HL Deb 02 July 1997 vol 581 cc252-89

6.26 p.m.

Lord Vivian

rose to call attention to the importance of the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a great privilege for me to introduce this debate and, although I have to admit that I queried whether it was timely to hold a debate on defence issues so soon after the address on the gracious Speech, I trust that its wide scope will ensure that your Lordships can speak on any defence matter.

Before I go any further, I should like to thank the Minister for his most courteous letter of 19th June setting out the way forward for the recently announced Strategic Defence Review. I am most grateful to him for offering us the invitation to contribute to the review. Perhaps he will accept parts of this debate as a first contribution. However, I have to say at the outset that I am still of the opinion that the review is unnecessary, and I shall return to that again in a moment.

I welcome the statements about defence in the Labour Party manifesto; by Dr. Clark at his recent address to the Royal United Services Institution; in the statement in the gracious Speech itself; by the Lord Privy Seal in his reply to the gracious Speech; and by the Minister in his letter. The statement commits the Government to a strong defence of the UK by collective defence through NATO; active co-operation with our allies; strong conventional forces; and the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent. However, I have been unable to detect any recent statement in confirmation of the defence of our dependent territories, even though Dr. Clark is on record as saying: The defence of Britain and her dependent territories will remain our fundamental task". Perhaps the Minister will confirm that they are still part of our basic defence requirements.

I return to the defence review and why I believe that it is unnecessary. My main objection to yet another review is that in the past few years the Armed Forces have been subjected to far too many studies and reviews, two of which were major reviews resulting in dramatic and radical changes. There has been constant upheaval, with reorganisation of headquarters and garrisons, and the creation of many civilian agencies. New policies have produced new roles, and new commitments have been undertaken. The Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force have all been drastically reduced in numbers. One senior officer told me that his last three jobs, spread over the past six years, have involved him in consistent reorganisation.

My Lords, are these new policies and new roles, which have been subjected to such careful and detailed scrutiny, now suddenly quite wrong? What has changed so recently in the world for them to be suddenly out of date? It is hard to believe that these recent reviews, taken in such depth by the Chiefs of Staff, senior civil servants and academics, can have assessed our defence policy and roles incorrectly such a short time ago. I was interested to note that the Lord Privy Seal recently referred to new strategic realities. However, an Answer to a Written Question of mine stated that those strategic realities are the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; aggressive nationalism; international terrorism and the impact of scientific and technological developments. There is nothing new here. I do not wish to make any further comments as the review is now under way; but any review of this nature saps at the morale of the Armed Forces. The Armed Services cannot afford to lose any more personnel and yet only a few days ago a senior officer with a bright future ahead of him decided to leave. The review may turn out to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

Is there any real need to change our defence policy and roles? Currently they are to deter any threats to and to defend the freedom and integrity of the United Kingdom, its dependent territories and our allies, including the provision of military support for the civil authority in countering terrorism. It is also to contribute to the promotion of the United Kingdom's wider security interests, including the protection and enhancement of freedom, democratic institutions and free world trade. In addition to those roles, I understand that it is the policy of the Government for the United Kingdom to retain its seat at the United Nations Security Council; to retain its influence at NATO; and to be a leading member of the Group of Seven, the Commonwealth and the European Union.

We will lose our seat on the Security Council not only if we do not continue to carry out our fair share of United Nations peacekeeping, peace support and peace enforcement operations, but also if we should reduce our commitments to maritime operations with their amphibious capability and very significant carrier borne air power providing endurance and poise in support of UN interests world wide. We will no longer have any influence at NATO if we withdraw the 1st Armoured Division from Germany as that would result in the loss of the Deputy Supreme Commander Allied Powers Europe post and the loss of the Commander of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps appointment, to which there are committed 10 different NATO countries.

I now wish to turn to high intensity operations which are conducted by all arms formations and battle groups. In the future, it is likely that all conflicts will lead to these types of operations and we shall require at immediate notice our own well-trained and highly skilled troops who can undertake these complex operations. It is a relatively simple task to carry out low intensity operations, providing that troops have been properly trained in high intensity warfare. It takes many years to acquire the necessary skills and high standards for this type of combat and without that capability battles will not be won in the future.

I now come to the regimental system and why it is still so essential. There is one answer to this: it is the regimental system which provides the will to win in battle; that is why it is needed and will always be needed. It only now really exists in the regiments of the Household Cavalry, the Royal Armoured Corps and the infantry battalions, but here it is essential because these are the troops that get involved in close-quarter fighting. These troops are like the Scots Guards who had the will to destroy the enemy by bayonet.

The regimental system is a close-knit family from which stems loyalty; respect for each other through long years of friendship at regimental duty; and the feeling of never ever letting one another down. It is the individual commitment for the common benefit of the regiment and the possession of immense pride by all members of that very special family. It is those in-built qualities which lead fighting troops to make the ultimate self-sacrifice to ensure success in battle and defeat of the enemy. There is no substitute for victory in war: if you lose, the nation will be destroyed. These fighting troops are the guardians of our nation and must never be taken for granted. It is the regimental system, when times get tough in battle, which ensures the will to win and victory. No one, nor any government, should ever tamper with the regimental system. Whoever does so removes the will to win in battle and imperils the safety of the nation. Will the Minister give the House an assurance that the regimental system will not be changed?

I move on now to the Army in Germany. It could be asked why we still need to station armoured forces in that country. It shows our purpose, determination and dedication to NATO by living with and closely integrating with our NATO allies. Conversely, any withdrawal of our armoured capability from the heart of NATO would make it easier for the United States of America to withdraw and thus threaten the entire cohesion of NATO, resulting in a weakened and very less effective organisation playing into the hands of our enemies. At the same time, we would lose the influential command appointments which I have already mentioned and, overall, the United Kingdom would have far less influence at NATO.

The 1st Armoured Division can be rapidly deployed or provide brigade level forces for NATO operations, such as Bosnia or world wide operations outside NATO's boundaries, which threaten its interests. Apart from the United States armoured divisions, it should be noted with some care and concern that the 1st Armoured Division is the only division manned by regular troops. It should also be noted and remembered that it is only the American divisions and our own Armoured Division that have any recent armoured warfare experience. When it comes to any operational deployment and facing up to a real enemy, it is invariably the British and the Americans who have to be committed. It would not be in the interests of Britain or NATO to rely solely on the other European armoured units, who have no battle experience and are manned by conscripts.

At this stage I believe that it is timely to mention the tank. It is still, and for future years will be, an essential weapon system on the battlefield conforming to current doctrine with its characteristics of fire power, manoeuvrability and durability. Almost no other battlefield weapon system has this blend of characteristics. The gun of the tank has pin-point accuracy, and the introduction of Challenger 2 next year will give the British Army the most modern and technologically developed tank in the world, and our armoured regiments greater capability than ever before.

On the battlefield the tank is as effective now as it was in convincing an enemy that he is defeated; and, in peace support operations, a tank is reassuring to those keeping the peace, yet deterring to those who would break it. We have reduced our tank fleet over the past few years by 57 per cent. from 699 tanks in 1990 to 304 in 1997. Twenty eight countries in the world possess more than 1,000 tanks each. The most cost-effective way to destroy tanks is by using other tanks. New tanks are still being made by other countries, including Russia, and the former Yugoslavia still has more tanks than we do. Our armoured regimental establishment of 38 tanks is tactically unsound and urgent consideration should be applied to increase the numbers of tanks in each regiment if they are to be more effective. No one should even contemplate or query the effectiveness of that superb weapon system providing the kill factor and battle-winning agent in modern warfare.

I should like to spend the last few minutes of my speech on how our Armed Forces can become more closely integrated into our society, as they have so much to offer with their high standards and principles. There is much ignorance among the general public about the armed services. That point is illustrated by a great number of new Members of Parliament who have little if any knowledge of our service men and women. Very regrettably, there are signs of the nation taking our Armed Forces for granted, which can only be detrimental to the country. I have already cited our soldiers, sailors and airmen as being the guardians of our country. I believe that a greater recognition and understanding should be made by the public.

I am well aware of the great respect and strong feelings that are held by the civilian elements in the Ministry of Defence towards all our service men and women. But there should be a definitive and wide-reaching lead and example made by the Government to show their high esteem and respect for our defence forces. They should publicise more frequently the current activities and roles of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force and make greater attempts to integrate them more closely with the civilian community whenever possible. Their high standards and principles should be exposed to the general public with a view perhaps to influencing the civilian standards.

In many ways, the Territorial Army and all three reserve forces can help in that respect. Yesterday I was delighted to hear during an All-Party Defence Study Group visit to Catterick Garrison, that with great initiative careful thought has been given about how to integrate the civilian community with day-to-day garrison life. With even more initiative, planning permission has now been obtained for one of the large supermarket chains to build a supermarket store at the centre of the garrison. Permission has been gained also to build a fitness and leisure centre nearby. That is highly commendable and should receive the greatest support from all quarters.

Finally, it is important that no aspects of European legislation are forced on our Armed Forces with the denigrating effect of lowering their high standards and reducing their effectiveness. I expect that those matters will receive attention within the Ministry of Defence. But perhaps the noble Lord who is to reply will comment or write to me on how he envisages the integration of our Armed Forces more closely into our society.

My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.42 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, I very much welcome the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, in instigating this debate, which is so timely with the Strategic Defence Review work now being put in hand.

On that, perhaps I may say that I am totally opposed to recent suggestions made that now is the time to review the Royal Air Force's single service status and to split it between the Army and the Royal Navy. That idea is as old as the Royal Air Force itself. It surfaces every so often, usually at the time of a review.

If any of the supporting arguments was logical and compelling, then there might be a plausible case for examining such a proposition. But the Army and the Royal Navy have only limited air arms; they do not have air forces. On that sort of logic, one might as well advocate, because the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy have ground arms in the Royal Air Force Regiment and the Marines, that the Army should be split between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. I do not go so far—at least not yet.

Those who advocate the demise of the world's oldest and most famous independent air force do so from the most selective of arguments: for example, that missiles and satellites are now displacing manned aircraft; or that electronics can totally replace, not just enhance, the human element; or even, in a world of multi-communication, that it over-complicates matters dealing with three rather than two services.

But let us give a moment's thought to the contribution of manned Coalition aircraft to the brilliant success of the Gulf War, resulting in the mainland battle being fought and won in a mere 100 hours with minimum casualties against a numerically much larger enemy; or to the impact of the precision manned aircraft attacks in bringing the Serbians in Bosnia to the Dayton negotiating table, which ground forces could not have achieved; or to the peace-enforcing and humanitarian operations which have been mounted by manned aircraft in both theatres and elsewhere in Africa for many months and years.

