it. One must agree that mine sweeping is not needed very urgently at present. However, there are many other things that could be done; for example, fishery protection, action to counter smuggling, coastal surveillance and so on —all of which are mentioned in "Military Task 1/" on page 29 of the White Paper. A naval presence could be provided in places where there is none at present. I believe that I am right in saying that there is no Royal Navy presence between Rosyth and London on the east coast. Several hundred volunteers may be asked to resign from the RNR. That is something that the Government promised would never happen.
Then there is the matter of the Royal Marine Reserve which contains only 1,300 men at the moment. The noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said on 17th June:there are no current plans to change existing arrangements for the Royal Marine Reserve".—[Official Report, 17/6/93; col. WA 87.]However, the reserve has now been told, at least unofficially, that about 40 per cent. of them will he stood down and two of the five units disbanded. We do not know whether this is true but surely these highly trained, mobile volunteers are exactly what we 1333 need in the future. I hope the noble Viscount will be able to confirm whether this is true and whether the Government have changed their mind on that.
In the case of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force much the same arguments apply—37 per cent. will go. That has led to a serious lack of morale in the ranks. The lack of a definite role has always been put forward as a reason for these reductions but surely to have a general reserve in all the services, even at these small sizes, cannot be wrong. They would be prepared against the unexpected and could help in civil disasters and in places where there is no other regular presence at all.
I turn to a totally different matter. The Ministry of Defence is desirous of expanding the training area and the ranges at Otterburn in Northumberland for the larger artillery guns which are now coming into use and for other training purposes. I hope that it succeeds in doing that. So, too, do the local people and, with detailed reservations, the local authorities in the area. Those who say that the Army should get out of a national park are living in Cloud-cuckoo-land. To deny the Army adequate training facilities is wicked. We must, as the Gulf and the Falklands showed, really train our servicemen properly. It would he absurdly expensive and almost certainly impossible to relocate these ranges anywhere else and it would desperately hurt the economy of the area if that were to happen. The gunners cannot fire their new weapons now in any other part of this country, I believe, and certainly not in Germany.
The House perhaps should recall that Winston Churchill purchased this vast tract of empty countryside for the Army in 1924 when he was Secretary of State for War with what was—we must admit—great foresight at the time. That occurred 25 years before any concept of a national park appeared on the scene. But if it had not been for the Army taking this land, the whole of the area would probably soon have been blanketed with conifers by the Forestry Commission and there would be no national park at all in that area.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Defence has proved itself over and over again a good conservationist. Perhaps I shall be told that is what all those civilian employees are doing on Salisbury Plain—protecting the wildlife. The Ministry of Defence is a good landlord. Access is excellent for the public in large parts of the area and the Ministry contributes many jobs and much money to the economy. Without the Army there would be nothing there at all. The Army is a responsible guardian and protector of the splendid scenery of the national park. I hope very much that it will be able to go ahead with its plans.
I would like to end with a tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne. Since his appointment I believe that he has gained the confidence of the Armed Forces and certainly of those of us involved in Reserve matters. I express the hope that he will remain in his present position for a long time. On page 82 of the White Paper he is referred to as the department's "Green Minister". I hope that means he is green in the sense of being a conservationist and not green in the 1334 sense of an unripe banana, or at any rate the "pink" of the noble Lord. Lord Hesketh, when he appeared a few hours ago. It was said of the noble Viscount's great great grandfather, the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury. that heNever lost his belief in the futility of the War Office".I hope that history never repeats itself.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Williams my military experience was confined to national service between school and university. I must say that my Army career contained more elements of farce than valour although I was the best shot in my intake and I was entitled to wear the crossed rifles insignia on my arm. However, I am glad to say that I never used that skill to hurt anyone.
The share of gross national product taken by defence is coming down. Nevertheless £23 billion is still a large sum which absorbs at the moment a greater proportion of GNP than is the case in any other country except the United States and Greece, which spends only one-tenth as much on defence as we do. We have to ask whether we need to spend such a large sum in today's post-Cold War world. While I am well aware that to reduce the defence budget more rapidly would cause hardship for many and bump up the unemployment rate unless there was considerable planning, which is something for which this Government do not have a great liking, I feel that some of our spending is misdirected for today's conditions.
For example, is Defence Role Two, which is to insure against a major external threat to the United Kingdom, still applicable today? Where exactly does that threat come from? I believe that even the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, knows that Russia, at the moment and for the foreseeable future, cannot mount that threat and does not even wish to do so. Her notion of sinister elements in the background, which she feels might restart the Cold War, amounts almost to paranoia.
It is questionable whether in Defence Role One nuclear forces provide the ultimate guarantee of United Kingdom security. No doubt the noble Viscount will disagree with me, as he does with my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney, but this gives me an opportunity to put one of the questions of which I gave him notice. Defending our Future gives the current annual cost of keeping our nuclear deterrent as £3.8 billion a year. How is that split between running costs and the capital costs of the quartet of Trident submarines? Can the noble Viscount give the current estimate of the total cost of the Tridents when completed?
I gather, and the Government have said, that the full potential payload of missiles and warheads of the Tridents is unlikely to be carried. I surmise that the exact number has not yet been decided. Can the noble Viscount tell us the cost of the submarines alone and also give an estimate of the additional cost per missile (the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, quoted some £30 1335 million for the missiles) and per warhead installed? Can he indicate the latest thoughts as to the number of warheads which each Trident submarine will carry?
The noble Viscount knows, of course, that as a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty we are required under Article 6, as a nuclear power, to pursue negotiations to reduce nuclear weapons—both our own and worldwide. That topic has already been covered by a number of speakers. Therefore, I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to tell us that the Trident fleet will carry no more, and preferably fewer, warheads than Polaris and that they will be of no greater power. If he does not tell us that he will be doing the world a dangerous disservice because would-be nuclear powers will get the message that at least one of the current nuclear powers, ourselves, is paying only lip-service to the treaty.
I now turn to the relative functions of Defence Roles One, Two and Three. Can the noble Viscount clarify further how those various defence roles will be supplied with forces? It appears from Table 3 that Defence Role Three will be supplied almost entirely by switching forces from Defence Roles One and Two. I assume that that is what is meant by "multiple earmarking". (I should have thought that that was almost a contradiction in terms.) As many other noble Lords have also suggested, it seems to me that Defence Role Three activities will be increasingly common in view of the continuing local conflicts all over the world. We should be designing our Armed Forces around that role rather than borrowing them from roles with a different goal and a different approach. I suspect that Defence Roles One and Two will require a higher degree of technical equipment and more sophisticated weapon systems than are required for Defence Role Three which is concerned with the maintenance of international peace and stability and will require different skills. I am aware that Desert Storm used highly advanced weapon systems. However, that war was rather exceptional among peacekeeping exercises and I suggest was also part of a very different agenda.
The Government have welcomed Dr. Boutros Boutros Ghali's outline Agenda for Peace last year in which, among other suggestions, he called for peacekeeping contributions from member states to be financed from defence rather than foreign affairs budgets. As calls for help in the prevention of conflict and peacemaking are likely to be with us for many years to come, that may well he the most important role of our Armed Forces and our defence budget. While the British Tommy is popular and humane in that new role, I suggest also that he is sometimes immensely frustrated at the limitations imposed by the peacekeeping role. That is partly because his training has equipped him to he an active fighting soldier. I hope that training at both staff college level and for other ranks will cover the new approaches required. I suggest that one reason for the recent trouble in Somalia appears to have been a misapprehension by the United States and Pakistan Forces on how to respond in the face of provocation. It is not very 1336 sensible to try to disarm a twitchy warlord—if one can dignify the man by such a title—by threatening to attack him.
In 1991, according to Professor Frank Blackaby, the former director of SIPRI (the Swedish Strategic Studies Institute), there were 30 ongoing military confrontations in the world in which 1,000 or more people had been killed; 26 of those were internal conflicts, and four were between nations. In only five were armed UN peacekeeping forces present. In 10 others, monitors—they were mainly United Nations monitors—were present, but in 15 there was no outside control or watch, nor was there a move to intervene, so remote or complex was the conflict. I cite examples such as Burma, East Timor, and Afghanistan where the Russians got their fingers very badly burnt.
That has justifiably raised the question of what determines the selection of the territories in which active intervention or peacekeeping takes place. For example, do only strategically important zones receive attention (or lack of attention as the case may be, as in East Timor?) There is still a long way to go before all the conflicts in progress today are sorted out. To intervene once the fighting has started is really too late. The aim in future must be to identify the potential sites of conflict early enough to give "preventive diplomacy"—to use the phrase which may possibly have been coined by Boutros Boutros Ghali—a chance to work.
As my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel said, rather than having a fire service, however effective, it is better to help people not to set things on fire in the first place. As part of that preventive strategy, the United Nations needs better early warning systems. I am pleased that the Government, among others, are fully aware of that and of assisting in that process. At one extreme, more use of satellites from a distance, and, at the other extreme, of locally informed non-governmental organisations are suggested.
But it is possible to go even further hack in trying to prevent conflict by recognising that there are some universal reasons for the discontent that demagogues, militarists, warlords, nationalists and religious fundamentalists use when whipping up hatred against the other side. More often than not, there is pre-existing economic or social hardship which can be blamed on "them", the other side. It follows that the true primary prevention of conflict involves helping poor or stagnating economies on to a path that gives real hope of betterment to ordinary people. I am fully aware that that is more difficult in the midst of an economic recession, but economic measures can still ease the burden. I am thinking of things like debt reduction, soft loans, tariff lowering (GATT was mentioned by my noble friend,) and properly targeted technical assistance which could, where wanted, include women needing family planning help. Such measures might help to ease population pressures, an element in starting tensions.
