HL Deb 06 November 1997 vol 582 cc1481-564

3.50 p.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert) rose to move, That this House take note of Her Majesty's Government's defence policy.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was about to say that it was gratifying to see the number of noble Lords in attendance for the debate and I hope that the sudden flight has not been caused by my appearance at the Dispatch Box. It is extremely gratifying to see the number of noble Lords who have put their names down to contribute to our proceedings. It is a pleasure for me, as a Labour Defence Minister, to be opening a debate on defence policy in this House for the first time in 18 years. Not unnaturally, I do so with a certain amount of trepidation because I am well aware of the depth of experience of former serving officers of the highest rank and others who from direct experience know far more than I will ever know.

It is also a great pleasure to address your Lordships today because the Strategic Defence Review, upon which we are embarked, provides an opportunity for us—the whole country—to consider these matters and for your Lordships openly and fully to debate the key issues which will determine our defence and security policy for the next 20 years. That is the time horizon which we have in mind for the review and it is with that defence review that I shall begin my remarks today.

I wish to emphasise that, contrary to the sceptical voices which understandably one hears from time to time, the review is foreign policy led. We have tried to set out the objectives of Her Majesty's Government and to consider and identify the widest possible consensus on our future security needs and the task for our Armed Forces. Above all, we attach the greatest importance to having a non-partisan approach to defence matters in the life of this Government. That is why we have embarked on a level of consultation which is without precedent in defence reviews of the past. I hope that your Lordships will understand that we see today's debate as forming part of the process of consultation.

We have already held three all-day seminars with both Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers present, together with a range of outside experts. We extended invitations to the seminars to all the leading figures in the parties opposite in this House and in another place and we were gratified that other political parties saw fit to make a valuable contribution to the discussions.

We have been discussing Britain's foreign policy objectives, the role of the Armed Forces in meeting those objectives and the planning assumptions on which Britain's future force structures and equipment programmes should be based. The last of the seminars was held yesterday in the Ministry of Defence and was attended by members of the public for the first time. They were invited to participate in the final session. Although we might have been apprehensive about those present having a particular theme which they wanted to pursue, they came forward with high quality questions which, I am delighted to say, set us more work. I set that out in front of your Lordships so that no Member of this House should doubt our desire for the review to he as open, inclusive and comprehensive as possible. I hope that at the end of the process no one will say that I they have not had a chance to contribute to the review.

Last week the Secretary of State set out some of the emerging conclusions from the first stage of the review. I wish to emphasise that this is a continuing process and we are not at the stage of making our minds up finally as regards even that first stage. Your Lordships might be interested to know that, in response to the invitation of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to anyone with good ideas on defence policy to submit them, we have received more than 450 written submissions. A number were received from noble Lords and were distinguished by their thoughtfulness and constructiveness. Some 370 of those contributors gave permission for their contributions to be published. They have now been placed in the Libraries of both Houses where they are available for reference.

We are also consulting with a panel of experts, which includes recently retired officers and officials, experts from the academic community, think-tanks, journalism and the wider business community—indeed, from both sides of the business world. Panel members will provide us with expert opinions and will act as a sounding board for our emerging conclusions.

The policy framework for the review was set out in our manifesto. We promised that we would maintain a strong defence against the security challenges of the post-Cold War era. We made clear that our security must be anchored in NATO. We pledged that we would maintain a minimum credible nuclear deterrent and we stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy defence industry in this country. We firmly believe that the British people are, by inclination, internationalist rather than isolationist. We therefore intend to continue to play a leading role in NATO and the United Nations and the other international organisations to which we belong. Of course, co-operation with the United States, our European partners and allies and like-minded nations will continue to be essential to the security of our country.

Furthermore, we aim to use the superb reputation of our Armed Forces, not just for defence, but as an instrument of influence in a world of collective security and co-operation. It is now nearly 10 years since the end of the Cold War and the removal of what appeared to be a monolithic threat facing the people of western Europe. But, as your Lordships know, during those 10 years many other problems have emerged in different parts of the world. Instability and tensions in Africa, central Asia, south Asia and south-east Asia in particular have the seeds of conflict which could erupt at any time. It is regrettable that in many places fighting still continues. Instability and tensions have been caused by a range of issues, some of which we have seen close to home in our own continent. I shall address the issue of Bosnia later in my remarks.