A moment's reflection on such examples surely puts paid to the idea that such diverse operations can all be done with unmanned vehicles. Duncan Sandys had that erroneous idea 40 years ago when he was Defence Secretary. Even today, when stand-off weapons and smart bombs are changing the way that air operations are conducted, the issue is not simply whether a man sits in a cockpit but whether he has the necessary grasp and understanding of the complexities and applications of air power.

Further questions arise. How can we best achieve, in all volunteer services, the commitment and motivation to achieve and sustain such consistent, high quality performances? It can be too readily overlooked by the armchair critics that it is the people involved in the air and on the ground, working as a team, who ensure the excellence we have all come to expect and admire. Air power is the product of that single-minded, professional determination. Does it not matter to those who would destroy the Royal Air Force that division of the air into land and sea regions would be restrictive to the successful operation of air power, which has to encompass both, and in time and space?

It might be more plausible, should there be a study about the most cost-effective application of air power in that defence review, were it to concentrate on examining what the benefits would be if all the three services' air activity, their training, support and operation were under the overall direction of experts in the application and limits of air power—the Royal Air Force. But, even for this strategic review, that might be a bridge too far. I hope that the Minister will confirm the Government's commitment to a lasting future for all three services.

6.48 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I too express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Vivian for raising this important debate. It is timely for two reasons. First, it provides us with the opportunity to acknowledge the vital role of the Armed Forces, both at home and abroad; and to express our appreciation to those in the Armed Forces for the valuable and sterling work which they do. They continue to deserve our thanks.

This debate is also particular timely because of the Strategic Defence Review announced recently by the Government. I should like to concentrate on two very different matters this evening: one of a somewhat philosophic nature and the other immediate and urgent.

I turn first to the issue which has occupied a good many column inches in the newspaper recently; namely, the importance of air power and the role of the Royal Air Force, to which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, has just referred. He speaks with a great deal more authority and experience than I do on those matters but I hope that I may add one or two useful points on the same theme.

As the noble and gallant Lord said, some have even questioned the need for a separate air force. But, however clearly foreign policy is defined and however closely defence policy is aligned with it, two major uncertainties will continue to influence defence provision. First, it is impossible to predict in advance the level of intensity and nature of any operation which may arise. Secondly, unless the crisis provokes a full NATO response, we have little idea as to who our military partners may be, whatever the scope or scale of the conflict. Of course we shall often be fighting alongside the United States but not necessarily always. Thus Britain's Armed Forces must be as versatile as possible. We cannot afford to invest in equipment which can be used in only one situation, especially when we cannot be certain that that situation will ever occur. Air power is inherently versatile and the impact of the IT revolution on sensors, navigation, precision delivery and communications has hugely enhanced the traditional characteristics of responsiveness, speed, reach and fire power.

There are three important reasons why air power brings such crucial strength in any joint services operation. First, it can shape an environment for the advantage of friendly forces, exactly as the allied air forces did for the Normandy landings in 1944, and incidentally, as the Luftwaffe singularly failed to do in 1940. Secondly, air power can provide traditional support for forces deployed at various levels of conflict intensity, including air cover, mobility, reconnaissance and fire power, all of which are particularly important when small numbers of friendly ground forces have been deployed. Thirdly, only air power can take independent action against targets far beyond the reach and capacity of surface forces. In recent times, precision munitions have transformed deep penetration operations from the old bludgeon of total war into a rapier which may be brandished, inserted or withdrawn under tight political control, with minimal casualties and collateral damage.

However, we must be careful. We can and do meet sophisticated weaponry at the lowest levels of intensity. Many countries already have small but well equipped air forces capable of inflicting heavy casualties on unprotected ground forces, and so all our Armed Forces must be able to depend upon air superiority.

It is inconceivable that the important tasks to which I have referred could be discharged by a branch of the Army or of the Royal Navy. I yield to no one in my admiration of the Fleet Air Arm and the Army Air Corp, but even taken together they could not remotely begin to fulfil all the vital roles of the Royal Air Force. Therefore, I hope we shall hear no more of these dangerous ideas, which serve only to encourage our potential enemies by casting doubt upon our determination.

I believe that I have a few moments left in which to speak. I wish to touch briefly on a quite different matter which greatly troubles me. I refer to the case of Guardsman Wright and Guardsman Fisher, both of the Scots Guards. Following an incident in Northern Ireland in September 1992, these two men were tried and convicted of the murder of a known IRA terrorist in circumstances which most of us would regard as no such thing. Naturally these are technical matters for legal experts but the sad fact is that the somewhat rough and ready arrangements which represent the legal processes in Northern Ireland have proved ill constituted for cases of this kind.

Wright and Fisher are not the first British soldiers to find themselves in this position. Not so long ago your Lordships expressed some disquiet over the case of Lance Corporal Clegg. I recall from my own experience the case of Private Thain. That latter case, in which I was closely involved, ended when Private Thain was refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords by the Northern Ireland Appeal Court. I must confess I find it impossible to dispel the suspicion that the interests of justice in these cases have sometimes been deflected by the needs of political expediency.

However, I return to the case of Guardsmen Wright and Fisher. These two soldiers have now served nearly five years—longer than any of the other cases of this kind—and in the view of many, including myself, it is high time that they were released on licence or on parole if more appropriate. I understand that this very day Mr. Justice Girvan has called for this matter to be expedited. I hope I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, when he replies to the debate to say when he expects the case of these soldiers to be next considered by the appropriate authorities. Further, is he satisfied that proper legal advice and support are available to these men, paid for if necessary from public funds? That was the case with Private Thain and ought to be the case with these two men. I look forward to the Minister's reply.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I, too, am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Vivian for instituting this debate. Your Lordships have heard from two previous speakers about the regiment of the Scots Guards. Perhaps that is one reason that I speak so early in the batting order today because 40 years ago this week I graduated from being recruit Lyell to Guardsman Lyell with the valuable help of one Coldstream Guardsman, Sergeant Kiwi Clements, who was known to many of your Lordships and many of the staff. Those weeks at the Guards depot taught me to be a soldier before anything else.

My noble friend Lord Vivian mentioned the regimental system again and again. For me this started at the age of three when my father brought a company of Scots Guardsmen to our house in Scotland. They left for North Africa when I was three and sadly many of that company, including my father, did not come back. From 1942 onwards the Scots Guards have been part of my life. It is for that reason that I am particularly privileged to speak in the debate today.

Three weeks ago I was in the North American city of Seattle. Sadly I missed one of the high spots of my year, the Queen's Birthday Parade on Horse Guards Parade, not too far from here. I tuned in to the Komo television news in Seattle. The headlines concerned a bear that had escaped in one suburb and a bobcat that was loose in another. However, 20 seconds were devoted to Queen Elizabeth's birthday. It meant quite a bit to me to see the Colour of the Second Battalion the Scots Guards with a wreath trooped in front of the Queen in June. That may not mean an awful lot to your Lordships, but to members of the Brigade of Guards it does mean something. Why do the Scots Guards have that privilege? Fifteen years before many of those guardsmen were fighting and, let us not forget, winning at Tumbledown, if you can call sustaining eight fatalities and many injuries winning.

Ten days after that parade I attended a regimental dinner. There were many Scots Guards officers at the dinner. I believe that three of them were mentioned this evening by my noble friend Lord Vivian. They were particularly loyal and honest. They wondered about a word that is dear to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall; namely, overstretch. They wondered about their personal future commitment and about the men and women who serve in the British Army. Their qualities are improving year upon year but, for goodness sake, the demands that we, the Government and the country place on them increase year by year by year. At some stage can the Minister give some indication of the actual or estimated gap between tours of duty in Northern Ireland, let alone Bosnia? As the noble Lord will be aware, it is not merely a question of sending a battalion to Northern Ireland or Bosnia. Many of these battalions, certainly in the Brigade of Guards and other infantry regiments, are under-strength. Therefore one adds a company, but many of those companies are under-strength. Therefore one adds a platoon. One unit going to Northern Ireland or Bosnia comprises three separate regiments. Thank goodness for the regimental system, which breeds unbelievable and unique teamwork.

I was lucky to obtain a commission in the Scots Guards as a national serviceman. The soldiers of 1997, and I when I was a recruit guardsman, are totally different from the soldiers of 1957. The soldiers of 1997 are not Zulu or Masai warriors who fight for 20 or 30 years and then retire. They quite rightly need the home life that many of us demand. One battalion that will be familiar to your Lordships has spent three Christmases away from home in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and on an "emergency tour" of Northern Ireland. I hope that the Minister will be able to take a view on this matter, perhaps over five years or even longer. I hope that he will consider the existing demands on these soldiers. I hope that he will reject the siren voices on the peace process in Northern Ireland, and defending freedom in Bosnia, which may lead to a so-called peace dividend.

In this debate, as in every other debate, I remember Kipling's poem. We thank the Mister Atkins. But I add today: I do not know how they do it. The demands are increasing, and those people look to the Minister to adjust them.

7 p.m.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, I add my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for initiating the debate at this crucial time in the affairs of the Armed Forces—Armed Forces which, I think most of the nation would agree, are a jewel in the national crown. Perhaps I may reiterate to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, the congratulations and welcome that I offered him in your Lordships' House last month before his introduction. I recalled that for him it was coming home to a department in which he had served with distinction 18 years ago at a time when I was Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff.

I agree that the forces now need a longer-term sense of direction in defence planning which will take into account future challenges and opportunities; and I am delighted that the Government have decided to do this from the top downwards and not, as so invariably in the past, from the bottom upwards, with the Treasury firmly in the driving seat from the outset. And I keep my fingers crossed when I recognise this worthy aspiration.

But if the macro-baseline study is to be of any value, it must try to produce definitive views on, first, whether we intend to remain a member of the Security Council— that will make a considerable difference; secondly, whether, in trying to assess our weight on the international stage at which we should be appropriately punching—to use a popular phrase, no more no less— we should as well as other factors take into account the obligations, experience and expertise which this country has proudly acquired in its national and international development; and, lastly, whether any contribution, at whatever size, we decide to make to collective defence, in particular through NATO, and/or in active co-operation with allies, but perhaps particularly with our American friends as so often in the past, should be able to compete if the need arose in terms of command expertise, organisation and equipment in what I might describe as the "first division"; or at least able to compete, better still deter, opponents with first division equipment as occurred in the Gulf. If such war fighting capability is lost, it cannot be easily or quickly replaced as we should have learned from the 1920s and 1930s.