That brings me back to square one: those measures cost money—not much, compared with the defence Budget. It would cost £2 billion to double our overseas aid budget. But by taking the long-term view and 1337 assisting developing countries more effectively, we might then he able further to reduce our defence expenditure by a comparable amount, since the amount of conflict in the world just might begin to fall. If that were the case, development could progress further and faster and there might even start to be less need for overseas aid. However, I am afraid that by then none of those present here this afternoon will be alive.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, has invited us to contemplate more defence debates in future. We all naturally agree with that proposition, but I take it that she is fully aware that all that will happen is that people will ride their familiar hobby-horses round this Chamber more frequently even than they do at present. The noble Lords, Lord Jenkins of Putney and Lord Monkswell, will expatiate on their anxieties about the nuclear weapon. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, will advance the claims of overseas aid and so forth. I, as usual, will expound on the wickedness of the Treasury.
The Treasury's activities in relation to defence over the inter-war years have been the subject of detailed and continuous study on my part. I have no doubt that the Treasury was largely to blame for the fact that the war occurred because of the unpreparedness of Western countries who had their own treasuries, apart from ourselves. When the war came it was responsible for some of our early catastrophes. For example, if one looks at the Treasury minutes about Singapore in the inter-war years, one will get the flavour of incompetence rising from them.
The governing idea is that we cannot afford much defence. The Treasury thought it then, it clearly thinks it now. I find that that is possibly because it actually believes in economics. Economics are not a good guide to anything much. One has only to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who, alas, is not in his place, to gather that. If we say that this country needs more men and more equipment and at the same time that it has 2¾ million unemployed, many of them with superior skills, and that the country has shipyards and factories which are without work, only an economist could think that we could not afford more defence. What the Treasury is doing is not really proving that we could not have larger armed forces, if we required them. It is saying, "We do not know how to manage the economy in such a way as to get those forces without causing pain elsewhere". One has to be an economist to believe that. I leave the point.
The other perhaps equally important point made by the noble Baroness is related to that activity. When the Treasury or some other important government department argues the case against defence provision —it happened in the inter-war years—it has to paint a picture of the external environment which is a false one. A false picture of Hitler and the Nazis was painted: so was a false picture of Japan and its potential ambitions. Only if the picture of the external environment is false can the arguments against increasing defence be maintained.
1338 I fear that something of that kind is happening now. For instance, I find it extraordinary that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, who has studied the subject and speaks, it would appear, with knowledge about these matters, should think that there is no evidence of a potential Soviet threat, not this week or next week nor in the future. If so, how does he explain the decision, pointed out by an earlier speaker—a public decision—on the part of the Soviet authorities to build a new submarine fleet? Are they doing it to protect their fisheries? One has to he an innocent not to observe what is potentially happening in that country. We do not know. I do not know, nor will anyone else by the end of this debate, whether Mr. Yeltsin and the reformers will still be in power. He had to rush back to Moscow because obviously he feared the possibility of another coup.
So we face a world of extraordinary dangers and we require at any rate armed forces which would enable us to contemplate the possibility of major threats to our interests and concerns if not to our very lives.
There is another distinction in the world which is perhaps too little understood or is only just beginning to he understood. The tragedy in Yugoslavia illustrates it, as well as other conflicts to which noble Lords referred. We in the West—I speak of North America, west and central Europe—are living in a world which, because of what on the whole have been peaceful experiences since 1945, does not take very seriously the idea of military activity in pursuit of' defined ends. We were warlike peoples. We are capable of producing soldiers and sailors who can still fulfil those functions, as we have seen on various occasions. But the people as a whole are thought by their leaders (in this country, in Germany, in North America and even in France) to be so averse to the possibility of armed conflict that those who wish to achieve their objectives by force are all too easily encouraged to do so.
One finds in education, for instance, that children are taught in the schools not to worry about kings and battles. because they are not the important things in history. But kings and battles are the only things in history. Kings have become kings through battles. Battles have decided the fates of nations, whether they are ruled by themselves or by conquerors. The whole of history is in fact a history of conflict. The idea that somehow we can opt out of it simply means that those who have not opted out start with greater chances than they otherwise would have.
When it comes to a question of our own Armed Forces—here I agree very much with what the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said—though I pay tribute to the efforts of the White Paper to match resources and capacities, it is not something which in the end can be calculated to that extent. When we come to it, there is one solution. I gather from the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, when he winds up the debate for the Liberal Democrats, will be giving it. That of course will he the merging of our forces in some kind of European defence community. It used to he the case that the Liberal Democrats had only one cry—that of 1339 proportional representation. The Italians have made it a little less prominent than it once was, and they now have "amalgamation".
In answer to that, since I shall not be able to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, I suggest two things. First—and we go back to Yugoslavia—what has happened in Yugoslavia is very largely the responsibility of a premature attempt to have an European foreign policy, an attempt which went to the extent of wishing to exclude the United States from taking part in some intervention which might have put an end to the appalling massacres which to our shame we witness day by day. I should have thought that when the European Community has found itself unable to deal with a problem in Europe, in its own continent, to regard it as a suitable instrument for dealing with matters in the rest of the world is, to say the least, premature.
My second point is related to the one I have just made but is slightly different. It is that Britain is in a very unusual position in relation to the other members of the Community in this way. Britain is the only country in the Community, so far as I know, where two of its overseas possessions are demanded and regarded as their own territory by foreign powers, namely the Falklands and Gibraltar. In the latter case the foreign power is a member of the Community.
Even more important—and this point relates to the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, to whom I listened with great attention—Britain is the only member of the Community a part of whose national territory is claimed by another member of the Community in its own constitution. It is true that for a century at least British monarchs claimed to be Kings of France. But they did not take very many steps (and nor did anyone else) towards making a reality of it. and at some point the fleur-de-lis disappeared from our escutcheons. But one cannot say that the affairs of Northern Ireland can he dissociated from the fact that a neighbouring country has in its constitution a claim to be the sovereign authority. There are various matters which flow from it.
I gather from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that he would not be averse to something of the kind which has been floated by a member of his party in another place, some kind of condominium. The record of condominia is not a very encouraging one. Once we begin to make concessions about our own national territory, the problem of fighting terrorism, which is the instrument that is trying to upset our hold on that territory, becomes as difficult as the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, said. It is an appalling thought, as he and other noble Lords said, that after a quarter of a century we seem no nearer to solving this problem. I refer to the problem of defence. The political problem is quite a different matter. There are all sorts of ways of dealing with a country that is divided along religious lines.
It has been contrived elsewhere but the defence problem is a very serious one. The combination of the claims which the defence of Northern Ireland makes upon us and the potential of defending the Falklands, if necessary, again, or Gibraltar, gives the British 1340 defence forces inevitably a different set of tasks and priorities from those of most of her European neighbours. One could say that only the French have something comparable because of their continued interest in and concern about some portions of their former empire in Africa. That may well be the case why, when it comes to talking to our friends and allies, on the whole, despite all the differences that divide us, it is a little easier to talk to the French than to most of our other neighbours.
I have now run my nag round the course. I lead the way for others to do so. I should like to conclude with one more point from the noble Baroness's speech which in a way relates to the very interesting speech with which the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, opened the debate for the Opposition. I refer to the need for foreign policy to be considered always alongside defence policy in our debates. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, suggested that it was very important not to neglect other aspects of overseas policy. He did not specifically include the assembly of intelligence and knowledge about foreign countries. I think that it would be disastrous if there were further cuts in the diplomatic service in order to compensate for any necessary military expenditure.
I start my days early. I breakfasted with a very distinguished former member of our foreign service. We were talking about Yugoslavia. He said that the trouble has been that for years, because Tito was there, nobody in the Foreign Office bothered to know what was happening in the Balkans. That is another lesson we ought to learn.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Viscount Allenby of Megiddo
My Lords, like many other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I too welcome Defending Our Future as a proper review which, for the very first time, lists military tasks. The balancing of resources with commitments and foreign and home policies is a continuing process. Some would say that at times it is haphazard and piecemeal, but given the well known restraints, the Ministry conducts the process extremely well. Some critics may say that the statement does not go far enough. To go further would make our defence policy too restrictive and become too inflexible. Our forces throughout the world need to remain totally flexible and viable to cope with any eventuality.
I want to concentrate my comments on two domestic matters which I believe are at the base of the well being of our Armed Forces. The first is training. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has already highlighted the lack of formation training. I totally agree with his sentiments but go even further to say that few areas to train at either division or brigade level exist anywhere in the world today. The statement at paragraph 716 on page 81 draws attention to the reorganisation of the Army's training organisation. I have to say that it is with a certain amount of regret that I draw your Lordships' attention to the closure of a number of junior leaders and soldier battalions. While welcoming the new organisation being in line with the structure, the junior training battalions performed a most useful function of turning young 1341 men, often from broken and disturbed homes, into our finest fighting soldiers. As is well known in the Army, they provided in the past the back bone of the warrant officers' and sergeants' mess. All I can say is that both the Army and society have suffered a great loss by the closure of these units and the lack of youth training at a really basic level. I pay tribute also to the servicemen and civilians who have given dedicated and valuable service to these units in the past.
Also, in paragraph 716, reference is made to the single entry. This, as your Lordships may not be unaware, is in place of the junior, young soldier and adult entry. It means that young men and women will be able to join the Army straight from school at the age of 16 years and three months. However, that in some cases they will be too young to serve with their battalions or regiments in such places as Northern Ireland or Bosnia when they have completed their initial training. At the moment the problem is unresolved. A solution could be to cross-post to another battalion serving in the United Kingdom, but that will lead to disappointment and disruption. I am led to believe, looking at the demographic graph, that about 25 men in each battalion, or a number amounting to about one platoon, will be affected. That needs to be looked at seriously.