Over and above the contingent risks to British lives and property, there are certain inescapable commitments which our Armed Forces are required to fulfil; for instance, support to the civil power, particularly in Northern Ireland, and our responsibility towards our remaining 13 dependent territories. In Northern Ireland, we still have 17,000 service men and women in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary in maintaining law and order and in the fight against terrorism. We all hope that recent progress in the political process will lead to a constitutional settlement in Northern Ireland and to a lasting peace. But our Armed Forces will of course continue to perform their task with courage and dedication for as long as the need remains. As events even within the last week have shown, unfortunately their presence is still required for some little time yet.

Within Europe our commitment to collective security through NATO remains at the heart of our defence and security policy. We will continue to contribute to the maintenance of NATO as a politically and militarily effective alliance.

Beyond Europe, the risks to our interests are likely at this time to be greatest in the Gulf and the Mediterranean. We must be ready to respond to support stability in these regions. It is those interests and obligations which should primarily determine the size and shape of our Armed Forces.

However, in addition to those requirements, Britain also has wider security interests which could lead us to contribute to coalition operations and humanitarian operations. Participation in any of those operations will, however, remain a matter for the choice of the government of the day.

We also wish to reach out to the countries of central and eastern Europe and to extend to the newly emerging democracies the security which we have so long enjoyed in the West. We are looking for new ways to engage with our former adversaries, many of which will involve a positive role for our Armed Forces.

The Secretary of State is anxious to involve officers of our Armed Forces as defence diplomats around the world. He has only just returned from an extremely successful visit to Moscow. I am delighted to tell the House that virtually everything that he suggested by way of confidence-building measures and exchange of visits between officers of all three services on both sides were greeted with an extremely warm reception. He was delighted with that and we hope to build on that in the months ahead.

We are now at the stage of the review at which we are considering what resources, assets and force structures we shall need in future to meet those broad aims. Part of that task will be considering what we must do to fill a number of gaps which already exist. We shall have to make some major decisions; for example, as to the future of our airlift capability, whether we go for a further generation of aircraft carriers and, if so, how many, how big and what shape those aircraft carriers will be. We are now starting to work on those questions and they will come to Ministers for review in the weeks ahead.

As your Lordships will know, this country has already received a substantial peace dividend since the end of the Cold War. Since the mid-1980s, defence expenditure in the United Kingdom has fallen by 29 per cent. in real terms and now stands at 2.7 per cent. of our GDP, which your Lordships may be surprised to know is the lowest level since the mid-1930s.

Since 1990, the strength of the Armed Forces has been reduced by about one-third; that means that in total some 100,000 men and women have left. That has been matched by a similar reduction in equipment levels. However, I must tell your Lordships that, while the reductions in the front line were justified by the change in the strategic setting, cuts elsewhere have left our Armed Forces with serious problems in relation to maintainability, particularly in the tri-service support area of equipment, including the availability of key spares and ammunition. In future, we must pay more attention to sustainability. Never again, I hope, shall we find ourselves in the position in which we were at the beginning of the conflict in the Gulf when we had to cannibalise tanks and planes in western Europe in order to keep a force of relatively modest size fully operational in the Gulf. I hope that never again shall we have to go cap in hand around western Europe to beg ammunition from our allies because our stocks were inadequate.

As I mentioned, of equal concern is the shortage in manpower throughout the Armed Forces: the Army is under strength by well over 4,000 soldiers; the Royal Navy is undermanned by around 1,500 personnel on its trained strength; and the Royal Air Force by around 3,000 personnel.

Coupled with our increased operational commitments since the end of the Cold War, that has resulted in severe overstretch in many areas of our forces. We are determined to do all we can to improve that situation. We are making strenuous efforts to improve recruitment and retention—I want to place great emphasis on the retention factor—and the opportunities we offer to those who choose to serve their country.

Above all, we wish to ensure that we recruit from the widest possible cross-section of our society. To that end, we have already introduced initiatives to improve access to the Armed Forces for members of the ethnic minorities. As I explained in your Lordships' House recently, talks have taken place with local authority officials in Newham, East London, and the Borough of Sandwell in the West Midlands to examine how best to introduce recruiting drives in these areas. In addition, last month the Chief of the General Staff launched the Army's equal opportunities strategy which contains action plans to remove discrimination, sharpen awareness of equal opportunities issues within the Army and increase the number of Army recruits from the ethnic minority population. The other services are equally active in that direction and are extremely anxious also to increase their recruitment from the ethnic communities.

Last week in another place my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced that the opportunities for women in the Army would be expanded to enable them to serve in all posts in the Royal Artillery, the Royal Engineers and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers from 1st April 1998. That will increase the percentage of Regular Army posts open to women from 47 per cent. to 70 per cent. Work is continuing to see whether opportunities for women across the Armed Forces can be expanded still further.