But be that as it may, only when those broad foreign policy issues and the need for the Armed Forces to support our foreign policy have been thoroughly examined, and where possible resolved, will it be possible to assess the force levels likely to be required, and to start matching those to the resources likely to be available. And when the moment comes to move from the framework baseline study to that second, more detailed stage, I hope that the noble Lord the Minister and his colleagues will not forget how much the established defence programme which the Government have inherited has been underfunded for the past four to five years.

It was not primarily the structure and organisation arrived at under Options for Change and the Defence Costs Study which were to blame (although I suggest that the Army manpower ceiling was, under Treasury pressure, set 4,000 to 5,000 too low), but the continuing cost cutting and cash flow squeezes which went on concurrently between and in the aftermath of those exercises, and are still going on at this moment, which have made it impossible to implement the force levels agreed upon in an effective way. As some noble Lords have said, the result has been under-recruiting and undermanning by at least 5,000, if not a good deal more, and thus gross overstretch, in particular in the Army, which cannot be allowed to continue because of its adverse effect on the other two; and an inability to sustain even modest forces in the field for any length of time.

I believe that there is now a consensus that the medical services have been seriously and dangerously affected. Indeed, there are few unit establishments in the Army which, even if fully manned, which they are not, would be viable in any operation worthy of the name without ad hoc reinforcements from other units, all exacerbating that overstretch problem.

There is a good deal of ground to be made up urgently, whatever the outcome of the review. There may also be some gaps in what otherwise is a good equipment programme—as good as I can remember. Notably there is the absence of any element of anti-missile defence, without which the deployment of troops overseas may under certain circumstances be greatly inhibited.

I am not saying that there are not areas where savings can be made—if decisions are taken at the top—notably in NATO's top heavy command structure, which is wholly inappropriate now that the cold war has ended; and the implementation costs of joint staff training might be looked at again. The review may find some commitments which could be shed. That is the proper course of action; in fact it is the only way to go about these things. But I believe that the errors made in the past in the fields of manning, medical services and sustainability generally may require some extra resources if whatever force levels are decided upon are to be operationally effective and sustainable over a realistic period. It would be nice to have assurance from the Minister that those weaknesses, many of them self-inflicted, are to be corrected as a matter of urgency.

Meanwhile I wish the review well. Finally, I endorse what has been said about air power. I remind noble Lords that the late great and gallant Lord Montgomery of Alamein introduced a tenth principle of war to go with the other nine: in any operation, first win the air battle.

7.7 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for this debate.

In the 1996 defence review we were told that defence spending would be down to 2.7 per cent. of GDP by 1998–99. If the defence review is, as we all fear, code for cuts, should we expect to go down to 1 per cent. by the millennium? If it is a real attempt to match resources to commitments, I welcome it, especially if it is honest and not a triple-hatting exercise. But I have to say that, of the 50 tasks grouped under the three defence roles, which were identical in both the 1993 and 1996 reviews, only one, Hong Kong, appears to be no longer a task (though in a potentially unstable area, the Far East, we shall presumably still be required to help maintain peace and stability, but now without the advantage of a base). Northern Ireland of course will not go away.

I greatly fear that any more cuts will leave us with a hollow shell consisting of 47 defence agencies, massive contractorisation commitments, budget holders with competing for quality awards, glossy management plans, all seeking PFIs, but no men and women to manage, whether front line or not. They will all have gone because they are weary of impossible tour intervals, perpetual turbulence, absence of effective medical back-up for them and their families, overstretch combined with inadequate training time, and a general failure to remember that they are people who joined to serve.

To take only one of many threats to morale and incentives to take early retirement, I quote the Armed Services Pay Review Body in May 1996 which spoke of, unprecedented low morale in the Defence Medical Services, to the extent that it is difficult to see how the MoD could meet its operational commitments", and perceived a growing crisis over retention and morale in the services generally.

The last government have left—after many a struggle—reasonably hopeful prospects for equipment; and this Government are reassuringly committed to the Eurofighter and to Trident, and to facing the very real problems over maintenance and spares. I particularly welcome what the Minister said in that regard. The casualties have been morale and people and a growing perception that, as in the case of the Gulf War veterans, the MoD is sometimes, not economic with the truth, but even a stranger to it to the detriment of the interests of those it is there to represent.

I hope therefore that this review will make it the business of Ministers not only to identify the strategic needs of the country and to provide the resources to deliver them, but also to recognise the commitment of the country to its Armed Services, who are weary of seeing the MoD transforming itself into an inferior form of supermarket or a branch of McKinsey's—the notion of performance-related pay is part of that alien ethos; it was not proceeded with, I am glad to say—and seeing defence reviews couched in the language of the market. It is time that the forces were recognised not as an expensive liability but as a most valuable and irreplaceable asset, cheap at the price, without whose loyal and committed professionalism our strategic objectives cannot be achieved.

We must all be concerned to ensure that the country understands—for no one talked about it at the election— that the world is still a dangerous and unstable place, with new dangers such as nuclear proliferation, but with some familiar threats, too, which have not gone away. I shall not, since our recent debate covered that, elaborate on the new threat to NATO from within, except to urge the Government to recognise that Russia's aim, which the Founding Act has advanced, is to emasculate NATO from within. We are all much too anxious to turn NATO into just another political forum. It was founded to deter; and deterrence is still necessary. Russia has succeeded in ensuring that enlargement will be hobbled and it has virtually achieved a veto. It will continue to threaten the Baltic States, and will be contained only for so long as we retain both the power and the will to deter.

It is fashionable to treat Russia as a spent force in military terms. It is true that the Russians have unpaid troops, bribery and discontent; but they also have formidable and effective strategic missile troops, a navy with new and sophisticated atomic submarines, and more coming off the stocks, some formidable new military aircraft, including the SU 37 and the prototype of a new assault helicopter. They are also developing a long-range bomber to be in service in 2005. They are co-operating with the Chinese in military technology, and have sold and are selling them SU 27K jet aircraft, which will now be made in China, submarines, anti-aircraft missile systems, Sovreneny class destroyers and naval helicopters. I have spoken before about the near monopoly that Russia enjoys in the sale of aircraft, naval vessels and military hardware to India. It is worth noting that Russia now hopes to sell fighter aircraft to Indonesia, just as it sold MiG 29s to Malaysia.

Perhaps the three most important developments in Russia in the context of our defence review are: first, Russia's arms exports were worth 3.1 billion dollars last year; secondly, the Russians are concentrating on a new and far more selective blueprint of reform designed to produce a compact modern force, concentrating on nuclear weapons, the navy and the missile fleet, and promoting the military-industrial complex (the very thing they were supposed to dismantle) because they expect a strong demand for new high-tech research and development; and thirdly, the new defence Minister, Sergeyev, who commanded the strategic missile force, will drive through this programme, backed by Kokoshin, the experienced deputy Minister, and Baturin, the Defence Council Secretary.

So Russia is far from being a spent force. She must be taken into account while she remains politically volatile, and certainly in the context of arms proliferation.

7.13 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, I, too, join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for so ably introducing the debate today.

The importance of the Armed Forces in the United Kingdom has never been, and never will be, in any doubt whatsoever. They have been the backbone of our society for generations and an integral part of our way of life. We have always had a Royal Navy, an Army and, more recently, a Royal Air Force. I shall not join in the argument as to whether we retain the Royal Air Force. Over two world wars and several conflicts since, they have fought and laid down their lives on behalf of this country. They have served and continue to serve this country brilliantly.

If your Lordships read the Defence Estimates of the previous government issued in May last year, you may have noted a paragraph on page 4 under the objectives dealing with personnel. That in essence said that the objective was, to recruit, train, motivate and retain service personnel and civilian personnel". It went on to say, of the quality and in the numbers needed to deliver the required defence capability". All the most sophisticated weapons systems in the world are useless unless the manpower is in the right place at the right time and trained to do the job. For the short time available I should like to concentrate on a few remarks on Army recruiting, training and retention. After all, the Army needs by far the most men— I believe I am right in saying 1,500 last year and a further 1,500 this year, and an overall total for all the services of some 5,000. No doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand there is a big black hole in the recruiting organisation.

Recruiting over the past five years has seen constant change. Now I understand there are to be 39 Armed Forces careers offices throughout the country—an excellent move if a proper balance is achieved between the services.

For those elements of our Army which recruit on a territorial basis, there is a need for smaller, satellite recruiting offices, especially in remote areas. I do hope that these will not be swallowed up by the new Armed Forces careers offices. I hope also that the regimental recruiting teams and cadet training teams will not be lost in the interests of making savings.

Another welcome move is the reintroduction of the junior leaders' training establishment at Harrogate, albeit under a different title. That is a welcome move, as those who served in junior units will readily agree what a wonderful asset they were.

Sadly, recruiters and trainers seldom agree that the other is doing the job properly. But wastage is high—in the infantry I am told it has now risen to nearly 40 per cent. Sadly, it is caused by many of the problems that face our modern day society: unsuitability of the young to the disciplined way of life of our Armed Forces; lack of physical fitness because of the schools; loss of freedom and creature comforts of the home; and overstretch, about which we have heard a great deal.

I should like to mention one problem briefly; namely, delays in the training system. That is particularly so in the infantry, where it can take up to six months from the start of a man's training to the time he joins his unit. Surely that time could be cut.

Throughout our Armed Forces motivation and morale are generally high, particularly among those serving overseas and those with an active role to play. The service chiefs are clearly robust in relation to manpower problems. There are obviously concerns, and sometimes empty billets have to be accepted due to a lack of manpower.

I have just one question for the noble Lord the Minister. In the event of the current review identifying shortages either at unit or individual level, will the Government take urgent steps to remedy such shortages where fully justified?

We may not have the largest Armed Forces in the world, but, my goodness, we have the finest—they are well-equipped and well trained, and we are justly proud of them. They are vital to the security of our country and they deserve all the political and financial support that they need.

7.17 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank my noble friend Lord Vivian for this debate. Under its title, for brevity, I propose to identify the matters that are of special importance for the Government to consider. I start with the importance of all three Armed Forces, especially when threats to peace are uncertain. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, might be interested to know that my father, as a junior Minister in the War Office under Sir Winston Churchill, was one of those who founded the RAF many years ago. Indeed, I believe he was the first president of the Air Board.

My next point is the importance of helping to keep the peace, both to quieten warring factions, as in Bosnia, and to keep open trade routes as the Armilla patrol did in the Persian Gulf. To that must be added the importance of naval forces to support land and land-based air forces where they are involved, as in Bosnia, or to conduct an operation like that of the Armilla patrol.