I make no apology for returning yet again to the subject of reserves, although a number of noble Lords have already touched on various aspects. There is serious concern in the reserve forces. The inability of regular forces to understand and to accept their true value and effectiveness remains. Within the Ministry of Defence the popular belief is still that every pound saved on reserves is a pound that can go towards enhancing the regular forces. That was a point touched upon by my noble friend Lord Slim. The recently announced reduction of the Royal Naval Reserve to 500 seagoers is a matter for naval judgment. But the closure of training centres is to be greatly regretted as they will never be restored. Lack of career opportunities and roles for the Royal Naval Reserve could effectively mean the end of the RNR at the whim of the First Sea Lord, if there were to be another round of cuts.
It is generally accepted that there is to be another round of reductions in the Reserve Army. Indeed, some Territorial Army battalions have already been warned that they may be amalgamated or even disbanded. This is having an adverse effect on recruiting and morale. According to the statement at paragraph 739, the proposals will be announced later this year. Can the Minister assure the House that the Council of Territorial Volunteer and Reserve Associations at a senior level will be fully consulted before a final decision is reached? Can the Minister also ensure adequate territorial spread throughout the country? And, finally, can he give an assurance that the announcement will not be made during the forthcoming recess as the House will then be prevented from discussing the matter?
At paragraph 738 there is the welcome news that the Government undertake to produce new legislation to enable reserves to be used more effectively and also 1342 that there will be more flexible call-out arrangements. That is good news indeed. One hopes that the proposed legislation will be practical, simple and attractive to volunteers and that it will eventually lead to something on the lines of the Canadian forces currently serving in Bosnia. As the legislation involves many agencies and individuals—not least the volunteers, their families and employers, and also the Treasury, as finance will clearly be involved—will the Minister give serious consideration to the publication of a consultative document before proposals are placed before Parliament?
As the regular forces restructure, the importance of reserve forces grows. We still need to see reserve forces more and more closely integrated with their regular counterparts, a subject touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Vivian. Reserve companies and platoons, serving as formed bodies of men throughout the world are, I believe, attainable. Wherever the regular forces are called on to serve, so should the reserve forces be.
This country has armed forces second to none, which we are justly proud of. However, the son of Options for Change and even a grandson of those options loom over the horizon. Our forces need time to settle down and time to readjust and to come to terms with the new tasks and roles as set out in Defending Our Future. They need the opportunity and time to prepare before any fresh changes are made.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Viscount De L'Isle
My Lords, as a retired Footguards officer well past his sell-by date, I have listened to many noble and noble and gallant Lords, particularly to my noble friend Lord Vivian and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, who have given us the benefit of their experience. Therefore, I do not wish to detain the House by repeating the arguments for maintaining sufficient strength in the Armed Services to fulfil our commitments, with sufficient reserves to cover contingencies, except to endorse what has already been said.
I welcome the fact that Defending Our Future has gone into so much detail. Early in my training I was told that one should "appreciate the situation" and not "situate the appreciation". However, I feel that the premises on which Defending Our Future is based are wrong and that further consideration will be necessary in the light of the rapidly changing world situation.
I recently heard that the honourable Member for Epsom and Ewell in another place had told people that our strength in Northern Ireland was too high. Having served in Northern Ireland as a staff officer, I can tell him from experience that the lower the force level, the greater the violence. That is the experience. The 18-month cycle of duty there has existed for the past 25 years.
During the past two years it has often occurred to me that the Government may well decide that Nos. 5 and 6 guards on the Queen's Birthday Parade might be provided by Securicor and Group 4 Securitas due to the overstretch not only in the Footguards but in the rest of the infantry.
I have recently been honoured to become honorary colonel of the 5th Volunteer Battalion of the Princess 1343 of Wales's Royal Regiment, which is one of the new battalions following the Options amalgamations. In fact, its forebear was The Buffs, which my ancestor, the second Lord Leicester, founded in the 17th century.
The Territorial Army's strength is under review and it is likely that there will be a reduction in the infantry of between three and five battalions as the need to reinforce the regular formations in Germany has disappeared. However, it was the Territorial Army and the Reserve Forces which saved the country from being swamped at the beginning of both world wars.
I suspect that, when all is said and done, there will be a need to allocate more Territorial battalions to the Rapid Reaction Corps. We have heard that some battalions might be re-roled to logistic units. This would cause many of the soldiers to terminate their service and would create widespread dissatisfaction among well-trained and well motivated volunteers. Amalgamation of the county-based battalions would create enormous regimental areas: for example, an amalgamation of the 5th and 6th/7th Princess of Wales's Royal Regiments would cover TA centres from Gillingham to Southampton. I ask my noble friend to convey to his ministerial colleagues the need to take into account the strength and recruitment of battalions where amalgamation and disbandments are being considered.
Unlike some Members of the House, I would welcome a change in the Reserve Forces Act to allow Territorial and reservist soldiers to volunteer for short periods of service with Regular Army units, especially where they would be serving in the sister battalions, as happened during Operation Granby with Territorial soldiers in the 6th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers reinforcing the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, which sadly now no longer exists.
Finally, I sincerely hope that history does not repeat itself and that, unlike in 1939 when my grandfather, Lord Gort, found himself faced with an ill-prepared, untrained and undermanned expeditionary force, we shall not find ourselves wanting in a future conflict. Though it may be jingoistic, the lines from Kipling's barrack room ballad ring in my ears:For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' 'Chuck him out, the brute!'
But it's 'Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot".
§ 5.25 p.m.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the Minister for at last giving us the opportunity to debate this very important subject and also by declaring an interest. For nearly 20 years I have served in the TA, almost exclusively in the old Royal Corps of Transport. Since 1980 I have served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Your Lordships will not be surprised if I concentrate on some TA matters.
Many noble Lords have commented on the possibility of cuts in the TA. They have done it well, and I will not take up your Lordships' time on that matter. I should like to consider first a few general matters. Clearly, there is less of an immediate threat to 1344 our security. Since the direct threat has been reduced we have been engaged in an intensive armoured war in the Gulf. There have also been serious problems in the Balkans which could not have occurred without the collapse of communism and the Soviet bloc. It is right that the Government should seek a reasonable peace dividend. Quite properly, we still spend huge amounts of money on defence. The only countries which spend more are: the United States by any measure; Greece by GDP; France by total expenditure; and Norway and France by per capita expenditure.
One of our major commitments is to the Army. There is a good deal of concern about multi-earmarking. Do the Government plan to have the capacity to deploy both 1 UK Division and 3 UK Division at the same time on an ARRC operation? Bearing in mind the comments of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, what would be the implications for the TA in general and the logistics organisation in particular? The reason I ask that question is that there appears to be some confusion about this matter at regular unit level.
The role of the TA is to train for war. Therefore, legally all TA activities must be to that end. This does not limit what we can do in our own unit training as practically any training can be said to be training for war. The difficulty arises when there is a desire to use TA soldiers for or in support of any operations outside general mobilisation. We can have what is termed an S-type engagement or short-service voluntary commission, but there is a lot of bureaucracy involved and it can interfere with the training and bounty arrangements.
Consultations are going on about a return to the "Ever Readies", but I understand that the numbers will he limited and confined to highly specialised roles. I would like to see a blurring of the distinction between regular and TA service—a system whereby a TA soldier may be on an operation or assist in a large regular exercise anywhere in the world. Closer to home, he can be involved in providing military aid to the civil community or the civil ministries.
However, except on general mobilisation I believe that the TAs should never be involved with military aid to the civil community if the mission is to alleviate the effects of an industrial dispute or provide military aid to the civil power, i.e. Northern Ireland. I say that because the TA currently enjoys the support of the trade union movement throughout the country. The aims and objectives of the TA are highly regarded in the community. It also provides an important link between the regular forces and the civil community, which should not be compromised. All those matters will be addressed in the new legislation being prepared. It is often known as the RFA95, but will the Government find parliamentary time to put the reserve forces Bill before Parliament in 1995? Perhaps the Minister will say something about that.
There may be concern about the effect on recruitment and the retention of TA soldiers if there is an increased use, or risk of use, of the TA in operations. A few soldiers may leave because of the increased personal risk. However, during the Gulf conflict, we experienced a dramatic surge in 1345 recruitment. We made it clear that there was practically no chance of getting a sun tan, but still they kept coming. If full-time service, while remaining in the TA, were easier to arrange, there might be an interesting effect. Many TA soldiers, especially the longer serving ones, already arrange their affairs to facilitate going away with the TA. With increased opportunities, more soldiers will be retained and they may arrange their affairs to suit the TA.
I can give the example of one TA soldier whom I met. He was in a unit with an extremely demanding and interesting role. His capacity for learning and his intellect were phenomenal. He was a bricklayer in civilian life, because it suited his TA commitments. I should add that he did his bricklaying for only about 80 to 100 days per annum. He obviously had no restriction on his man-training days.
That brings me to one of the big problems we face at unit level in the TA: man-training days. The soldier to whom I referred had no problems because of his role, but, generally, the limit is 35 MTDs per year, averaged across the unit. We should bear in mind that 15 days are taken up by annual camp; and a further 12 days are taken up by what are currently called obligatory days. There are at least 12 obligatory weekends each year. There will be other days when it is highly desirable that the volunteer soldier turns up. So the remaining eight days are soon used up. If the soldier turns up for every obligatory day and attends annual camp, we are looking at 35 MTDs.