As your Lordships know, our Armed Forces are among the best in the world and they cope extremely well with the demands we place upon them. Wherever they serve, from Northern Ireland to Iraq, from Bosnia to the Falklands, they are held in the highest respect for the professionalism and initiative that they display.

The Government take seriously their obligation to those who have served their country in this way and who are continuing to serve. That is why we have put a high priority on addressing the health concerns of Gulf veterans. Noble Lords will be aware that we have recently doubled the financial resources allocated to dealing with this issue, speeded up the Medical Assessment Programme and extended the programme of medical research. Alas, we do not yet have a solution to the problems which lie behind those illnesses. Nor, for that matter, does the United States, which is able to bring to bear, and has in fact done so, much greater resources on those matters. However, we are determined to be as open as possible with the country on those difficulties.

To that end, we published last week two documents giving detailed information about matters of concern to Gulf veterans. The first was a paper setting out the background to the use of medical countermeasures—vaccines and nerve agent pretreatment (NAPS) tablets—to protect British troops during the Gulf War. The second was a memorandum explaining how Parliament came to be misled about the use of organophosphate pesticides by British forces in that conflict. Copies of both documents have been placed in the Library of the House. Until recently we have tended to concentrate on the sad past of these events and we are now looking to the future to ascertain what we can do to help those Gulf veterans who are ill. The House has taken a close interest in the matter and will no doubt continue to do so.

I turn now to equipment issues. There is no doubt that in the sphere of equipment procurement we need to do better. We need to eliminate the cost overruns and delays which have characterised all too many equipment projects in the past. My right honourable friend's "smart procurement" initiative seeks to deliver improvements in performance: faster, cheaper and better defence procurement than heretofore. We have been involved in extensive consultations through the National Defence Industries Council to that end. I am delighted to say that industry is responding enthusiastically to the initiatives that we are starting to take. Above all, we hope to involve industry in the concept phase of new systems that we need to procure; in other words, we will not be going to industry and saying, "This is the sort of frigate (or the sort of aircraft) that we want to have; you build it for us as quickly, cheaply and reliably as possible". We are saying to industry, "These are the tasks that the services will need to perform. We want you to help us to devise the pieces of kit which will be efficient, reliable, cheap and on time to the advantage of both industry and the Ministry of Defence".

As I said, industry has responded extremely enthusiastically to our initiatives in that way. Industry has proved that it can adapt and meet new challenges. Indeed, its export achievements are quite remarkable. Your Lordships may not realise it, but the British defence industry obtained nearly one-quarter of the world defence export market last year. But to maintain that position British products must be capable, innovative and reasonably priced. When they are all of these they will have the full and energetic support of Her Majesty's Ministers in trying to achieve the export markets that they seek.

The Government are committed to ensuring that the substantial investments that the British defence industry has made in advanced technologies, and also the investment made by the Ministry of Defence in the area, are not wasted. We wish to spread the technological processes and skills developed for defence into new civil markets through a defence diversification agency. Such links will strengthen the industrial base of this country and contribute towards improving the country's overall economic performance. We hope to publish a Green Paper on these matters before Christmas. I trust that all noble Lords who have an interest in the subject will contribute to the consultation exercise which will then follow.

Our search for greater efficiency in all areas of defence spending is also essential, not only to achieve value for money for the taxpayer, but also to free up resources to enable us to tackle the capability and equipment problems faced by our Armed Forces. We simply must improve efficiency and release surplus assets to that end. Even so, however successful we are, we shall find ourselves making hard choices about the priorities that we will have to choose.

In the six months since this Government came into office we like to think that we have achieved a fair amount in the defence and security field. We have fulfilled our commitment to maintain Trident to provide a minimum, but credible, nuclear deterrent which will continue to underpin our collective security. We aim to develop the stability in which we can take forward our commitment to global nuclear disarmament. We have kept our promise to ban the export, import, transfer and manufacture of anti-personnel landmines and have announced a five-point plan to increase the contribution that the Army makes to humanitarian demining. We are taking forward our proposals on defence diversification.

We have also demonstrated the importance that we attach to the men and women of our Armed Forces at all stages in their service careers. Our recruiting initiatives for ethnic minorities, our expansion of the opportunities for women in the Army and our efforts to find answers to the serious problems faced by some Gulf War veterans are all examples of practical action that we have taken.