I turn now to the importance, already mentioned by other noble Lords, of constant exercising and training for all Armed Forces, both in order that they are ready for varying degrees of offensive action and to present a convincing deterrence to potential aggressors such as was not achieved before the Falklands campaign in 1982.

As well as the necessity for exercising and training, I add the importance of keeping Armed Forces equipped at a sufficiently up-to-date strength to deter possible aggressors at all times. I now add the importance of being ready to tackle unexpected aggressors as well as likely ones, especially when the world is expected to be largely peaceful. The 19th century has many examples of that. In addition, there is the importance of never forgetting that modern fighting equipment—whether it be ships, submarines, tanks or aeroplanes—can never be produced quickly if allowed to run down in numbers below what a prudent planner sees as necessary for unexpected eventualities. So far as the Navy goes, I believe that we have now reached the rock bottom that should ever be permitted, either in what we have or what we plan to have during the coming years.

Finally, there is the importance of never forgetting that the Foreign Office tends to recommend the disposal of dependent territories, even when the inhabitants do not want it, and of never forgetting that the Treasury— and now, I see, chief constables—tends to recommend further defence economies, even when previous governments have just made more economies than many think are wise.

So I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to reassure us on those points. I hope in particular that he will not be too much led astray, since in his letter he explained how the Foreign Office would be consulted first. There is a great deal to be said for consulting Foreign Office Ministers but not perhaps the Foreign Office itself. Its record as regards the services is, in my opinion, abysmal.

7.21 p.m.

The Earl of Effingham

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for introducing this very important subject in your Lordships' Chamber.

These are exciting times for the Royal Navy. The north Atlantic dominated our thinking during the Cold War, but over the last 10 years we have built a versatile and effective force structure to support and, if necessary, fight for British interests around the world. To achieve this we have embraced a demanding period of change, not least in shaping the Royal Navy to contribute to the requirements of joint warfare, under the control of the Permanent Joint Headquarters.

Today's Navy is a force of discrete and highly capable units that are effective when operating on their own, yet able at almost immediate notice to play a significant part in a large multinational task force anywhere in the world. This gives a great deal of flexibility when deciding how to respond to crises that may affect Britain's interests.

Our role is very much to contribute towards preserving a peaceful environment in which our foreign policy and trade can flourish. To do that, we must be able to deter aggression, which means that we must have and continue to develop forces which can be rapidly adapted to changing circumstances. With a powerful, well equipped navy, consisting of aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, amphibious forces and the rest of the supporting ships, we have the essential elements in our armoury to contribute to Britain's joint operational capability.

We are always looking for new ways to make the Navy more effective in working with potential allies and other services. Nowhere is that process more apparent than in coastal regions where developing our links into land operations could prove decisive. So we strive to make our platforms ever more compatible with those of the other services, to enhance the overall utility of joint rapid deployment force assets.

The Royal Navy deploys task groups to the Asia Pacific region about every three or four years. The current 1997 deployment called "Ocean Wave", led by the aircraft carrier HMS "Illustrious", set out last January and will return next month. The group is made up of some 20 Royal Navy warships, submarines and support vessels, together with Royal Marines and elements from the Naval Air Squadron.

The aims of the deployment are: to demonstrate the United Kingdom's continuing commitment to the region; to test the Royal Navy's ability to deploy an operationally effective and self-sustaining force out of area for a prolonged period; to underline our continuing interest in promoting regional peace, stability and freedom of international trade; and to support co-operation and joint working between military forces.

"Ocean Wave" has been a great success, with particularly warm endorsement of the Royal Navy's presence from our diplomatic missions and British firms. An example was the assessment, after the task group's visit to the Philippines, that it was an outstanding demonstration of Britain's commitment to Asia, underlining the importance of the Armed Forces in underpinning our foreign policy interests.

We must ensure that Britain has the forces necessary to protect itself and its considerable investments abroad. We have responsibilities for the defence of our dependent territories and the protection of British citizens abroad. As a leading member of the world community, we have responsibilities to act together with partners, allies and friends, to ensure world stability and deal with the consequences of instability.

Thus in the future our forces may be called upon to perform a wide range of tasks that extend beyond the threat of super power confrontation. The inherent flexibility of the Royal Navy has enabled a relatively smooth transition from the Cold War to the emerging challenges to the interests of this country and world peace.

The Royal Navy possesses qualities that include mobility, flexibility, reach, versatility, endurance, lift and autonomy. In practice, those qualities mean that the Royal Navy can mount and sustain operations in any of the oceans of the world. Ships do not require permission to use the high seas. Task groups can be formed that match the requirement of the operation and they can carry or protect the strategic sea-lift that is vital to mount a largescale land operation. These groups can also provide their own defensive capability to be autonomous units, free of the requirement for host nation support.

In conclusion, I believe that maritime forces are thus inherently "joint"; that is, able to operate in the three environments of land, sea or air, and capable of mounting significant operations. When combined with the capabilities of the Army and the Royal Air Force, they form a vital element of our defence capability to meet the varied challenges that we face around the world.

7.27 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, one of our great military successes has been our use of armour. I was therefore alarmed to hear rumours circulating at high levels in armoured regiments that the Government, maybe encouraged by the academic lobby, is attracted by the concept of role specialisation with Britain providing a "gendarmerie army" for peace-keeping operations while allies defend our high intensity interests. The fear is that we will give up our heavy armour component of the Rapid Reaction Corp and invest in mechanised infantry and helicopters. High intensity combat is expensive, so the biggest savings are to be found here.

But no government can hold its mandate by proposing that Britain eschew such a capability. It would be a dangerous reliance to expect allies to take the lion's share of the fighting on our behalf and meet the heaviest cost burden. The capacity to defend the United Kingdom—whether by force projection in Europe as part of the ARRC or within our own shores and possibly alone—comes from the political commitment which makes defence of the realm the first order of government business.

Capabilities flow from commitments. The defence review will consider our commitments and whatever is deemed essential must be funded. Parties engaged in conflict should not deploy force as an instrument of policy at all if they are not capable of anything more than limited operations at the lower end of the spectrum.

High intensity combat on land cannot be fought without tanks, a fact which even the impoverished Russians accept. Tanks have a part to play across the full spectrum of war fighting. Peacekeeping operations in Bosnia only succeeded when tanks were deployed. British armour had a suppressing effect on the conflict, as it denied the enemy the freedom of movement required to keep the initiative, all without exposing British troops to too great a risk.

The proposal to abandon high intensity conflict makes sense only if it is possible to assume that all future conflict in which British land forces become engaged will be limited and of low intensity. There is no indication that that is true, either in Europe or globally, and it ignores the rapidity with which war can change from one condition to another. By giving up tanks we throw away the entire capability of contributing anything but flank and rear-area troops to our allies.

And at what cost, my Lords? We could not hold on to the leadership of the ARRC with such a trivial investment; and with the loss of command, we would lose whatever political influence is gained by having it—at least in the councils of the UN, NATO and the possibly re-born WEU.

It takes years of training to perfect the complex skills of armoured warfare, skills demonstrated in Desert Storm, where 70 per cent. of ground targets were destroyed by armoured forces in just 100 hours. With those skills would disappear the technical and industrial expertise which has culminated in the prize capability of being able to design and manufacture vehicles like Challenger 2 and Warrior. Our ground forces would be barely more than a third world, low-tech force fit only for policing duties—something of which the public would quickly tire. Recruiting would undoubtedly suffer, as would the morale of existing troops.

Our soldiers want to play with the big boys. As my noble friend Lord Vivian said, giving up our tanks would be a dangerous mistake.

7.33 p.m.

Lord Wedgwood

My Lords, I join noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Vivian for introducing this debate.

It has been mentioned time and again that the Army has been overstretched to ridiculous levels and now we understand that recruitment is 5,000 short of the current target. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, I believe it is urgent that recruitment is given some serious reconsideration and support.

Further, I believe that junior entry programmes should be part of the solution. Those programmes serve a number of purposes. They give young people a tremendous opportunity immediately on leaving school. Those who complete training are usually of a quality which, combined with the benefit of early training, means they are high achievers and an excellent investment. In the past, the ranks of non-commissioned officers have been well served by junior entrants. I do not have the percentages but a show of hands in any sergeants' mess will give conclusive evidence of this. Losing that investment will affect the quality of those important ranks.

In your Lordships' House last week, during the discipline Acts debate, my noble friend Lord Howe referred to the drug problem in the services. Soldiers, sailors and airmen will naturally reflect the society they come from and the nation's drug problems centre around youth. With a junior entry programme, the Army would have the opportunity to train recruits and bring them into military life before the problems start. It is not clear how soon training of juniors will start. Maybe the Minister could help to clarify that point during his speech.

There is a common misconception that overstretch is caused by an inability to fulfil our commitments. Despite the enormous reductions, our Armed Forces are capable of maintaining our formal commitments as determined by foreign policy, exemplified by Germany, Cyprus and the Falklands. Northern Ireland would fit into that category as well. But what happens when a regiment such as the Royal Scots, the regiment in which I was fortunate to serve, currently based in Colchester and re-training for its new role, is suddenly deployed for extra duties required because of the current concerns about the annual marches in Northern Ireland? Noble Lords will be more than familiar with my point: among many other negative consequences, vital training is disrupted and soldiers are withdrawn from specialised courses designed to educate them to higher levels of skill and ability. With recruitment at its required level, the manning margin, slim though it is, can take care of filling some gaps. But, with no flesh on the bone, regiments are required to borrow soldiers—a scheme known in Scotland as "rent-a-Jock". That, in turn, has its own domino effect, with negative results on all units.

The effects of overstretch come from additional operational demands such as in Northern Ireland, Bosnia or wherever the next bushfire erupts. Without the required intervals between tours, many wives—between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. in infantry regiments— now decide not to follow their husbands. Their argument is that in modern society—they are a reflection of that society—they have children, jobs and mortgages; and, with the instability caused by overstretch, they might as well stay where they are. Discord and morale problems naturally result.

The Armed Forces Minister in another place, Dr. Reid, recently said about the impending Strategic Defence Review: We are concerned about getting the equation right". Predicting future operational commitments that relate to defence and foreign policy is a difficult task, but there are vital elements to fit into the Minister's equation. One is definitely the military family.