The real difficulty arises when the soldier attends annual camp and also attends a course, either as a student or an instructor. If he also attends his 12 obligatory days, his total will be 42. Your Lordships should be aware that good attenders in my unit attend about 50 days per year. All the really good soldiers are double camping at least every other year. The restrictions mean that we keep on meeting the problem of MTDs. Many opportunities for valuable training are lost. Even sadder is the fact that otherwise keen soldiers find new interests, because we have to tell them not to come in as we cannot pay them. Of course, at the end of the financial year we find a surplus of days which we cannot use fast enough because we cannot organise a weekend exercise quickly enough.
The Minister consults widely and in person. I am sure that the TAVRA's and the TA colonels whom he has consulted have explained that problem to him far more eloquently than I have. The TA will not be as efficient as it could be if we continue to have restrictions on MTDs. If we lifted the restrictions, the overall cost would not be increased greatly due to the averaging out effects of units that are under strength. It is the restrictions themselves, at the lowest level, that cause the problem. Will the Minister say whether the Government feel that the TA has enough MTDs to be efficient and fit for role, and whether or not the restrictions in place at the moment are damaging to the TA? Finally, can the Minister oiler any hope that the problem will be reduced in the future?
I wish to say a few words about the cadet force, which also has a dual role. It is a valuable youth service and does a great deal to keep the large number 1346 of cadets whom it looks after out of trouble. It gives the youngsters a sense of discipline and duty that they might otherwise not have. It also provides a high-quality source of recruitment for the regular Army and the Territorial Army. Many of the long-serving soldiers in my unit are ex-cadets. I know that the Minister has travelled somewhat further north than Watford to see a cadet unit in action and has consulted widely. Can he assure the House that as a vital youth service the cadets will remain almost completely intact.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, I wish to congratulate my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Defence and my noble friend the Minister on the new and lively format of the White Paper, which has tried to envisage the future needs of defence and to balance them accordingly. It is new, it is good and it is obviously the right way to go forward. But, as my noble friend Lady Park pointed out, like other recent defence cuts announced in another place when everyone had gone home, our opportunity to debate it comes only at the last hour of the last day of the last month of a rather gruelling Session when my noble friend the Chief Whip has already put on his roseate summer plumage. Could that be a coincidence? I believe that we should be told.
Furthermore, since most of the defence White Paper—SOTDE—appears to be written in code or at least in initials, I hope that MNFTM will occasionally feel more at home if I reply in kind. As far as possible I shall try to use recognisable English words. Without being patronising. I should perhaps congratulate MNFTM for the full translation of the more esoteric terms which is on P3 of the SOTDE. There is also an interesting system of connecting cross-references which can and indeed has provided us with HOIF—(hours of innocent fun) such as a complicated new form of SAL—(snakes and ladders). Paragraph 509 looks rather like rolling up the British Empire with curious anomalies being closed as they come to light; for instance, the United Nations Honour Guard in South Korea or the Observers Sinai, whether observing the Israelis or Moses is not apparent.
It reminds me of interesting survivals, such as the air-raid wardens of a daily newspaper in Glasgow who were discovered on an efficiency clear-up playing cards in a central ARP post several years after the war had ended; or a friend of my noble father's who, as chief RTO, was paid to sit in a room in Paddington Station in uniform until the late 1950s.
It is good news about the Challenger 2 tanks, of which I saw a prototype this summer at Lulworth. I was lucky enough to drive and fire the gun of a Challenger 1. I hit the target with the gun and missed knocking down the gate with the tank, much to everyone's relief. More helicopters is always a bonus but I much regret paragraph 321. There is no longer a search and rescue helicopter flight at Leuchars and the old Wessex, so lovingly tended by his engineers and pilots since he came out of his box, will no longer he a familiar sight flying up the Tay estuary and round the coast of Fife Ness.
1347 While we are thinking about the Tay, can my noble friend the Minister tell us about the future of the RNR base at HMS "Camperdown" in Dundee, to which I am unable to find reference in the White Paper.
With the removal of the air base at Jurby in the Isle of Man (paragraph 324) there are no defence forces of any kind on the island. Local fishermen have experienced difficulties with Spanish and other fishing boats using their territorial waters. Can I put in a plea for a frequent and visible Royal Naval presence round the island?
I should also like to congratulate my noble friend on his help and support for the War Widows Association of Great Britain and as "Green" Minister for the defence/protection of the environment (paragraphs 727 to 733). I should perhaps disclose an interest in that my youngest daughter will be working in that area for the Ministry of Defence from September.
We cannot afford to cut our forces any further. There is still an unacceptable closeness between unaccompanied front line tours, despite my noble friend's optimism. As the Minister will agree, our forces are the best trained and maintained, with the highest morale in the world. We are all justly proud of them. But they are currently overstretched. When there appears to be room to close down a commitment we should not say, "Right, we can now cut 100 more men". Instead we should concentrate on making the distance between tours wider so that our forces are not permanently at overstretch.
Earmarking, which I believe is the correct term, looks a bit like juggling—robbing Peter to pay Paul. But it is not a very far-sighted way to carry on. It is like doing the teas for a garden opening for 100 people with only 50 cups, imagining that they will all come in dribs and drabs and we can wash up in between. What happens when 100 turn up at once or even 51?
I expect that all your Lordships are, like me, at the ready to get away with buckets and spades. Therefore, I shall say no more except to wish your Lordships and all our forces a happy, peaceful and uneventful Recess.
§ 5.42 p.m.
The Earl of Erroll
My Lords, listening to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, I was reminded of a management consultant who spent some time talking about the problem and usefulness of TLAs. Everyone agreed with him. No one dared to admit that he did not know what a TLA was. At the end of his speech the management consultant explained that he was talking about three-letter abbreviations. One of the problems with reading a document such as this is the jargon.
On a more serious note, listening to the debate I am reminded of something which my godfather gave me several years ago called The Fox's Prophecy, written in 1871. One verse struck me as being appropriate for this debate:
1348 That was referring to England. It was written a long time ago, but I hope that it does not forebode something for the future and that the prophecy is not correct.
- "Disarmed before the foreigner
- The knee shall humbly bend
- And yield the treasures that she lacked
- The wisdom to defend".
There are a few points that I should like to make before I move on to what I wish to say about the TA. One matter which I noticed from the White Paper is the number of people who are paid from the defence budget but who do not necessarily appear to be under the command of the Armed Forces. For example, I know that the MDP are not in the chain of command, and that can cause problems at a local level where they may be acting outwith what the local commander may wish. I wonder whether that applies also to other people. I notice from Chapter 7 that 42 per cent. of the defence budget is for personnel and that nearly one-third of that—31 per cent.—is spent on civilians.
Thinking of what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said earlier, I wonder what proportion of those people are helping the military to achieve the tasks set for them. It is a very large proportion of the budget.
The main points that I wish to address concern the conflict between being a member of the TA and having a job. The reasons for my observations are twofold: first, I now have the great honour of being an honorary colonel of a TA regiment; but I previously spent 15 years in the ranks of the TA. Therefore, I have some experience of the conflicts involved.
One of the options in trying to take on all these commitments but with reduced manpower is to involve to a far greater degree the territorials and the reserves. That would rely on extending the call-out provisions because, as your Lordships know, at present the territorials can be called out only in defence of the home base—the United Kingdom. There are very good reasons for that. Many of us in the territorials would have loved to have taken part in the real thing—or we certainly thought that we would. Indeed, we would not have joined the territorials otherwise.
But one has to be aware of people's secular loyalties when it comes to the crunch. I say that because when it comes to the crunch one's family comes first. The second consideration is one's job, because that is how one looks after one's family. The third consideration is one's part-time activities which, for a territorial, include the Territorial Army. I know that it is not the same for a soldier. That is why regulars sometimes have difficulty in understanding territorial mentality. For a regular his job is what supports his family. Therefore, it is one of his main priorities.
However, with a territorial in war the priorities change. It is very simple: the family is threatened if the home base is threatened. Therefore, a territorial has no hesitation in going out to defend the home base in time of war. But a war in foreign parts does not threaten his family directly, so the previous loyalties stay unchanged. That is not true for everyone because of course there are many young and unattached people in the Territorial Army. I can give noble Lords a personal example. In the late 1970s I thought of trying to do an attachment to the regular regiment of which we were a part and perhaps taking on a 1349 three-year attachment and effectively becoming a regular through the back-door of being a territorial. I had the time and I did not have any other commitments or responsibilities.
However, in 1982, at the time of the Falklands conflict, I was actually getting married. In fact, some friends sent a joke telegram trying to call me up, but it did not have the right code words on it. But while that was going on, I suddenly realised that I had a great conflict of interest. One half of me longed to go to the Falklands because that was what I had been training for, but the other half of me said, "No, your future lies here with your new family". It was a very difficult conflict. If I had been mobilised I would have gone. However, at the back of my mind I was hoping that it would not happen. That was the reality.
The main reason that the TA is cheaper is that it is only allowed 35 man-training days a year per member. That is about one-sixth to one-seventh of the training that a regular receives: hence the reason why the TA is one-sixth to one-seventh cheaper. Its members make up some of that by enthusiasm. However, they cannot make up for it all. That applies especially to those soldiers who will be operating close to the FEBA (which is the new word for the front line: I do not know why they changed it). That means that they will have to be away from home for some time to be of any real use because some training will have to be built in; alternatively, more will have to be spent on training the territorials up to a higher standard before they go. Therefore, what will happen to people's jobs?
One cannot assume that the recession will last for ever or that all those people will be on the dole. Therefore, if one protects jobs, which is one of the propositions that has been bandied around, the problem is that employers will not employ people who are in the TA. I certainly would not take on someone who I knew had a high probability, because of the defence cuts in the main forces, of being away for half the year which would mean that I would have to keep the job open for him. The person in the territorials will have to think, first, of paying the hills and of his family. Therefore, if that is a block to taking people on, it will make recruiting much harder.