It is the men and women of our Armed Forces and the civilians and civil servants who support them who put our defence and security policies into effect. We owe it to them and to the people of this country to provide a clear sense of direction for defence into the next century. That is a major aim of the Strategic Defence Review and through it we will work to achieve our goal: a strong defence for the United Kingdom, based on the broadest possible consensus of its citizens.

Moved, That this House take note of Her Majesty's Government's defence policy.—(Lord Gilbert.)

4.15 p.m.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by saying how much I welcome today's important debate. I should, first, declare an interest in that I am an adviser to a French aerospace company and a director of a British engineering company, neither of which have significant defence business so far as I know. I should also like to say how much I am looking forward to hearing the two maiden speeches later this afternoon. I had the privilege of knowing both the noble and gallant Lord. Lord Inge, and the noble Lord, Lord Renwick, in another incarnation. I am particularly pleased that we have another opportunity to discuss defence matters following our debate on the Armed Forces in July and at a time when the Government's defence review is now well and truly underway.

I should like to mention two points upon which the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, touched in his opening remarks. He talked about the new employment of concepts in developing defence procurement policy. I welcome that; indeed, it sounds to me to be a very sensible approach. However, I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that it is not the first time that we have attempted to employ such techniques. In my own time, we used to develop what was called the "cardinal points principle", which was very much the same as that which the noble Lord described this afternoon. I believe that it works well when industry can be persuaded to respond effectively to that approach. I wish the noble Lord well in the policy that he has declared and hope that it works.

The Minister also referred to the success of our defence export business. Again, I very much welcome the words of support which he offered to that industry. However, I hope that the noble Lord will not mind me saying that those sentiments were not always echoed by him and his colleagues when they were in opposition and when a number of important defence export related matters came to public notice.

However, there are two issues upon which I should now like to concentrate my remarks. The first relates to the defence review to which the noble Lord referred. I have never been wholly certain about the true reason for this review. There was some surprise when it was announced, rather hastily after the Government came to office earlier this year, during the Easter Recess when Parliament was not sitting. I have not been alone in my belief that the review would inevitably be dictated by the wishes of the Treasury to find savings. Indeed, the noble Lord acknowledged that fact back in July when he gave your Lordships the reassurance that, while the Treasury would probably try to get involved—I believe that that is what he said—it would be up to defence Ministers to justify the present resources that the country devotes to its own defence. The noble Lord announced today how that proportion of our GDP is now declining. The noble Lord may recall telling your Lordships, on 2nd July (at col. 285 of Hansard) that he hoped that Ministers would have "little difficulty" in so persuading their Treasury colleagues. I hope that he succeeds.

The noble Lord's right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Defence, told another place last week that the Government had listened to the views of many people in the past five-and-a-half months. Again, the noble Lord referred to that fact when he spoke earlier. As his right honourable friend said the other day: All the options will he given careful consideration, to see what is in the best interests of the effectiveness of our armed forces and what is required for our country".—[Official Report, Commons, 27/10/97; col. 612.] Those were welcome words. But the omens are not very good. With the help of hindsight, we now know that defence Ministers have not been wholly successful in fighting off the Treasury. The "iron grip" of the Chancellor—if that is the way to describe it—has so far won the day, at least on a couple of occasions. That is a worrying development.

We have some right to be concerned because history has shown that the people in the Treasury are not always the best people to ask to evaluate our future strategic and security arrangements. It is now no secret that the Government view the Ministry of Defence as an easy target when making defence cuts. The first blow came when the Chancellor boldly announced that a fine of £168 million had been imposed on the Ministry of Defence to find money for the health service. That early announcement involved the Chancellor of the Exchequer—but not, surprisingly, the Defence Secretary—saying that the Government were diverting resources from the defence budget into the National Health Service.

More recently we have heard that the costs of the Bosnia operation may in future have to be met from the defence budget, having hitherto been met from the central reserve. That is another £200 million or so a year, but I gather that that has not yet been finally decided. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, will at least be able to resist that, and that he will tell us so when he replies to the debate.

At this point I wish to refer to our own independent nuclear deterrent. As your Lordships know, this is now represented by our fleet of Trident submarines. The fourth vessel has been ordered and will be delivered in due course. I cannot overstate the importance of our independent nuclear deterrent. While it is, of course, primarily assigned to NATO, we have always reserved the right and the ability to use it for our own purposes when our supreme national interest so required. It is that national independence which so adds to its effectiveness as a deterrent by adding to the uncertainties in the mind of any potential enemies in anticipating our likely response to an attack. The aggressor knows that we, on our own, are in a position to inflict unacceptable damage should we be the victims of an attack. Indeed it is often said, and, I believe, rightly, that our position at the top table of world affairs, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council—what my noble friend Lord Hurd has described as our ability to punch above our weight—is due, in no small measure, to our nuclear status.