Owing to successive reviews, young commissioned officers are becoming disillusioned by the lack of stability. As a result of those reviews, they are now concerned about capabilities to perform operational tasks. Following Options for Change and the defence costs study, orders were carried out with characteristic responsibility, in the belief that our armed services could be smaller but better. Now, officers are faced with another review. Scepticism that the Government will give in to further Treasury demands is the result.

What can be made of the two current major commitments for our armed services? The situation in Northern Ireland does not warrant much hope for even limited withdrawal in the near future. The consequences of further withdrawal from Germany was well covered by my noble friend Lord Vivian. I would add only that without Germany our training facilities are not sufficient for certain vital "live firing" practices.

Given those commitments, the current numbers and the ability to carry out operational demands becoming increasingly limited, officers have reason to be concerned about their careers. With the review months away from completion, the Government need to provide assurance of their intent. Confirmation of signed contracts, such as for Apache and EH101, would go a long way to relieving concerns about future support. Without those kinds of assurances we are likely to lose our best young officers. Without them we cannot expect our future military leaders to be of the high calibre that we demand and have today. Any strategic defence review would reflect the needs of the nation. I believe that the people of this country value our armed services and expect them to be equipped, trained and, therefore, capable of carrying out "armed" operational commitments.

The Armed Forces Minister in another place has stated that the review is: not a cost cutting exercise"; and, we will not he rushing to judgment". For that, he can be applauded. But our military forces deserve the immediate support of the Government. I urge the Government to show determination in creating a more stable framework from which our armed services can operate effectively and to remove the notion that the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are an industry in decline.

7.40 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I must declare an interest in view of my work with the independent international security think tank—Safer World—and with other related organisations. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, whom I greatly respect, I believe the foreign policy led defence review is long overdue. The repeated piecemeal Treasury-led cuts under the previous government have seriously damaged service morale and left the services uncertain about their role and ability to sustain in depth the range of responsibilities still currently or potentially evidently expected of them. Overstretched is a reality. We, the politicians, can no longer dodge our responsibility for that and for the dangers it represents for our men and women in uniform.

The relative predictability of Cold War days has been replaced by the unpredictability and volatile conflict across the world. Genocide is back in business. More than 90 per cent. of war-related casualties in current conflicts are civilian as compared with some 50 per cent. in the Second World War. Conflict is more often within states than between them. Some will ask what concern of ours are far off conflicts of that sort. Michael Portillo answered that question well as Secretary of State for Defence last autumn when speaking of the Great Lakes. He said, Because we are a civilised nation. We can see that people are about to die in their thousands and we are one of the few nations on earth that has the military capability to help at least some of them. We recognise our humanitarian obligations". He continued, We take pride in our permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, but it carries with it clear duties". As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, properly and bluntly reminded us today, we have to be clear whether or not we want to be a world power. If we do, we have to measure up to that role. If we aspire to be a world power and accept the responsibility that that entails, of course we have to examine what international security requires of us in co-operation with others. The Armed Services remain a significant part of the response. But the need is for far more. It encompasses justice in global economic management and trade; fair access to the natural and mineral resources of the world, not least water and land; it includes population policy and the well-being of threatened ethnic groupings. And on top of that, acute environmental pressures have to be addressed.

It is in the midst of those challenges that the opportunistic ethnic entrepreneurs and religious extremists ply their evil trade. We must forestall them and that is one good illustration of why an integrated approach to overseas policy, including defence, is so important. Debt and insensitive structural adjustment policies, the downward spiral in world commodity prices and pressure on land have all been central to the origins of the crises in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

Economic and social policy, pre-emptive diplomacy, conflict resolution, peacemaking, peacekeeping, arms control, disarmament and firm accountability of the arms trade are all essential elements in security policy. Never again should our service personnel be faced with weapons supplied by irresponsible traders based here in Britain itself. Profits must never be allowed to take precedence over responsibility in the arms trade, which has too often fuelled the instability which in the end, directly or indirectly, involves us all.

That brings us to other major issues which the review will have to address. Among them are migration and terrorism; the relationship between NATO and the need for growing co-operation with Russia if nationalism there is not to be provoked; the relationship between NATO, the Western European Union and the European Union; the danger of proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and the future of our own nuclear deterrent within the context of the non-proliferation treaty. In that respect we look to my noble friend the Minister for specific assurance that we will not provocatively increase our nuclear arsenal as we deploy Trident.

Cynics already suggest that the review is just a cover for yet another Treasury-led cost-cutting exercise. To confound them the Government will have to ensure maximum consultation and involvement in the review; maximum dissemination of its findings and maximum debate before implementation. Understanding and ownership will be vital. The objective must surely be to achieve cross-party consensus and provide at last a convincing framework within which the services and the defence industries can plan confidently for the long-term future.

Before I conclude, there is one pressing matter on which it is important to have the Government's immediate reassurance. Last year the Office for Public Management produced a report which raised deep anxieties about the extent of racial prejudice, intolerance and harassment within the services. Such attitudes and behaviour in the services are clearly unacceptable. Indeed, there is a painful paradox when our services have an enviably outstanding record for peacekeeping across the world in the midst of ethnic tension. We should be able to hold our heads high as world leaders— one of only five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—confident that our Armed Services in which we take so much pride epitomise the enlightenment, understanding and tolerance we advocate for the world as a whole.

We know that senior officers in all three services and many others at all levels are determined to root out all traces of racism. They deserve our full-hearted goodwill. Britain has become a multi-cultural, multi-racial society. We should be proud of that. We should strive to be a model of success to the world and the services should be in the vanguard of demonstrating that. I hope my noble friend the Minister will give us a categoric assurance that the Government will give unqualified support to the leadership and the others in the services who are determined to put right that sad blemish on our otherwise exemplary record.

7.46 p.m.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for wording the Motion in the way that he has, for we heard little about defence in the election campaign and have heard very little since. That point was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Park. Yet the health of the nation in defence is just as important as the health of the individual, education or social security about which we have heard so much.

The strategy review, which for so long the Labour Party has seen as one of the aces in its pack, may be the Government's way of addressing defence, but I wonder whether it will lead to better decision making and outcomes bearing in mind that the dialogue between the MoD and opinion formers in defence circles and elsewhere is extremely good already. I believe that we have reached the point where the management of defence is strong, where contractors perform well and where the accuracy and penetrating prowess of weapons is as strong a deterrent as the weapons themselves. The stand-off feature now required has brought that about, so Tomahawk will be a powerful addition to the Royal Navy's "golfbag" of weapons.

The impact of competition policy and throwing the responsibility of meeting performance onto contractors now means that the defence industrial and commercial base is closer to being reckoned as part of the capability of the Armed Forces because so many services are now supplied in addition to hardware. Contracting out is now the norm rather than the exception and any attempts at contracting in again will be absurd. The fact that industry is now so involved in defence business adds to its ability to provide support in emergencies and the "surge" capability is there.

The loss of in-house capability to industry is again of frontline capability to our Armed Forces and fears of losing too much support capability to industry are overdone. Competition policy has driven costs down. Quality assurance has driven performance up and devolving risk onto the contractor has driven reliability up. We are at last obtaining far better value for money.

The importance of our Armed Forces is judged by how they perform their defence roles. But that depends as much on our investments in long-term projects as on the next type of frigate, fighter or main battle tank. I should like to draw attention to the importance of two of those. The first is the long-term investment in modernising the married quarters estate through the sale and leaseback deal, which breaks new ground in defence procurement, but through transactions which are well recognised in business circles. It is interesting to note that the Australian Government now have five years' experience of getting defence housing into shape and have sold the leasehold of their three major airports— Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. So we are not out of line in our approach to solving the problem, and parliamentary scrutiny has, I believe, helped the MoD to secure the best terms and conditions. Ensuring that the up-front money is not dependent on a spiral of pledges from downstream operators involved with property exchange in future years is a lesson we have learnt from the Australian Government. In other words, we have ensured that we get real money up front after the five-year exchange option was dropped by the bidders who won.

Secondly, the construction of the Clyde naval base is a long-term investment which is not just centred on Trident but which is linked to the strengthening of our underwater warfare capability as a whole. The new "Astute" class nuclear submarine will match the performance of new Russian submarines and they will not, I believe, need to be refuelled during their lifetime. That is a very big step forward indeed. Without this long-term investment in nuclear propulsion, deterrent design, supply and upkeep as well as nuclear submarine refit, our blue water capability would be incomplete and we would not have the ability to reach out, to react, to deter and to sustain an operation, however limited, away from our shores. Our rapid reaction forces are now being built around air mobility and amphibiosity. I hope that the Government will continue to invest in these long-term capabilities. My Lords, let us keep defence strong.

7.51 p.m.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, the forthcoming defence review will establish strategic objectives for the next decade; foreign policy imperatives will determine defence commitment world-wide. A welcome and sensible approach, my Lords, which will enable the review to reflect Britain's determination to stand up for what is right and just, to reward fair play and penalise miscreants, to carve an international role for the United Kingdom that is neither accessory nor minor but one worthy of our history, our values and convictions, and one which recognises fully the countless sacrifices made by our Armed Forces.

There is perhaps scope, in this far-reaching debate, to tell of the special relationship which Her Majesty's Armed Forces maintain with a small, English-speaking, democratic Commonwealth country in central America. Belize has entertained British troops in one guise or another since 1948; they evolved from a colonial force into a defence guarantee in 1981—defending independent Belize against a century-old territorial claim by neighbouring Guatemala. Harrier diplomacy, my Lords, dissuaded the more volatile elements in Guatemala from foolhardy military interventions.

In 1993, Her Majesty's Government assured the Belize Government that the time was right for the British garrison to be withdrawn. Mr. Archie Hamilton, then Minister for the Armed Forces, said in another place: the changes announced … are in response to the greatly improved relations between Belize and Guatemala, and not Options for Change". His Foreign Office colleague, Jeremy Hanley, insisted that: Guatemala had embraced democracy, found stability and recognised Belize", and that the decision to withdraw, was not for financial reasons". Indeed, the savings were said to be modest. The former chairman of the Defence Select Committee, Sir Nicholas Bonsor, was outspokenly critical: Our presence in Belize has enormous value, way beyond the military element", and, The withdrawal is short-sighted". Referring to Guatemala, he said: when a country is unstable, that must throw doubt on whether any assurances given by the regime of the moment can be relied upon even in the short and medium term". A military coup rocked Guatemala shortly thereafter, defying British assessments, and announced that their recognition had been unconstitutional, premature and always without prejudice to their outstanding territorial claim. They advised the United Nations that the claim was reinstated to both land and sea areas "presently occupied by Belize". Now they insist that Britain is still a party to the dispute. Britain, however, is firm that Belize inherited the problem at independence and must now negotiate as best she can. Yet, my Lords, a British training presence does not confer the same leverage as the Belize Defence Force which is outnumbered by the Guatemalan army by 50 to one.