We also have a higher drop-out rate in the territorials. That is another problem that we regularly face. It happens when people decide to settle down and get married or settle down in a good job. However, there will be many who truly want to turn up and who will do so voluntarily, even without job protection.
Therefore, I would not impose greater duties or costs on an employer by increasing the call-out provision. However, I would increase total numbers in the territorials to make up for the fact that not everyone will turn up on the day. I would also have much easier voluntary call-out when it is not in defence of the home base. As a former regular who is now in charge of a territorial regiment said to me just the other night, the amazing difference between the territorials and the regulars is that the territorials want to be there. That is why I am sure that the hard core 1350 will be there when we need them, as long as we do not make it impossible for loyal citizens to belong to the territorials.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord Astor of Hever
My Lords, I also welcome the new format of the defence White Paper and particularly the way that, for the first time, tasks allotted to our forces are set out in detail with the resources earmarked for them. Although we have heard a great deal of criticism today of the Government's defence policy, the end of the Cold War certainly justified a thorough review of our defence priorities.
My noble friend the Minister and his right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the service chiefs should be congratulated on successfully demonstrating to the Treasury on the one hand, and to sceptical Back-Benchers on the other, that they were making a serious effort to create the kind of armed services that Britain needs and can afford. They have shown that they are willing to prune the forces only as far as is sensible but no further. With this behind them. I hope that they will be in a better position to argue their case with the Treasury against further cuts in the autumn. This is particularly important as cutting high-tech military research and development, and the jobs that go with it, implies greater social security expenditure. It simply shifts resources from defence to dole, and there has not been such drastic demobilisation since 1945.
I would like to comment briefly on two subjects. The first is the progress, or rather the lack of progress, of the programme for providing new support helicopters for the Royal Air Force. Several other speakers have touched on this matter and the Minister himself agreed earlier this month that the helicopters are now badly needed. As the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, said, this subject was debated into the early hours of yesterday morning in another place.
From reading the speech of my honourable friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, I believe that Her Majesty's Government are very close to ordering the support helicopter variant of the EH101. The Ministry of Defence has already invested £1.4 million on its development, and if we are to fulfil our obligations to the United Nations peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts, we must be able to get men and equipment to the places they are needed as quickly as possible.
Timing is now vital. The Dutch are due to make their decision on helicopter procurement in September and without a statement before then the aircraft's chances are very poor. There is a great deal to play for in terms of our defence requirements, exports, the strength of the UK helicopter industry, and employment, particularly as Westland has subcontractors all over the United Kingdom.
There are only seven helicopter companies outside Russia, and by the turn of the century there will, in the opinion of most expert observers, be fewer. The 101 is, in technology terms, the helicopter equipment of EFA and is as vital to our military and civil helicopter 1351 industry as EFA is to the military fixed-wing industry. Over the past year, Ministers have used various forms of words to indicate the imminence of an announcement. These have varied from "fairly soon" through "in the near future" to "soon". It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that "soon" means before Parliament reassembles in the Autumn.
Turning to the very different subject of housing, the White Paper touched on the Housing Task Force. Could the Minister elaborate on what progress has been made towards the admirable concept of transferring the ownership and management of the 69,000 married quarters in mainland UK to the non-profit making housing trust? Many quarters have not been brought up to the best modern standards and have been left unoccupied for significant periods while awaiting funding to carry out repairs and improvements.
I hope that the Minister can confirm that the transfer will provide access to private sector funding as well as to professional housing management skills. That is vital in order to undertake urgently the necessary improvements. It is important that a really responsive and cost-effective service is provided to service personnel and their families. Can the Minister confirm that their interests will be fully represented, especially at local level?
I should like to end by supporting the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Viscount Mersey
My Lords, last week I read the White Paper. I found it the clearest of any that I have read since I came to your Lordships' House in 1980.
Also last week I saw the last ship launched at the Cammell Laird yard. That was sad because at one time the yard was the pride of the country. It launched HMS "Ark Royal", and at one time it launched a new warship every 20 days. Now it is little more than a useless skeleton of cranes, wharves and docks.
The last ship launched at Cammell Laird was an Upholder class submarine, and I should like to confine my few remarks on the defence cuts mainly to our sub-surface capability. Noble Lords will know that what we are doing with the Upholders is rather like buying four new Rolls-Royces and tipping them into a ditch. My noble friend Lord Ashbourne has already referred to them in that vein. We have built the submarines, at a cost of £900 million. Now we are possibly going to scrap them, store them or sell them. However, I understand that if we sell them there is a great deal of secret and sophisticated kit within them which would have to be stripped out because it is too sensitive for any other country to possess. Therefore, I would be surprised if we received more than £100 million for all four boats. The result of that option would be a waste of £800 million.
We are to lose our four smallest and quietest submarines. Noble Lords may remember from the Falklands War what an absolute menace a diesel electric boat can he. Two miniature Argentine submarines had HMS "Hermes" dancing about like a cat on a hot tin roof. Diesel electric boats are not only silent in motion, they are also capable of sitting on the 1352 seabed. I believe that that is called "bottoming". SSN's cannot do that. Therefore, the Royal Navy will lose another stealth capability when those little boats are taken out of service.
My noble friend on the Front Bench may reply that the global threat is receding. However, I believe that it is not so far as concerns submarines. The number of conventional submarines worldwide is 335 and rising. Of those, 182 boats are in the hands of what are nowadays called the "nasties"—mainly Middle Eastern countries. I have also heard of conversion taking place from land-based ICBM's (intercontinental ballistic missiles) to submarine launched ballistic missiles. Therefore, the power of the submarine is increasing also at the nuclear level.
Against those hundreds of "nasty" boats the once mighty Royal Navy is presently fielding one Trident, three Polaris, 12 SSN's and three of the old "O" class diesel electric submarines.
So much for submarines. There are two other comments that I should like to make. I was a little dismayed to read that project definition studies continue for the replacement of the assault ships HMS "Fearless" and HMS "Intrepid". I was dismayed because I have read it so often before. Indeed. I have read it every year since the Falklands War. In 1982 those ships were regarded as being long in the tooth. Eleven years later they are still with us.
I must mention also the intention to reduce the surface fleet to "about" 35 destroyers and frigates. Noble Lords may know the joke about the Royal Yacht sinking and the about 35th frigate failing to rescue Her Majesty as it does not exist. Should we not be more honest and say that there will be "fewer than 35 surface ships", "not less than 33 surface ships", or, better still, although this is idle fantasy, "not less than 63 surface ships"?
Perhaps I may end by mentioning Rosyth Dockyard and its failure to secure the Trident maintenance contract. It is sad, hut it is symptomatic of a wider sadness, which was well described to me by Admiral Sir Julian Oswald simply thus:The Royal Navy is required to spend money it does not have on shore support it does not need for a fleet it does not possess".That is a pithy summary of the situation. I join the admiral in lamenting the continued emasculation of the Royal Navy. I therefore heartily support the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Park.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, this has been a marathon debate on the last day of term. In the last month your Lordships' House has got into the habit of marathon debates; I do not think that that should be too greedily encouraged. I shall do my best not to detain your Lordships longer than I can help. However, I must confess that the debate has covered a huge range of subjects and a large range of opinions, though somewhat dominated by what could be called the military lobby, to which I shall return later.
First, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was good enough to refer to me in the course of his interesting remarks, to which as always I listened with the closest and most respectful attention. I always find myself in 1353 agreement with some and in almost total disagreement with others. It is a kind of antiphonal process. His recollection of the days when he was a member of the Liberal Party shows a certain selective memory for a professional historian. When he was a member of the Liberal Party, it was, on the whole, in the days before we started winning seats at elections and by-elections. He will remember that we had almost too many policies, in my view. Some of them were rather good: Keynes, Beveridge and anti-appeasement were all in addition to proportional representation, which is the one policy which sticks in his memory.
He made one comment with which I most profoundly agree: that in the present state of the world, and of Europe in particular, the interests of this country and of France seem to me to he almost identical. The closer that we can get alongside France, and she alongside us, in particular on defence issues, the better. That is one of the reasons that I believe that the WEU is a useful organisation because France is a member of WEU. In any collective defence of Europe, France must be involved; and, as everyone knows, France is not a member of NATO.
On Yugoslavia, the noble Lord made characteristically controversial remarks. As I understand it, he regarded the situation as an example of failure of the Community to develop a common foreign policy. It was the Maastricht Treaty which put forward the proposal that the Community should develop a common foreign policy. On the other hand, it seemed to me to demonstrate in the most tragic way the weaknesses of a doctrine, to which the Government are somewhat attracted, called political co-operation. It also demonstrated what happens when there is absolute lack of will on the part of all governments engaged in an enterprise. Political co-operation, which is embedded in the Maastricht Treaty, works perfectly well under certain circumstances. It works extremely well in NATO where there was a dominating power —the United States—which was able to ensure that what it wanted in the end was done. The proposal works rather less well when one has powers of roughly equal importance and weight. That is what one had in the years before 1939. That is what one had when dealing with Yugoslavia.
When one has political co-operation, and the powers involved are of roughly speaking equal weight, the lowest common factor comes out. One settles and bargains for the weakest option. That is what happened in Yugoslavia on recognition, and indeed on the question of how we should deal with the subsequent tragedies which ensued. Indeed, Yugoslavia reminded me more of the politics before 1939 than of anything else.