In that context, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, to assure us in the plainest terms that there is no question of any reduction or downgrading in the size or effectiveness of our Trident fleet as regards the current defence review. Can the noble Lord specifically confirm that all four submarines will be fully commissioned and, as was the case with Polaris—continuously for more than 30 years—that there will be one submarine on patrol seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year, for as far ahead as we can foresee? There have been disquieting rumours in that regard which I hope the noble Lord can dispel.

I wish to touch briefly on the work of the cadet organisations. I am vice chairman of the Army Cadet Force. In the previous Parliament much appreciation was expressed on both sides of the House for the work of all three cadet organisations. There was indeed a wish that their work could be extended in view of the important part which they played not only in developing team working and public spiritedness in our youth but also because they are an important recruiting ground for our Armed Forces.

I have seen at first hand the involvement of the ACF and the ATC at many important national functions. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm the wholehearted support of the Government to maintain and, I hope, to build upon the services' involvement in the cadet organisations which work so uniquely in harmony with civilian-funded organisations. The ATC in particular is especially sensitive to "salami slicing", as it is called, because of the comparatively high cost of providing sufficient flying time for cadets, which forms such a vital part of their activity. I hope that the recent cuts in that activity can be restored as soon as practicable. Can the noble Lord give an assurance about the general level of funding for cadet organisations and the ACF in particular?

I wish to touch on another important point which your Lordships dwelt upon at the end of the previous Session of Parliament before we rose for the Recess, and that is the case of Guardsmen Wright and Fisher, two soldiers who were on duty in Northern Ireland and who were tried and convicted of murder in somewhat unusual circumstances and who remain in prison. Many of us feel that that is wholly inappropriate. I know that their case was recently considered again by the Parole Board in Northern Ireland and I imagine that advice is now upon the desk of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Will the noble Lord please tell us what the latest position is and when we can now expect those two soldiers to be released, as we all believe would be appropriate?

This debate is taking place today in the context of the defence review which the noble Lord described in some detail. I have to tell him that I think that the jury is still out on whether that will be an effective and satisfactory process. Some of us are rather concerned. The noble Lord has gone a little way to reassure us, but perhaps not the whole way. Perhaps he can go further when he replies to the debate later this evening.

4.26 p.m.

Lord Inge

My Lords, I am grateful for your indulgence. In the short time that I have been a Member of this place I have been struck by the breadth of knowledge and quality of debate. After such a short time in the learning and listening mode, I am therefore wary about speaking on any subject.

However, your Lordships will realise the Armed Forces are deeply interested in the strategic defence review. I hope your Lordships will allow me, as a previous chief of the defence staff, to make a few general and, I hope, helpful remarks.

First, I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Defence has made it clear that the review will be an open one and will involve wide consultation. I am even more glad that it has been made clear that our Armed Forces will retain the capability to take part in high intensity conflict. This is a critical issue and one that must not be fudged. It has been stated many times in this place that it is easy to move down the operational scale of conflict to low intensity or peacekeeping operations if—I stress the word "if'—you have a high intensity capability. However, if you lose the high intensity capability—that is, the ability to go to war and fight and win, as we did in the Falklands and the Gulf—it takes years and years to get it back in terms of equipment, training and expertise, and it will cost a great deal of money.

In addition, many conflicts have a nasty habit of starting at the low intensity end and escalating to high intensity conflict. We need to recognise that if we do not have a high intensity capability our sailors, soldiers and airmen will be placed at greater personal risk. When we come to consider the strategic defence review I believe it will be important for us to analyse what we mean by high intensity conflict and to be clear about what capabilities we need. It is easy to say the words "high intensity conflict" but it is much, much more difficult to analyse what they mean. I hope I may suggest what I believe are some important pegs on which to hang that capability.

First, we need to recruit and to retain—I stress the word "retain"—top quality servicemen and women. I was delighted to hear what the Minister said in that respect. It was the great Field Marshal Lord Slim, my hero and, of course, the father of the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, who, when asked to speak by the BBC about the greatest soldier he had known in a series entitled "The Mark of Greatness", said, Any nation now and then may throw up a great man but unless its people have greatness in them it will not cut a very noble figure at the bar of history. An army must have Generals to lead it but, if the only men in it who have the mark of greatness are the Generals it will win few victories". I am convinced that that applies to all our servicemen today.