There is an obvious case to be made for an expanded British presence in Belize. Belize's inherited predicament, her unstinting support for Britain at the UN and elsewhere, her unwavering commitment to democracy, individual freedoms and good governance and her unique multicultural diversity bridging Latin America and the Caribbean, all combine to make her a special friend with special needs. But we would be remiss, if not irresponsible, if we did not also consider the "returns on our investment".

British forces preserve stability and peace in the region, bolster a wide British presence in Central America and assist with drugs interdiction. Britain would have easy access to a friendly, compact, accessible and low-cost training area of unparalleled quality. The facilities for jungle training, environmentally sound adventure training, live firing and low-flying sorties are unmatched elsewhere in the world. British Forces Belize have, in the course of their training, cleaned up offshore cays and helped to maintain and protect that fragile environment. Jungle training exercises deterred illegal logging in Belize's many conservation parks and protected important rain forest ecosystems.

An expanded British presence in Belize is of mutual benefit both in the short and the long term. Such an enhanced role combines foreign policy responsibilities with fundamental military needs and objectives. The strategic review will allocate spending to areas where our interests are best served. Our reduced Armed Forces, recognised as the standard bearers of effectiveness and efficiency, can usefully combine continued excellence and influence with practical application in an increased deployment to Belize indicative of this country's interests stretching beyond the European Union to all four corners of the world.

7.58 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam

My Lords, our Armed Forces are the envy of the world in their disciplined and humanitarian approach to control of warring factions in peacetime, and particularly when the time arrives for full-scale deployment. Unfortunately, there is always a condition which falls between any of these categories, and it is then that our forces display their characteristic flexibility and resourcefulness; and for that they justly earn our debt of gratitude.

In his introduction to this important debate my noble friend Lord Vivian referred to the regimental system. I would prefer perhaps to refer to the decimation of our regimental system and the reduction in general of our Armed Forces to a very low level. There is a shortage of men in the Army which seriously affects their ability to deliver the full role that they are called upon to play. In the Royal Navy there is a similar shortage, but it is in the field of fully-trained ratings in electronics upon whom the main armament and weapons systems depend.

These shortages are a fall-out from the Front Line First review which had the immediate effect of a typical over-reaction and which now needs to be corrected. I would ask the Minister whether the defence review will have something useful to contribute to that problem.

An example of it in the Royal Navy is the Recruiting and Training Agency which is having to learn to live with the Flagship initiative. That seems to be causing friction, especially with the decision to close existing RN training establishments and the appointment of civilians working alongside, and indeed superior to, Royal Navy officers and men. The problem can be summarised as a conflict at the interface between civilianised ex-service trainers in plain clothes and the disciplined uniformed rates. There is also the question of the acceptability by uniformed trainees of the civilian instructors. That may be thought of as perhaps a somewhat parochial point, but it is relevant to the shortage problem.

Be that as it may, the main deterrent of the United Kingdom is the Trident class boats, which was the subject of a Starred Question this afternoon. The fourth boat, HMS "Vengeance", will complete the full deployment of the flotilla, which will then provide a continuous and world-wide screen. It is to the Royal Navy that we can look with confidence to provide that protection. As my noble friend Lord Ironside has said, the addition of the A-class boats will confirm that world-wide protection.

No admiral has ever had enough frigates and now that the number of frigates is reduced to 33, we are at full stretch. While there was excellent deployment, as the noble Earl, Lord Effingham, pointed out, it is nevertheless true that the Navy has been left at full stretch. A level of 36 frigates is too low, especially when it is well established that the Russians are operating atomic powered nuclear submarines out of the White Sea in the Atlantic area. We have to be on our guard and we must be aware. For that we need the full force of the Royal Navy.

In the matter of the defence of the realm in general and its relationship to our allies, there is the problem of NATO on the one hand and the ambitions of some members of the WEU on the other to distance themselves from the enormous industrial and military strength of the United States. The association of the United States in our mutual defence is a vital element, especially in the light of its awesome power for retaliation and with the acknowledged superiority of its GPS supervision system from satellites and its ability to adjust the power factor of the satellites at its discretion. Therefore, the United States has total control of military operations conducted through satellites.

Nevertheless, we have the Conference of the National Armaments Directors studying the problem of common and compatible weapons. We are fortunate that there is agreement with Germany over the Eurofighter; the Agusta helicopter with the Italians; the combined frigate with France and other nations, but all these are diverse colleagues. I see that my time is up. We must have commonality of systems.

8.3 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Vivian for initiating this debate on the Armed Forces and for his, as always, enjoyable and interesting speech. It is always a pleasure to me to take part in a defence debate, however often we have them, because there are so many knowledgeable and eloquent speeches to savour, although by the time I get round to saying anything, everything has already been said.

Anyone who watched the handover of Hong Kong on Monday's television could hardly have done so with dry eyes—not so much because of the end of a glorious chapter of the British Empire, although that too, of course; not so much because of uncertainty of the future of the Hong Kong people, although that too; but because of our pride in our armed services—the Black Watch lowering the British flag despite the rain, the aeroplanes flying overhead and "Britannia" sailing solemnly out into the distant oceans. We at home salute our Armed Forces and in this House particularly we battle for their interests and their welfare.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to go with the Defence Study Group to Catterick—a large military garrison initiated by Sir Robert Baden-Powell and begun in 1915. It is now the headquarters of the 19th Mechanised Brigade, with Challenger I tanks, Warriors and Saxon armoured vehicles. It also has an amazing, new bridge-building machine, which we saw in action. Some of them have just come back from Bosnia. Next month they are off again on unaccompanied tours to Bosnia and Northern Ireland.

One of the many interesting things we saw was their battle training school, much of which was carried on indoors with the use of the grown-up-equivalent of toy soldiers and computers. Approximately 38 groups of 100 people each can be accommodated here throughout the year. Although the battle itself is fought inside, with enormous saving to the environment, the antagonists walk beforehand through the surrounding terrain to assess where and how the battle will be fought. This they do with support and help from the local farming community over whose land they are walking. Recently, the local farmers have been writing to MoD to inform it that, if there is any ban on hunting in the future, the military will no longer be welcome on their land.

Another very interesting development, as my noble friend Lord Vivian has said, was the interaction of the military with the local community. The military are planning to build a new supermarket in the centre of their camp, which would also be available to all the local inhabitants. The nearest town, Richmond, has no suitable space available for building a new supermarket. There are also plans for the development of a restaurant, cinema, bowling alley and an all-weather sports gymnasium for the mutual benefit of military and civilians. This rapprochement between the military and the civilian environment seems to me to be the way forward for defence in the next century.

Unfortunately, it does not seem to be happening as much as they would like in the absolutely splendid Duchess of Kent Military Hospital, which is very anxious to have more civilian patients. Although called affectionately "The Military" by the locals, since the advent of the dread tentacles of the Defence Secondary Care Agency, it is now called the Duchess of Kent Hospital. It is still an absolutely splendid hospital with lovely doctors, nurses, wards and a very friendly atmosphere. It just would like more civilian patients. It seems to me that the Defence Secondary Care Agency is a monumental quango. It was founded in April 1996 and we were unlucky enough to observe its effects in both Haslar and Frimley hospitals, which we visited last year.

It reminds me very much of my uncle's horse, Poulet, who lived on a lovely farm in France. In the winter he ploughed his one field. In the spring he sowed clover and alfalfa in it. In the summer and autumn he harvested it and for the whole of the year he lived off the very good hay he had grown for himself.

Everyone who has spoken in this debate has spoken passionately in defence of our Armed Forces and the maintenance of their level at the moment at least. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister, whom I congratulate and welcome to his new appointment, will carry away in his heart what we have all said.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, we have indeed been discussing whether and why we need the defence review. I start from a different perspective from many who have spoken in this debate. We need to justify the current level of money spent on our Armed Forces against a sceptical public. The reason why defence was not an issue in the election campaign was because most of the electors were not thought to be interested in it. If we wish to maintain a level of defence expenditure which is considerably above the current European average, we are going to have new justifications for that which we can explain to our younger generation are as important as those which our older generation remembers.

I therefore welcome the defence review. We have had radical changes in our strategic environment in the past eight years. We have had the withdrawal of 1 million Soviet troops from central and eastern Europe; the collapse of the Warsaw Pact; the Partnership for Peace, in which British troops have become active, and within the next week the announcement of the first three, four or five candidates for the eastern enlargement of NATO.

The whole context of British defence policy has changed. That has been evident for some years. I remember during the 1992 election campaign taking the opportunity to talk to a number of senior Ministry of Defence officials about how they saw the context of British defence policy. One of them remarked that the puzzle was what British defence was now for. He said, "There is less of an evident threat to Britain now than at any time in the past 500 to 600 years".

If there is no threat to Britain, we must ask what we need our Armed Forces for, for which tasks and in conjunction with which other countries? What foreign policy objectives should Britain's defence now serve?

As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said, that requires us to ask what sort of a country we think we are and at which weight we wish to punch in the world. How much do we wish to spend in order to maintain a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council? Do we wish to get caught up in the argument over who has which NATO command and how many forces one wants to commit in order to maintain that? If the only argument for maintaining the First Armoured Division in Germany is so that we can maintain command of the Rapid Reaction Force, I submit that that is not a very strong argument. The French Government have got very badly hooked on the question of which NATO commands should be shared among which states. Indeed, their whole reintegration into NATO has now become caught up with the argument over the NATO southern command. That is not the sort of argument over which we should now be pursuing the question of what forces we need and for which tasks.

I can remember two previous major defence reviews. I can just remember the 1957 defence review which saw the ending of conscription and which made a radical change in our regimental system, taking away from most of our regiments their second battalion. I remember also the 1967 defence review, over which my late noble friend Lord Mayhew resigned from the then Labour Government—I very much miss his advice on defence matters. As a result of that review, economies were made and during the course of it, it was finally accepted that the British Government had been defending India for 20 years after Indian independence. We had continued to spend money on a task that was no longer worth while. We must ensure in this defence review that we do not continue to spend money on tasks which no longer exist. If the main function of our Navy is to keep open the transatlantic sea lanes to enable US reinforcements to reach central Europe against a Soviet threat which no longer exists, we must find another rationale for the balance of the Navy that we need.