Returning to the antiphonal nature of my response to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I was particularly interested in his conclusion—with which I agree, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, referred in his opening speech—that when talking about defence one must include within it issues that are much wider than the strictly military. Politics and diplomacy are involved. Politics and diplomacy, it seems to me, are not our only hope but are the best way of dealing with 1354 the problems of Gibraltar and the Falklands rather than believing that the military option is necessary, likely or desirable.
It has been an extremely interesting debate. I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Park, that we should debate defence regularly. I also share the view that when we debate defence we should debate foreign policy at the same time because the two are inextricably linked. Rather more shaming than our failure to have more defence debates is that I do not believe that this summer we have had a single debate on Yugoslavia. We have had a series of Statements, to which people respond. But a Statement and responses to it are insufficient to deal with an issue that is so important, serious and tragic.
The basic questions arising from today's debate are: for what and how much? As many have said, in the years of the Cold War, those questions were easily answered. However, the old order has collapsed and a new order has not yet emerged. The difficulty is what I call the unpredictability and what the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has called the instability of the world in which we live. For example, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, said, what will happen in Russia? It is a bold man who would prophesy what will happen in Russia. But, as we all know, what happens there will have an immediate, direct and important effect not only within the former USSR, but in Central Europe, the Balkans and Western Europe, and as regards the WEU, NATO and CSCE. We do not know what will happen, and it is difficult to guess.
In those circumstances, although it is clearly desirable to have a clear, strategic view, as I think the noble Viscount said, it is not altogether easy and it is easier said than defined. We can agree with that and disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Beloff and other noble Lords. We can agree that there is at present no direct threat to the United Kingdom. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a time since the mid-19th century when the integrity of our shores was less threatened.
It is, therefore, not unreasonable that in those circumstances the Armed Forces should be cut. As noble Lords who have listened to the debate will recognise, the military lobby in this House is extremely powerful. We have had a series of speeches which have advanced in one way or another what would in other debates he called a strictly factional interest. Although noble Lords did not say so, what they asked for was a bigger defence budget. If they are asking for that, we cannot continue to meet the suggestions which they made without spending more. In the circumstances which I have tried to describe, that is a difficult request for any government to accept.
In the security of the country at this time and in this age we have three major objectives. The first is to encourage and support a collective approach by the major powers to the problems of international security. The second is to retain the capacity to deal with purely national commitments such as Northern Ireland. The third is to contribute to international security, both in Europe and elsewhere, taking into account our economic circumstances.
While considering that issue, we must also take into account the fact that the American commitment to 1355 Europe, which remains of the highest importance and which we should do everything to encourage, is likely to continue to diminish. In those circumstances it would he irresponsible not to prepare for the consequences of such a continuing diminution. Therefore what one would foresee within Europe is a greater relative European contribution, militarily and financially, to European security. With that, as I believe the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, suggested, would go a greater European role in the command structure of European security. But in those circumstances there is no reason, even if there is a greater relative financial commitment, why our contribution should be so much greater than that of others in WEU.
Against that background we on these Benches share the aim agreed at Maastricht—as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, predicted—which is to develop a common foreign and defence policy. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, when he referred to an independent foreign policy—that is what I understood him to say— and an independent defence policy. I cannot believe that we can talk about such things in this age. In my view we have not had either since America entered the last war. The only time that we attempted to have a semi-independent policy was in collaboration with France and Israel over Suez and it was not one of the great successes of our time.
It is generally accepted that the defence of Europe must be collective. The same is true of operations outside Europe. I cannot think of any operations outside Europe that we have undertaken since the war which were wholly independent. It is doubtful whether the Falklands would have succeeded without American logistical and intelligence support. The Gulf (though primarily American in operation) is a classic example of collective action. All UN peacekeeping operations are by definition collective.
It seems to me that, apart from internal security, of which Northern Ireland is the prime example, it is difficult to foresee circumstances in which UK forces would be in action, except as part of a collective effort either, let us say, in Eastern Europe or under UN auspices outside.
I do not want to detain your Lordships but that point leads me to the role of the United Nations in today's world, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rea, referred. Worldwide the United Nations is the prime authority that can legitimise peacekeeping and peacemaking operations. Historically it has performed those two functions successfully in a number of conflicts between states: in the Middle East, Cyprus and Africa. Recently, however, it has been less successful in dealing with less conventional situations, of which Bosnia is the prime example, though there are others.
The UN charter to which the noble Lord, Lord Rea, referred, makes provision under Article 43 for member states to provide forces for the Security Council. In an agenda for peace, to which the noble Lord also referred, Mr. Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, recommended peace enforcement units from member states which would be: 1356available on call and would consist of troops that have volunteered for such services".Sir Brian Urquhart, formerly the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and almost the founder of peacekeeping operations, has argued that since few governments are willing to commit their own troops to:a forceful ground role in this and operations in which they may sustain casualties, the UN peace enforcement units must be drawn from a volunteer army".That raises three distinct issues which I believe we should consider. First, does experience lead us to conclude that there are situations where peacekeeping, or peace-making, involve the deployment of the United Nations' military units which are authorised to use force? Secondly, if the answer to that is yes, how are those units to be formed? Are they to be formed, as the Secretary-General suggested, or by Urquhart's volunteer army, or by the raft of proposals of the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker. which as I understand it is floating in the Library? Thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, is there the international will to do any of those things? These seem to me to be serious subjects which it is too late to consider at this stage of the proceedings but which will have to be considered very seriously indeed if we are to go forward in the way in which people think.
I could go on to discuss, as did the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, the role of the CSCE. I rather agree with the noble Lord's conclusion that it should concentrate on monitoring and mediating, and should not do more than that. I could go on to talk about the role of WEU and what it can perform in the months and years to come in developing a common European defence policy. But time is marching on. I have not touched on those subjects; nor have I touched on the arms trade; nor have I touched on arms procurement; nor the role of Germany in all these matters. These are all extremely important issues of foreign policy as well as defence. It shows how important it is that both these things should be kept together.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Lord Howell
My Lords, how can anyone possibly wind up adequately a debate in which 36 Members have participated, a debate of rare quality on a subject of profound importance? If I am more sorry for anyone than I am for myself, it is for the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who I know with his normal courtesy will attempt that task. I should like to express appreciation to the noble Viscount and to the Government for giving us this opportunity, and indeed for the new form of the White Paper which has produced a debate of such quality. However, there are themes of universal accord which have come out of this debate today. I shall try to concentrate on those. Mercifully for your Lordships, I shall try to be as brief as I possibly can.
The first of those themes is the unanimous approval of everyone in this House for the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, whom we are to hear later. I suspect that she will not take us into the Division Lobbies, which I regret. But I hope that 1357 Ministers will heed the importance which this House attaches to the Motion and to having an annual debate.
Next, in view of the expressions on all sides of this House, we have to consider that the Ministry of Defence and this White Paper are now totally captive of the Treasury. Ministers deny it. But I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, will convey to his Cabinet colleagues the fact that no one in this House so far as I can recollect (I have sat here most of the day) accepts protestations that this defence review has nothing to do with the Treasury or is not Treasury led. "The Treasury tells the department what to do. Enough is enough. Morale is damaged and there is no formation training in the Army today". I believe that that was a quotation from one of the former chiefs of staff. I can only say that if enough is enough, then after today's debate we can say that it is more than enough.
I doubt whether, taken together, there has ever been such a devastating critique of government policy such as we have heard from the speeches of the three former defence chiefs. That is the outstanding feature of today. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, could not have been more penetrating, using expressions rarely heard from service chiefs about government policy. "Fudge", he said, and "sleight of hand". He doubted whether we could now mount an operation anywhere—a more serious charge against the Government is difficult to imagine. That was picked up by my noble friend Lord Desai.
The noble and gallant Lord told us that our Gulf War operation was directly connected with the level of our forces in Northern Ireland. If it is true that the Gulf war enterprise depended on troops in Northern Ireland, we ought to think for a moment or two about the political events in another place last week affecting the position of the Government and their future relationship with Northern Ireland politics. It seems to me that the political survival of the Government is now absolutely hitched to the Ulster Unionist Members of Parliament. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the Government have now made themselves prisoners of the Ulster Unionists in another place. If that is the case, there can be no one here who could ever believe that the total commitment of our forces —19,000—in Northern Ireland, which is an absolutely bedrock consideration in defence policy, will be reduced for many a long year.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. described the White paper as a blanket of fog. He had a most radical approach, which is possibly to abolish the role of NATO and to create a new North Atlantic Treaty or treaty organisation. That was breathtaking but I certainly think it deserves some consideration. It sounded to me like another gospel of despair from the service chiefs. No doubt we can get our allies in NATO to consider it but I think that it is certainly not on so far as they are concerned. I cannot see our partners even starting down that road; and it will be a very long road indeed if we are to bring it about. I feel therefore that we must return, as I hope to do shortly, to considering what must be a new role for NATO in order to match its military role.
1358 The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, the third of our Chiefs of Staff, also had a dramatic description of the situation in which the RAF finds itself today. Not the few, he told us, but the too few; we are not smaller and better, as the White Paper claims; our training is limited and our equipment deficient. If we add those three judgments together—and I respect the view of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, as to the fact that this is some kind of military trade union operating in your Lordships' House—and if what they are saying is true, or only half true, it is the most serious situation which has faced us for a very long time. Certainly, from these Benches, I welcome their participation in this debate in those terms.
In former times, after speeches like that from the most experienced Members of this House in terms of defence politics, governments would have gone away and considered their position. As we know, today, not even Ministers consider their position in this Government, so there is not much hope that the Government as a whole will do so. But I hope that the country outside takes note of the analysis which we have heard and the situation which confronts us. The least we can demand now is for the Government to go back to the drawing board from Options for Change, take on the Treasury and produce a new policy which is all-change from Options for Change.