In that connection, I welcome what has been said in the other place about overstretch and manning problems. I await with interest to hear what the solutions of those problems might be.

The second peg is the capability, the quality and the technology of the three fighting services' forward equipment programme. It will be expensive but it is fundamentally important.

The third peg is endurance and sustainability. The Minister said a number of words about that. It is about operational logistic support, the rotation of units and individuals and reinforcements. The question we have to ask ourselves is: have we the capability to support and sustain operations in different parts of the world for longer periods than we anticipated under Options for Change? Understandably, after the cold war we made some assumptions which, with the benefit of hindsight, have not turned out to be quite as we anticipated. Here I am sure some rethinking is necessary, not least in the critical area of medical support.

As regards training, your Lordships will recognise that training and education are vital in any walk of life. In the Armed Forces, they are even more critical. But they cost money, and we need to ensure that we have allowed adequate provision in terms of time, training areas and money. Training covers a very wide spectrum from schools of excellence like the staff college to sophisticated and complex all-arms combined exercises. If we lose our training edge, we shall be increasing the chances of operational failure.

My next peg is readiness. Holding armed forces at high degrees of readiness costs money, is demanding for the individuals and families involved, and impacts on training, operational logistic support and equipment availability. The end of the cold war allowed us to reduce some states of readiness, but I believe that we should be wary of reducing them too far. The experience of the Falklands, the Gulf War and elsewhere is to expect the unexpected and to expect it at short notice.

My next peg is the need to give our servicemen and women a reasonably balanced and stable quality of life. I am not talking about pay, conditions of service or housing, critically important although those are. I am talking about getting a better balance between time on training, time on operations and time with families and friends.

My last but one peg is difficult to talk about. I wish, however, to try to talk about ethos. I believe that it is fundamentally important to armed forces; and we need to understand it. It is the spirit which motivates armed forces and makes men and women put their lives at risk. It is certainly not a policy; nor is it a science. It is a mixture of emotional, intellectual and moral values. It is about comradeship and team spirit. It is about integrity. And it is about the high quality of people one is fortunate enough to work and serve with.

It is also about tradition. But let me make it absolutely clear that I am not talking about the sort of tradition that means that you never do something new or for the first time. Nor is it about tradition that smacks of bigotry or racism. But if you regard tradition as a standard of conduct handed down to you and below which you try never to fall, then I believe tradition, instead of unsettling or annoying you, will be a handrail to steady and guide you when the going gets rough. I think that tradition is also about recognising the importance that human beings attach to a sense of continuity, familiarity and pride in the institution in which they live and work. I happen to believe that the institution in which I was so lucky to serve is one of the great institutions of our nation.

My final peg is stability. I know that we live in a world of constant change and that we must always be looking for improvement. But the manner in which the Armed Forces have adapted over the past 40 years or so has been remarkable. They have met with great humour and effectiveness a wide variety of challenges. However, I sense strongly that after the strategic defence review they need to be left alone. To have total stability is not possible, but some of the upheavals following Options for Change and Frontline First/The Defence Cost Studies are still to be completed. I know that a number of noble Lords have visited front line units and will have been impressed by their sense of purpose, professionalism and spirit. What I would call short term morale is extremely high. But what one might call long term morale is not so good: it is a little shaky. The coming generation worry about the future. That is why they need to feel that they will have a more stable base on which to take their life forward.

When the Secretary of State for Defence spoke at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies he quoted from General Hackett's Profession of Arms. He said: What a society gets in its Armed Forces is exactly what it asks for, no more and no less. What it asks for tends to be a reflection of what it is. When a country looks at its fighting forces, it is looking in a mirror; if the mirror is a true one, the face that it sees will be its own". I fully endorse that sentiment. However, I would add that in the same book—I have to quote from memory—General Hackett also said: In a democracy it is the duty of armed forces, to furnish to a democratically elected government, in operational situations where force of arms is or is likely to be used, the greatest number of possible options for action". A government will be given as many options as they are prepared to pay for. The better the quality of the Armed Forces, the greater the strength and scope of those Armed Forces, the better their equipment, leadership and training, then the greater will be the number of options that are open to that government for their use. My Lords, you get what you pay for.