We must ask ourselves the following questions: how far beyond Britain do we now wish or need to project force? As far as the Mediterranean? Further than the Mediterranean? On our own; or do we always assume that the Americans will provide us with the long-range airlift that will get us there? Are we really going to need aircraft carriers if we can expect to be able to use the airports of friendly powers in the Mediterranean in order to provide the air cover that we need?

The question of defence equipment also raises a number of large issues. Do we really need a long-range fighter aircraft—a long-range strike craft to replace Tornado—or is the long-range role for which Tornado was designed not necessary in the post-cold war world? Are we sure that a tank designed for heavy fighting in the centre of Europe is what we need for the very different tasks that we now face in this post-cold war world? Incidentally, before anyone defends Challenger—the areas of Britain in which I have been politically active have made bits for Vickers to use in Challenger—I should point out that the United States is now making one tank when the Europeans are making three. The question of what happens to our defence procurement industry is a very important part of the defence review.

I should like to focus in my remaining few minutes on the question of personnel in the services. Evidently, there are changing demands on our military personnel who are also drawn from our changing society. We face a problem with overstretch, most particularly in the infantry and the medical services. Two questions need to be posed on that: first, how do we more usefully use our reserves; and, secondly, what do we need to do about our regimental system? I know from last year's defence review that there were nearly 700 reserve personnel in Bosnia at any one time last year, with a number of others serving in the Falklands and elsewhere. That is a heavy use of reservists. I am conscious that our medical reservists have been particularly heavily used. Perhaps the Minister can tell me to what extent we shall continue to do that—or even to expand on it—as we move towards a military environment in which we can never be quite sure how many forces we need to use and in how many different peace enforcement operations abroad.

I should like to question the Minister on the regimental system, given that the current situation with single battalion regiments going through a complex arms plot over a series of years is not the most effective use of manpower. The regimental system, as designed by Lord Haldane, was a multi-battalion regimental system, which enabled reservists from the same regiment to be added to those on the front line. We could save a great deal of manpower in our overstretched infantry if we moved back more self-consciously to a multi-battalion regimental system. That is not to go all the way towards a corps of infantry, but it seems to me that the defence review must now consider that.

Given the changing structure of our society, we must also ask ourselves whether we can maintain a professional armed service in which the majority of those men are married and have families and yet are asked to serve abroad in repeated tasks for repeated three to six-month tours. We may have to move further towards having young, unmarried soldiers as the core of our active forces, with those who are married with family commitments being in reserve.

I echo the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in remarking, sadly, on how little our Armed Forces yet reflect the multicultural nature of our society. I noted the answer that was given to my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich last week and the information that in the six regiments of the Household Division there are currently five soldiers from our ethnic minorities. The good thing about our regimental system is that it gives a sense of belonging; the bad thing about it is that it sometimes leads to a more exclusive, clubbish atmosphere than one necessarily wants in a modern society.

We need a rethink and I welcome this defence review. We have to make changes to our Armed Forces to fit them for a changed technological and military environment and to changed demands. We are not entirely sure what those demands should be, which is why the foreign policy dimension of this defence review is important first, before we decide what forces we need for the tasks that we wish to fulfil.

8.18 p.m.

Earl Howe

My Lords, I too should like to express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Vivian for tabling this debate and for introducing it so ably. If he will allow me to say this at the risk of my being assailed from behind, I have always found my noble friend, whose professional experience we all recognise, to be a very wise head in defence matters. The House is lucky to have him. I naturally associate myself with all that he has said today.

My noble friend pointed out, as did other noble Lords, that this debate is taking place under what can only be seen as the shadow of the Government's strategic defence review. A lot of us feel that a review of this magnitude is unnecessary, is damaging to morale and is liable (if the Treasury were by any chance to intervene) to lead to an extremely damaging diminution of this country's military capability. I do not want to repeat the fears that I expressed in the debate on the gracious Speech a few weeks ago, but my fears still stand.

The key questions to be asked in this review, to summarise what a number of noble Lords have said, are these: does the UK wish to step back from its responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council? Is the UK's commitment to NATO any less relevant or important than before? Are our interests overseas any less relevant or important? Are the defence roles and mission types that we have defined for the forces in need of redefinition? I am clear that the answer to all four of those questions is: no. Nevertheless, the Government, as is their prerogative, have embarked on this extended review.

For our part, we wish to impress upon them our belief, so effectively pointed out by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne in his remarks on power projection— which was in different ways echoed by many noble Lords—that it is a grave error to remove any of the fundamental building blocks of our defence and war-fighting capability at a time when international tensions and sudden crises can spring up without warning to surprise us. The fine speech of the noble Earl, Lord Effingham, about the Royal Navy and joint operations deserves close study. It was worthy of his distinguished ancestor.

I referred to morale. If the services believe, as surely they must, that changes are in prospect for them, and if they are asked to be more efficient, as surely they will be, they must continue to feel valued and not just costed. They must believe that budgets and money are not the only measures of performance but that there is an underlying wish on the part of government to give them stability in return for their service and commitment. Change for any organisation is inevitable, and the services have always recognised this. I am sure that these arguments will not be lost on the Minister of all people. Indeed, the purported aim of the defence review is to make stability possible. But after so many recent changes, however necessary those may have been, the risk to long-term morale is obvious. We should never forget that in the end morale is the commodity that wins battles.

The second part of my comments relates to public perceptions. The title chosen by my noble friend for his Motion may appear to be a touch formulaic: To call attention to the importance of the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom". That title acts, as we have seen from this excellent debate, as a hook on which to hang a wide range of defence-related topics. But to call attention to the Armed Forces and the importance of their work is the essence of what needs to be done both inside and outside Parliament, because when in due course the Government come forward with proposals arising from the strategic defence review, it is important that everyone understands their significance for the defence of this country, for the NATO alliance and our place within it and for our wider interests overseas. My noble friends Lord Vivian and Lady Park made this point effectively.

The trouble is that I doubt whether there has been a time within living memory when the armed services have been so little seen or understood by the public at large. The reasons for this are obvious. It is 50 years since the country has been involved in a major war. The percentage of families with direct experience of the military is low. Ironically, the very circumstances that have led the forces for 28 years to play a prominent and vital role—those in Northern Ireland—have obliged them to adopt a much reduced public profile in mainland UK. For reasons of security one does not now see military uniforms on the streets, and that is regrettable.

Looking back over my time at the Ministry of Defence, I am conscious that a large proportion of the correspondence that crossed my desk involved in one way or another building bridges with the general public on the activities of the armed services. Undoubtedly, the issue most frequently complained of was low flying. When I arrived at the MoD I did not know what "Minister for Low Flying" meant. My staff told me that I would soon find out—and I did. No one pretends that low flying by fast jets is an environmentally friendly activity. It can be very unpleasant for those who experience it on the ground. But the public must understand how absolutely essential it is for the RAF to fly at low levels and for the air space over the country as a whole to be available to them. The United Kingdom is simply not big enough to allow numerous avoidance areas to be created other than over conurbations. We rely on the RAF to perform to the most exacting standards when it matters. We must allow them the scope, provided they do not utilise it more than is strictly necessary, to keep these skills sharpened.

All this underlines the importance of maintaining such simple initiatives as the forces' three presentation teams and encouraging responsible television documentaries such as the "Defence of the Realm" series broadcast last year. I hope very much that the Royal Tournament will not fall victim to budgetary cheeseparing, because that show is surely one of the best and most enjoyable ways of keeping the skills and professionalism of the three services in the public eye.

My noble friend who so ably chairs the all-party defence study group does much to promote knowledge of service issues in your Lordships' House and in the other place. But I was not surprised to hear him acknowledge the general ignorance of defence issues that exists in Parliament, particularly among MPs. One of my more pleasant responsibilities as a Minister was for the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. It was an inspired idea on the part of Sir Neil Thorne and a wonderful way of bringing service life alive to Members of Parliament. With the extent of the new intake in the other place at the election, I believe that there is a case for expanding the numbers of scheme participants during the next few years.

But let us not forget two important links that happily do exist between the services and the public: the reserve forces and the cadets. More than is now the case with the regular army, the TA maintains its regional, county-based ties. Today, 130,000 youngsters take part in the cadet movement. Upwards of 55,000 men and women from all walks of life honour a commitment to military training with the TA, some in very valuable specialist disciplines. Many thousands more serve with the RNR, the RMR and the RAF reserves. The Reserve Forces Act 1996 should give those reservists greater opportunity than before to go on active service alongside the regular forces.

A few years ago a great deal of thought was given to what the optimum size of the TA should be to meet today's needs. I believe that the current establishment of 59,000 is about right. Certainly it should not be any lower. If the Government are ever tempted to cut them I trust that they will remember that for the flexibility they give us and the centres of expertise that they embody the reserve forces are a relatively inexpensive insurance policy against the unexpected. I hope that the Minister will feel able to acknowledge their value when he comes to speak, despite the constraints under which he operates as a result of the ongoing review.

To judge the importance of the Armed Forces, look around the world at what they are doing for this country, from the Falklands to Bosnia, from the Caribbean to Iraq, to protect our interests and those of the civilised world. Look at the skill with which they do it. Look at the compliments paid to them by our friends and allies overseas, from the French President downwards. Those who look at these matters are in no doubt that the Armed Forces perform an essential role on behalf of us all—a role in which we as a country can take real pride.

8.28 p.m.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I have no difficulty whatever in joining all of your Lordships in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for initiating this debate. As a very new recruit to your Lordships' House, if I ever had any doubt about the wisdom of leaving the other place and coming to this House it has been removed by being able to listen to the quality of debate that I have heard today. I say frankly and not with tongue in cheek that this evening I have learnt a very great deal from this wide-ranging debate. It has illuminated many of the questions that the Strategic Defence Review will have to consider.

I recognise that not all noble Lords welcome the review. I also recognise that there is concern, some of it sceptical and some of it even cynical, that it will be Treasury led and just another excuse for cuts. The assurance I give is that it will be led by Foreign Office Ministers and not Foreign Office officials. The Treasury will of course probably try to get involved in it, but it is up to us, the Defence Ministers, to justify the present resources that the country devotes to its own defence. I hope that we will have little difficulty in doing so.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for recognising that the Labour Government have made a commitment to strong defence. That is unambiguous. If any noble Lords doubt that, I recommend, in particular noble Lords opposite that they go back to their files of the Daily Telegraph and read the article that the then Leader of the Opposition, now Prime Minister, wrote on the subject of defence. I believe that they will be satisfied with the Prime Minister's attitude to the importance of proper defence of this country.