The other overriding desire in this debate is for a totally new strategic concept. That was strikingly outlined at the beginning of the debate by my noble friend Lord Williams. He told us that we have to take together defence strategies, foreign policy issues, overseas aid and trade and global environmental questions. I am glad that that concept put forward by my noble friend has been endorsed on all sides and, certainly as far as I know, met with no opposition.
As I said earlier, we also have to face up to the future role of the UN and NATO, which I agree are the cornerstones of our defence and democracy. The question to be asked is what our commitment to them is to be. The White Paper has no vision about the future of those organisations and the role which they will now have to play in the changing world of today. Looking at the figures for defence which we have been given, I cannot see how it is that since 1990, leading up to 1995, we can sustain a 27 per cent. reduction in the Army, a 30 per cent. reduction in combat aircraft and a 29 per cent. reduction in the Royal Navy. Those figures do not add up. I believe that they are at the heart of what many Members have expressed today.
As regards our membership of the Security Council and the new role of NATO and the Western European Union, it is inescapable that we need more troops and better equipment. Inevitably that is going to cost more money, much as we like to cash in on the so-called peace dividend. The Sunday Times told us on 11 th July:140 operational tanks required substantial cannibalisation [during the Gulf Wad—only 16 were left running in Germany".Then we had the saga of the SA80 rifle—the gun which did not fire.
I do not have time to deal with all the detailed points which have been raised in this House, but I wish to comment on the question of helicopters. which 1359 seem to me to be one of the most important pieces of equipment in our Armed Forces today. I welcome the earlier decision announced by the Government about the helicopter carrier. I endorse what has been said on both sides of the House about the need to have an early decision on the EH101. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that the noble Lord, Lord Younger, promised an order for 25 quite a long time ago. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, referred to that in his speech and I endorse what he said—that that decision is required not only for defence reasons but also for commercial and export reasons. I hope that the noble Viscount is able to give us news about that when he comes to wind up.
I do not have time to touch on other vital questions which have been raised today. They include the future role of the Upholder submarine, a matter raised on the Benches opposite. I endorse the remarks made in that connection. Views were also expressed about nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and by my noble friends Lord Jenkins and Lord Kennet. These are vital matters which probably deserve a debate of their own. I am glad, however, that the exposure to realism has at last been forced on the Government by President Clinton. There will be no more testing of our weapons or of theirs.
I conclude by returning to the central issue in this debate. I refer to the relationship between foreign policy and defence policy and to the future of NATO and the United Nations. Through all the long years of the Cold War, NATO has been an outstanding success story. Now it is floundering.
At the recent General Assembly of NATO, in which I participated, I expressed a great deal of sympathy with the view of United States Senator Tom Lewis. I shall use his words rather than my own. He thought that NATO had succeeded over the years because everybody knew what the deterrent was, where the line was drawn and what the consequences would be of overstepping it. Now he says that NATO has no deterrent policy—for example, in Bosnia. We are not prepared to enforce any policy because we do not have one. We are providing relief for the three populations, which should be the responsibility of the warring factions. It seems to me that what we are doing is freeing those three factions from their humanitarian responsibilities to their own people so that they can now engage in war upon each other. That is ludicrous and nonsense.
The fact that our forces are doing a super-human job—like my noble friends, I pay every tribute to them —cannot disguise the fact that NATO and the United Nations are in disarray. Our forces are being treated with contempt, as I heard someone say this morning on the radio. That is reprehensible and the Government should not allow it to continue for a day longer.
The danger is that such a perceived weakness in Bosnia on the part of either the United Nations or NATO forces will spread to the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and may well provide opportunities for other tyrants. When the United Nations or NATO 1360 speaks, they must be able to enforce their word. Clearly that is the most important objective for us to achieve.
There are fundamental problems with the military role of the United Nations and the political role of NATO. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, dealt with that at some length. I agree with everything that he said. The greatest need of our time is to resolve those fundamental contradictions. I very much regret that in this White Paper the Government are doing little about either. The White Paper is short on imagination as well as realism. We can only hope that today's debate in your Lordships' House will help the Government to introduce both realism and imagination into their future policy.
§ 6.33 p.m.
My Lords, it is a great tribute to the perceptiveness of my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth that so many noble Lords have taken part in the debate and that so many, including the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, my noble friends Lord Murton, Lord Cork and Orrery, and Lord Vivian, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and others agree with the sentiments that she expressed so eloquently when she spoke to her Motion.
On the whole, I have the greatest sympathy with what my noble friend Lady Park said. It is clearly right to discuss defence, security and foreign policy regularly and at least once a year. Perhaps I may advise your Lordships that there have been particular difficulties this year in finding the time to discuss these important matters in quite the form that many of your Lordships would ideally like. There have been many exchanges (as I know perhaps to my cost) as a result of Questions or Statements in your Lordships' House. Thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, we have already had a good half-day's debate on the subject.
However, in all fairness I believe that your Lordships would acknowledge that last year was an election year which put the parliamentary timetable out of kilter rather more than usual. Contrary to what a number of noble Lords have said today, I believe that we can take some credit for holding this debate before the recess rather than in the spillover period. Some noble Lords have uttered criticisms. I am disappointed. I had rather hoped that Her Majesty's Government, at least in this place, would have got some credit for squeezing it in. Nevertheless, I undertake to my noble friend to pursue the matter of regular debates through the usual channels. The Government would be unwise in the extreme to ignore the universal support that my noble friend has received from all parts of your Lordships' House on this important matter. Through the usual channels we will be able to see whether or not the kind of objectives envisaged by my noble friend can be achieved. In view of that assurance, I hope that at this late hour, and at this late date, my noble friend feels that she has no need to take the Motion further. I believe that the House owes her a great debt of gratitude for the opportunity that her Motion has given for your Lordships to discuss the matter.
1361 It has already been observed, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. that this has been a very long debate. The importance which your Lordships attach to the subject needs no more evidence than the fact that at this late hour on the last day there are so many of your Lordships still here to listen to the final speeches. I am equally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for the sympathy he expressed for the task faced by himself, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter and myself in trying to encapsulate into an acceptably short period the main themes of the debate. I surrender from the beginning. I shall not be able to cover every point that your Lordships have raised. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I fail to do so. I hope that, as to the very many points which require an answer, but which I am not able to cover, your Lordships will allow me to write in the usual manner.
I am grateful for the generally nice things which have been said about the presentation of the White Paper. Many of the comments made about the items that it contains—or does not contain—were perhaps rather less polite by implication. However, I and those who have worked so hard in producing the White Paper are grateful for those kind remarks. I am also grateful for the tributes to our services; I do not believe that I need say more than that.
A number of common themes have run through the debate today. The first is what I call the overall strategic situation. Without any imputation of impertinence, it was a theme that was taken up with great interest and ability by the noble Lords, Lord Williams of Elvel, Lord Mayhew, Lord Chalfont, Lord Bonham-Carter and many others. They suggested pretty well unanimously that defence policy should be considered only in conjunction with foreign and security policy. That is the burden of the Motion of my noble friend Lady Park. I have the very greatest sympathy for that view. I find it extremely difficult to disagree with the contention of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel (which he put so pithily) that prevention is better than cure. I noted with interest that noble Lords holding such disparate views as the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, and the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, quoted the noble Lord, Lord Williams, with considerable approval. I observe only that perhaps your Lordships give the Government rather less credit than should be the case in addressing themselves to what is perhaps a self-evident truth.
From the many utterances in the House of my noble friend Lady Chalker, it is clear that we give a high priority to aid matters which are more than humanitarian in content. A number of noble Lords observed that. I was also interested in the number of references to the GATT made by a number of noble Lords. It is clear that if third world countries are not to cast covetous eyes on the alleged riches of the developed world, in almost every case trade, rather than aid, meets many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams. He referred also the importance of links with Central Europe, Russia and the other countries of the former Soviet Union.
1362 There is one thing that the White Paper—although it mentions it—could have emphasised even more. It is the high priority that the Ministry of Defence attaches to those very issues. A great many contacts have been made. The pace of those contacts is quickening. I hope that the noble Lord will welcome that fact, as will the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who also referred to that point.
The only other point I would make to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and the other noble Lords who supported him in his prevention-is-better-than-cure contention is that I suspect my noble and right honourable friends in the Foreign Office find helpful, during the course of their preventive diplomacy and in the prosecution of the interests of this country abroad, the fact that we have effective Armed Forces which play a full role and form an important part of an alliance. It is that alliance, and that important part, which back up our diplomacy which would be a lot less powerful were that not the case. Other noble Lords addressed themselves to that theme.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to comment in detail upon the most interesting speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. I look forward to reading it, with the care that it deserves, in the Official Report. The noble and gallant Lord mentioned transparency. I suggest that "transparency" is not a swear word. He did not suggest that it was. It is the essential factor in ensuring that internal security organisations can talk to one another and become coherent. Nevertheless, I hope that the noble and gallant Lord will forgive me if he does not tempt me down a path which is of considerable interest. He opened up a subject to which we should return in further debates.
On the subject of proliferation, the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, might find it advantageous to re-read the notes contained on page 58 of the White Paper on the subject of the arms register. I suspect that some of the points he made will be met there, at least in part.
The second theme to which many noble Lords—notably the noble Lords, Lord Williams, Lord Mayhew and Lord Jenkins of Putney—addressed themselves was the whole subject of nuclear forces. Again, that is an enormous subject. Much interesting argument was put forward by noble Lords on all sides of the House. I should like to emphasise that we do not size our nuclear forces by reference to other nations' arsenals. We need to be able to present to any aggressor the prospect of damage outweighing any gains he may hope to make and to allow for the development of defences. We have long made it clear —the noble Lord, Lord Williams, half admitted this —that Trident will enter service with no more than 128 warheads per boat. The actual number to he deployed when Trident is in service will be decided in the light of the circumstances which exist at the time. As I have observed many times on other occasions to the noble Lord. Lord Williams, the imprecision is perhaps part of the power of deterrence.