4.36 p.m.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on his excellent maiden speech, especially as some years ago I was one of his four subordinate commanders when he was Commander-in-Chief, British Army of the Rhine. It would be wise to reflect very carefully on his words of wisdom if this country is to continue to have the finest Armed Forces in the world and to ensure that those men and women retain the will and courage to win battles in the defence of our freedom. For, rest assured, without our insurance policy of possessing the appropriate numbers of well trained and properly equipped Armed Forces, the freedom of the British people is put at risk.

The noble and gallant Lord has had a most distinguished military career. I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me when I say that his knowledge and experience will add to the wisdom of your Lordships' House. We very much look forward to his contribution in the future.

I thank the Minister for instituting today's debate. I take the opportunity to thank him also for the detailed and courteous reply he sent me after I submitted a paper on the strategic defence review on behalf of the All-Party Defence Study Group.

The debate is about defence policy and I shall concentrate on that aspect; however, I shall also touch on some other important subjects to be addressed by the strategic defence review in the second phase of its deliberations. I understand that our foreign policy will be based around the protection of the United Kingdom, her dependent territories and the 10 million United Kingdom people abroad. A leading role will be taken in NATO and the United Nations. An isolationist policy is rejected. Our policy will continue to be an internationalist one facing threats to British interests overseas and ensuring the protection of our world-wide trade; it will continue the transatlantic link which is vital to us; and it will oppose international and national terrorism which exists in Northern Ireland. We shall also pay special attention to matters in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Gulf.

If this is somewhere near our foreign policy base lines, our defence policy should be formulated along the lines of the already agreed retention of Trident, our nuclear deterrent. However, I am concerned—we have already heard from my noble friend Lord Trefgarne about this—that some people think that it will no longer be necessary to have a Trident on patrol. I argue with some strength that Trident not on patrol and alongside in Faslane can in no way be considered a form of deterrent. Furthermore, to start patrolling again in times of tension might be seen by the world as escalating some international crisis.

We shall require our Armed Forces to support the civil community in Northern Ireland in the fight against terrorism. To continue to have a leading role and to be able to influence NATO, we need to retain the post of Deputy Supreme Allied Commander (Europe) and the Commander of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps which will be achieved if we retain the 1st Armoured Division in Germany. All services must be trained in high intensity conflict to develop a natural war-fighting capability. If we wish to keep our seat on the United Nations Security Council, we must deploy forces to take part in peacekeeping, peace support and peace enforcement operations.

It is essential that we have rapid reaction forces such as the Joint Rapid Deployment Force for United Nations and NATO operations. We must protect our interests in Europe, the Middle East, the Gulf and the Mediterranean and safeguard our wider security interests by contributions to our allies in coalition operations and humanitarian missions.

It will not be possible to carry out these policies unless our defence forces are recruited up to their establishments. They must continue to be properly trained and be equipped with the most up-to-date and highly technical weapon systems. Third world countries have been buying very sophisticated weapon systems and it would be highly dangerous and irresponsible to deploy our Armed Forces with out-of-date equipment. They must be well paid and well housed; receive the appropriate allowances whenever they are entitled to them; and enjoy the stability and reduced overstretch which will provide a better quality of life.

If our future foreign and defence policies are as I have described them, there is one abundantly clear deduction. It is that there cannot be one single penny cut from the defence budget. Our Armed Forces are desperately overstretched and any further budgetary cuts will result in a reduction to our commitments. The Prime Minister has promised to leave the defence budget as it was set by the last government for a period of two years from the time he took office. I do not wish to become involved in the issue of the recent £169 million so-called "fine" levied on the MoD by the Treasury for an MoD overspend last year. But it is categorically important that the Minister should reassure your Lordships that the Prime Minister intends to keep to his word and that there will be no cuts to the defence budget over the next 18 months. In this I include the central reserves continuing to pay for our commitment to Bosnia as those costs are not, so far as I am aware, part of the defence budget.

There is no time to get involved in military capabilities, except to emphasise once again that the vital need to have a war-fighting capability based on high intensity conflict with sophisticated weapon systems continues to be essential, especially when the lead times for new weapons is around 15 years and particularly as Russia, China, central Asia, the Gulf, the Middle East and north Africa are all in such a delicate and fragile state. Surely we have learnt a lesson that an ill-equipped force such as the United Nations Protection Force does not achieve its missions whereas the Intervention Force and the Stabilisation Force, equipped with tanks, artillery, attack helicopters, armoured infantry and combat aircraft, achieve theirs. It takes years to train for, and be successful in, high intensity conflict and yet only months to train as peacekeepers. In view of the multiplicity of weapons on the international arms market, our Armed Forces will have to face up to sophisticated and lethal weapon systems even in small regional disputes.