The noble Lord asked also about dependent territories. I can give him the unequivocal assurance that he wanted: of course it will remain our policy to be responsible for the defence of the dependent territories. I am in the habit of teasing my American friends on that subject by pointing out that even though we have just lost 95 per cent. of the population of what I still call the British Empire this week, the sun still does not set upon it if we take into account our islands in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the north and south Atlantic and the Caribbean. One's American friends are quite teased by that revelation.

Many noble Lords have raised concerns about undermanning and over-stretch. It is no secret that that is a problem in all three services. I cannot invite noble Lords to be optimistic that those problems will be solved overnight. Recruitment is a problem; premature voluntary retirement is a problem; and retaining recruits is also a problem. In that last respect, noble Lords may be interested in an experiment that is being conducted by the Royal Navy in which, because it was so concerned by the proportion of recruits that it was losing during initial training (up to 25 per cent.), it has introduced an imaginative new scheme whereby it identifies at an early stage of the training process which recruits are likely to be slow learners, and which might need special handling because of their backgrounds. It has separated them into different streams for training, and it is finding the results encouraging. I hope that we may be able to expand such an approach to recruitment in the other services.

I recognise that there is some apprehension about the need for the review. I can assure your Lordships that it is supported by the chiefs of staff. It was at his own insistence, not that of the Secretary of State, that the Chief of Defence Staff sat next to the Secretary of State at the press conference when he announced the review. In case your Lordships are worried about the principles of these matters, I should point out that in the USA— I do not say that they do things better there—they are used to having quadrennial defence reviews, and no one becomes too agitated about them.

The main thing about the review that I hope everyone in the House and outside will recognise is that we want everyone to be heard. I have written to many noble Lords with a defence interest. If I have overlooked any, I apologise. I extend to all noble Lords an open invitation to write to me about the defence review. Several noble Lords have already done so. I am extremely grateful to them for the contributions that they have already made. They will receive a response in due course.

Many questions have been asked about the regimental system. I cannot give unqualified guarantees that at the end of the review the regimental system will be the same as it is today because if one kept on giving guarantees that this would not be changed, that would not be changed, and something else was sacrosanct, there would he no point in having a review. I assure your Lordships that the Government recognise the value of the regimental system. I took seriously the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in his thought-provoking speech, about the type of regimental system. Those will be matters which we shall of course be considering. I hope that the noble Lord will be contributing to the review. I do not know whether he is invited to one of the seminars.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I am.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that, and I hope that he will be attending. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, asked whether Her Majesty's Government were contemplating the end of the RAF. I can give one unambiguous guarantee at this Dispatch Box tonight. Her Majesty's Government are not contemplating the end of the RAF. That does not mean that we may not see over the time horizon—the next 20 to 25 years—a considerable expansion in the use of pilotless vehicles, particularly for reconnaissance activities in the neighbourhood of the battlefield. But, as the noble and gallant Lord so wisely intimated, if we were to remove pilots from almost every cockpit, we would still need an air force and people who understood the flexibility and complexities of air power. That was a point echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne.

I follow the noble Lord about the importance of the IT revolution which impinges not just on the air force but on the other services. In the time horizon—the next 20 to 25 years—it will be one of the fundamental changes in the nature of warfare at which we shall have to have a look.

The noble Lord asked about the Fisher and Wright case. The costs of the judicial review have been awarded against the NI Office. Guardsman Wright's legal costs were funded by the public purse through the legal aid system; Guardsman Fisher's costs will be met from public funds because the review awarded costs against the NI Office. I am sure that he will recognise that neither I nor the NI Office has had time to study the judgment. So I cannot answer his question as to when the next steps will be taken in that unhappy affair.

The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, is another who touched upon the gap between establishments and what is necessary, particularly in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, and between turns in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. I cannot answer his specific question, but I can tell him that the average operational tour interval in 1996–97 for the Royal Armoured Corps was 25 months. I am afraid that it will suffer, as we projected, for 1997–98 with the operational tour interval coming down to 19 months. On the other hand, for the Royal Artillery, the average is likely to rise from 21 months to 36 months; for the infantry from 21 months to 23 months; and for the Royal Engineers from 12 months to 20 months. The Royal Armoured Corps will be suffering so much because it will be carrying out a higher than usual number of operational tours in the infantry role in Northern Ireland to compensate the Royal Artillery.

I turn now to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, whom I thank for his kind remarks at the beginning of his speech. If for nothing else, it is delightful to be in the House so that I can see his face again and to be able to rely on his ever-generous advice. I am delighted also that he gave a generous welcome to the review. I endorse what he said about how easy it is to lose a war-fighting capability and how difficult it is to replace it once it is lost. I can assure the House that that is something which is perfectly understood by all the defence department Ministers at this time. The noble Lord and other speakers drew attention to the fact that the medical services are particularly badly stretched. That is a matter which has our full attention and I hope that we shall be able to do something about it before too long.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, asked whether the review was another word for cuts. I can assure her that it is not the intention of defence Ministers that it should be so. If we can justify it, we have the assurance that we will be able to spend at least as much as the previous government were committed to spend for the next two years. The noble Baroness was kind enough to confirm what I said about the importance to me personally as the Defence Procurement Minister, of the maintainability of our forces. Unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as just ringing up a supplier and asking for a lot more spare parts; indeed, it is a very complicated matter, especially as much of the old equipment has been run on for much longer than had originally been expected would be its useful service life. Many spare parts are no longer being made, or perhaps more spare parts are needed than was originally anticipated. Sometimes it is necessary to open up a production line at exorbitant cost in order to get spare parts for particular pieces of equipment. Very difficult decisions have to be taken as regards the balance of resources.

However, I can assure the noble Baroness that this is a matter of prime importance in the area for which I am responsible. I also endorse what the noble Baroness and other speakers said about Russia being far from a spent force, at least so far as concerns certain of its special capabilities. I have in mind in particular the ballistic missile threat and the submarine forces threat.

I was grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, who made some useful suggestions about satellite recruiting offices in remote areas. I shall certainly bring those suggestions to the attention of my honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces. I hope that the noble Viscount was reassured by what I said earlier about the way in which the Royal Navy is trying to tackle the problems of wastage in recruitment.

I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said about the need to deter aggressors. The noble Lord cited the case of the Falklands, but I should remind him that it is not just a question of whether or not you have the resources available; the importance of having accurate intelligence is vital in such matters. Indeed, although I am not criticising anyone, from time to time we have not always had the accurate intelligence that we might have had which could have told us what was going to happen with Saddam Hussein and with General Galtieri. That might have saved much anguish for us and for the people with whom we finally found ourselves in conflict. I quite agree with the noble Lord that ships, tanks and aircraft cannot be produced quickly.

The noble Earl, Lord Effingham, referred to the Ocean Wave deployment. He may like to know that we had a carrier task group exercise with nuclear powered submarines and amphibious forces—indeed, the whole operation was initiated under our predecessors—which lasted some seven months. Altogether some 20 Royal Navy warships, submarines and support vessels were involved and we demonstrated all three of the Royal Navy's core capabilities. It was a busy programme of goodwill visits from the Mediterranean to New Zealand. Not only did we produce an extremely impressive display, but also I believe it is fair to say that we surprised some of our allies at the capability for force projection that we still retain in this country. We also comforted our friends and the whole deployment was extremely helpful with our defence sales efforts.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Astor, that we have no intention of going to a gendarmerie army in which there would be no tanks at all—although perhaps I should not say that and should say that that would not apply unless the defence review produces a result which I do not anticipate. On the question of tanks, I am drawn back to what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said. I quite understand the thrust of his remarks that the United States produces one tank while Europe produces three different tanks. When I was last at the Ministry of Defence, one of the things which irritated me more than anything else was the number of different people who were producing torpedoes in NATO and we were all buying them in only penny packets. However, when I returned to the Ministry of Defence, I have to say that the same story applies today. I believe that our torpedoes are much better now than possibly they were when I was last at the Ministry.

The noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, asked for confirmation that signed contracts would be honoured. I can assure him that that will be the case. Indeed, there is no question of our repudiating signed contracts in the procurement field; nor is it intended that there should be any moratorium on procurement. However, where we are at the early stages of major projects, they will receive more detailed scrutiny under the defence review than some which are further down the procurement path.

I must be careful now because I am running out of time. Clearly, I shall not be able to reply to all the points raised by noble Lords. I hope that I shall enjoy the indulgence of the House if I say to noble Lords that I shall write to them about matters to which I have not been able to reply. However, I do not want to sit down this evening before confirming to my noble friend Lord Judd, and other speakers, that Her Majesty's Government will not tolerate racial prejudice and harassment in the Armed Forces. The Chiefs of Staff have our full support in such matters. Equally, we are most concerned to try to do more to integrate the Armed Forces into the community. Unfortunately I have to tell your Lordships, that, as I am briefed, the forces have not had the full support that they had hoped to receive from some of the agencies which are active in community relations in trying to explain to some of the minority groups in our society that a career in Her Majesty's Forces is a noble and worthwhile one. We hope that we can persuade them to take a more constructive view to help us along those lines.

In a few days' time, among the many hideous anniversaries that we have to go through from time to time, it will be the 80th anniversary of Passchendaele. I am sure that your Lordships will agree that the whole purpose of our having strong defence forces in this country is so that the younger generations, and those to come, will never again have to endure that sort of slaughter.

We are undertaking this review because we want to take defence out of the political firing line. I actually take comfort from the fact that defence was not a great issue in the last general election campaign, not merely because during the years when it was my party suffered very considerably due to its defence posture, with which I was never very comfortable, but because I believe that it is most important that the national consensus which I sense exists in the British public should also be extended to our national political life. That is one of the reasons why, in holding that review, we are inviting as many people as possible to contribute to it. We think that that will be the most effective way to provide our Armed Forces with the vision and direction which they must have if they are to remain successful into the next century. I wish to repeat my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, for this debate.

8.50 p.m.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, I shall not weary your Lordships by detaining you in the Chamber any longer except to say that it has been an excellent and interesting debate. I am grateful to noble Lords who have spared time to speak in the debate today and I am glad that the Minister has found it helpful to hear our views. I thank him very much for what he has said to us this evening.

With your Lordships' permission, I add my own tribute to a magnificent and well-trained Armed Forces. They serve us daily and frequently face danger with the utmost courage. They set a shining example to us all and are more than worthy of the respect of us all. We owe each and every one of them a vast debt of gratitude and the country is justly proud to have such professional and highly skilled Armed Forces.

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.