Perhaps it is worthwhile adding in this context that we should remember that our present plans compare with a total of between 3.000 and 3,500 warheads 1363 which the United States and Russia will be able to retain even after the full implementation of Start I and Start II. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Rea, I was pleased to note that my noble friends Lord Vivian and Lord Beloff recognised that these arsenals still exist. My noble friend Lady Park's knowledge of the residual threat in the former Soviet Union is well known.
We do not seek to match superpowers. During the large build-up of their strategic forces in the 1970s and 1980s we did not do so. It is all the more important to realise that we do not have their latitude to make reductions now.
On the question of the sub-strategic capability, that is a horse which we all enjoy flogging a little. It is worth emphasising that we are not suggesting that we should give up a sub-strategic capability. We are emphasising that a study is going on as to the best means of delivering that. The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, and I, joined by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will look forward to the announcement which I hope to be able to make in the very near future.
A third theme—and it is perhaps the overwhelming theme addressed by your Lordships today—is what, for shorthand purposes, I shall call the "overstretch" argument. The list of noble Lords who addressed themselves to that subject is extremely long. Notable among them are the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Craig, with whose knowledge of matters military and experience of the Ministry of Defence I should he the last to dare to tangle. My noble friend Lord Moore and the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, who made a most notable contribution, my noble friend Lord Vivian, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and my noble friends Lord Colnbrook and Lord De L'Isle, and many others addressed themselves to that point. We cantered over that course during the past year or so many times. I shall say merely this. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, was a little sniffy about the job that we have done on matching resources to commitments. I got the impression that my noble friend Lord Beloff agreed. He referred to junior staff officers. In my short time in the Ministry of Defence I have already acquired the greatest respect for the capacities of junior staff officers, a respect which I am sorry to find the noble Lord does not share.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, will the Minister allow me to contradict that? I have the greatest admiration for the work of junior staff officers. I am saying simply that now the work of the junior staff officer is done and it is time for the statesman to take over.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that elucidation. It is probably worth emphasising that in view of the seniority of those who produced the analysis in Chapter 2 perhaps the task was rather more difficult than the noble Lord suggested today. I am glad that the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, agreed. I also suggest to noble Lords that we are right, as my noble friend Lord Astor suggested, to try to make a clear estimate of what is needed and to react to changing circumstances. After 1364 all, we did that recently by abandoning the amalgamation of four battalions into two. I suggest, with the greatest of diffidence to what was suggested by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, that that shows a degree of flexibility which is entirely desirable in the unpredictable world in which we live. Perhaps your Lordships did not give Her Majesty's Government enough credit for that.
As regards the Northern Ireland commitment, I am the first to acknowledge that that is the principal driver of the emergency tour plot. Like every other noble Lord, we should like to reduce that commitment, but it is only fair to say that we shall do so only when we feel that it is safe to reduce it. I note in particular the remarks of my noble friend Lord De L'Isle.
Another theme of your Lordships' debate concerned the reserves. I regret to say that that is yet another complex subject. The list of noble Lords who expressed themselves forcibly on the subject is again long—my noble friend Lord Vivian, the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, my noble friend—and he certainly is my noble friend now—Lord Ridley, the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, and above all, the two most experienced TA members from whom we heard during the course of the debate, the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, and a remarkable contribution from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I had no idea that Earls were so frequently represented in the TA. But I am delighted to find that that is so. I was grateful to them for giving the House the benefit of their experience. It is generally acknowledged that now it is more important than ever to have ex-regular and volunteer reserves ready to supplement regular forces. That is so in view of the fact that the skills in many of the units are not always available or required in peacetime. Indeed, our contribution to the ACE Rapid Reaction Corps could not be deployed without reserves.
Much has been made of the changes proposed for the reserves. Indeed, I can confirm that details of measures for the Territorial Army will be announced later this year, as soon as we possibly can. I confirm also to the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, that we fully intend to consult the TA, not only the TAVRA but also what is equally important, the serving members of the TA who sometimes have a slightly different slant from that of members of the TAVRA on Territorial Army matters. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence holds that to be extremely important.
The only other matter which I wish to mention on the reserves is the legislation which we intend to bring before Parliament as soon as possible. Many of your Lordships have observed that such legislation is badly needed, and I agree with all the reasons which your Lordships adduced to make that assertion. I can certainly confirm to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that we intend to introduce that legislation so that it can take effect in 1995. That was the objective proposed in the open government document of last year and we still have that objective in mind.
Time marches on. I cannot let your Lordships go to your buckets and spades, as my noble friend Lady Strange put it, without expressing my rather 1365 embarrassed gratitude to the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, for the kindness of his remarks. However, I should like to say how extraordinarily important I thought that his contribution was as regards the Army's training capability. I was delighted to find that, with his unrivalled knowledge of Northumberland, he is able to support the very superficial impression that I gained during my last visit to Otterburn, namely, that the local population on the whole welcomed the presence of the Army. As the Ministry's "green" Minister, I was extremely grateful for the tribute which the noble Viscount paid to the Ministry of Defence for its stewardship of the environment, which is something for which I am particularly responsible and by which I have been enormously impressed. I am glad that my noble friend is also impressed by that.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, will the noble Viscount say a few words about the threat of nuclear terrorism which is likely to overhang us during the period of our Recess and which may concern more and more people as it develops?
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, may know something more about the capabilities and the imminence of terrorist nuclear explosions than perhaps I do. All I can say to him is that, like sin. we are clearly against such things. However, at the same time, one of the principal objectives of our anti-nuclear proliferation activities is simply to ensure that nuclear weapons do not get into the kind of hands that he mentions. If the noble Lord has information of the kind that he is. perhaps, suggesting he has, I am sure that he will make it available to the appropriate authorities so that they can take the action that is necessary.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord. As I said, time is marching on. Perhaps I may close by mentioning the question of equipment. Many noble Lords have mentioned that important question in connection with Upholder submarines and the EH 101 helicopter. The cost of the Upholder is something which, rightly, exercises noble Lords in all parts of the House. All I can do is to point out—as I believe I have done on other occasions—that the procurement cost of a piece of equipment, especially an elaborate piece of equipment, is only a minority or, very often nowadays, less than a 50 per cent. part of the through-life cost. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, with his knowledge of financial matters, will realise that the through-life cost approach to investment in equipment is infinitely preferable to merely going up to the point of procurement in assessing what is the most cost-effective form of equipment. Therefore, to say that the Upholders cost hundreds of millions and that it is outrageous that that money should he thrown away is not the whole answer. I hope that noble Lords will take that particular point into account.
So far as concerns the EH 101 helicopter, I should like to tell noble Lords something. especially those on 1366 the Liberal Benches. I know that, in view of the constituency of their leader, they have a particular interest in the matter which, I have to say, is over and above their natural patriotism—
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, in the first place my party leader will easily win Yeovil again, whatever the Government do about the EH 101. Secondly, during the debate which took place yesterday morning in another place, all the running was made by Conservative MPs in the South West.
My Lords, I am rather shocked to find that the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, interprets my remarks as some sort of rather curious aspersion on the electoral prospects of the Liberals in Yeovil. That was very far from my mind. All I was saying was that the leader of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, had a constituency interest. The noble Lord will deny that fact. All I can say is—
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am sorry to trouble the noble Viscount. but he did mention my name and my party leader. There is no constituency interest in the helicopter in Monklands East.
Forgive me, my Lords; it must be my consciousness of the march of time that, perhaps, made me swallow my words. I had no intention of suggesting to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that any member of the Labour Party had, or ever will have, any interest in any constituency in the West Country. However, I can certainly echo what my honourable friend said in another place at four o'clock in the morning—
§ Lord Howell
My Lords, the Labour Party does in fact have a Member of Parliament for Plymouth in the West Country.
My Lords, well, we must wait until the next election to put that right. However, we are in the final stages of the procurement process. I am glad that the noble Lord. Lord Howell—despite his newly found interest in the West Country's electoral affairs—accepts the importance of the support helicopter programme. That is something that is gratifying to find in all parts of the House.
A number of other matters were raised, but I have already tried your Lordships' patience far too much. I was particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever for his remarks on the housing trust. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not comment further on that except to underline very strongly the advantages he sketched out of this approach if we find ourselves able to take it.
We have had an extremely useful debate. I am very grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions. I shall read them at my leisure with my bucket and my spade over the coming weeks and hope that I will be able to profit from them and he able to talk with even 1367 greater authority on defence matters when we return. I am grateful to all noble Lords and I take this opportunity to wish them a happy holiday.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth rose to move, That this House regrets that there has been no debate on the Defence Estimates since October 1991, and resolves that a comprehensive defence policy debate, to include relevant foreign policy issues, shall take place in each calendar year.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I placed my Motion on the Order Paper in order to send a clear signal to the Government of the need for a regular review, both in defence and foreign policy terms, of an issue of great national concern. I am grateful for the debate, despite being charged with paranoia, and I am greatly heartened by the support I have received.
§ The message has been delivered forcefully and brilliantly by many noble Lords, in particular the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Braman and Lord Craig, and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I thank all noble Lords on all sides of the House who have supported me so warmly, but finally I want to thank most warmly my noble friend the Minister for his most graceful and positive response. I greatly appreciate it: it is typical of him. In the light of this promise, I shall not press my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.