I respectfully remind your Lordships that among our NATO allies and any future coalition partners, it is only the United Kingdom and the United States of America who have any real war-fighting capability and carry out realistic training. To deter a crisis requires rapid deployment with strong all arms and well balanced combat forces. Anything else will fail.

I turn to some matters of particular significance to the Armed Forces. My first point relates to states of readiness. Although not needed at anything like the intensity of the cold war period, there is still a reasonable degree of readiness required. With the much reduced numbers of regiments, brigades and divisions, too high degrees of readiness can reduce training and bring about skill fade. If this is to be overcome in the Army, there should be a two-divisional structure, each division consisting of three brigades. This would continue to allow the deployment of one division to Germany and one division in the United Kingdom, both complementary to each other, each brigade operating on a three-year cycle covering a year of training, a year of operations in its priority role and at high readiness, and a year operating in a supportive role, in reserve and available for out-of-role commitments such as an armoured or artillery regiment deployed out of role to the United Nations forces in Cyprus or to Northern Ireland. To achieve that will require an establishment of nine armoured regiments, two in each of the three brigades in Germany and one in each of the three brigades in the United Kingdom.

The tank is essential on the battlefield for at least the next 10 years and, as I pointed out in my recent paper to the strategic defence review, the 38 Tank Regiment is flawed and should be replaced by the 42 Tank Regiment which would provide three squadrons of 14 tanks each. This radical change can be implemented through the process known as "whole fleet management" which has the advantage of using a smaller number of total tanks combined with the use of simulators such as precision gunnery training equipments.

We live in highly volatile, dangerous and uncertain times. If our states of readiness and reaction times are to be correct, our military and political intelligence must be flawless. The importance of collecting, assessing and disseminating intelligence concerning potential threats to the United Kingdom is a vital ingredient in providing warning times and future intentions of the enemy. Those essential assessments should allow the Government early response time and, if required, immediate and decisive action. The Defence Intelligence Staff and all the other agencies outside the Ministry of Defence must be given the resources to provide modern and sophisticated systems for intelligence data collecting.

I now turn to our reserve forces. Our volunteer and reserve forces are a relatively inexpensive insurance policy against the unexpected and usefully fill specialist posts which may not normally be required in peacetime. Their roles have been widened and they are filling gaps in the regular forces, especially in Bosnia. What better example can I quote than the fact that my noble friend Lord Attlee is at this very moment serving with his TA regiment in Bosnia for six months? I am sure that all your Lordships will join with me when I wish him and all our reserve and regular forces good fortune in their operational deployments. The TA and reserves keep alive our heritage of martial spirit, the ethos of volunteer service and strands of organisation and discipline within the fabric of our society. This, together with unit and national loyalty, is a focus for respect for defence and a valuable element in the national character. Their value to the nation goes well beyond their short-term usefulness and any cuts to the TA and reserves would be a false economy.

For well over a year, the All-Party Defence Study Group has taken a particular interest in the Defence Medical Services. I am grateful to the Minister for the Armed Forces for keeping us informed on Defence Secondary Care Agency matters. It will come as no surprise to your Lordships that the defence study group recommended in its submission to the strategic defence review that the three remaining service hospitals should revert to the control of the surgeon general on a tri-service basis. It also proposed that the three remaining Ministry of Defence hospital units should be placed under single service control, although staffed similarly on a tri-service system. This would have the advantage of saving the majority of the £2.27 million running costs caused in the main by staff costs. I now understand that changes in the National Health Service structures and clinical practices will leave the Defence Secondary Care Agency in its present form unable to attract the number of patients and case mix to allow military clinicians to retain and develop their skills and maintain their professional accreditation. A review has been set up to advise on the way ahead. It is still our strongly held view that the overall control of the service hospitals and the future of the Ministry of Defence hospital units, in whatever form they end up, should all be put back under service control. I hope that the three single service medical directors are consulted on that issue and are invited to submit their plans and proposals as to how they would like secondary care organised for the future.

The last government implemented Options for Change and the Defence Costs Study which involved severe reductions and reorganisation in all three services. Their strength was cut by 100,000. The infantry battalions were reduced from 55 to 40; tanks from 699 to 304; frigates from 48 to 35; submarines from 28 to 12 and fighters and bombers from 630 to 500. It is not as though the last government took no action to reduce our Armed Forces after the cold war; if anything, their cuts were too severe. However, let it be clearly understood that if the United Kingdom wishes to continue to play a leading role in the world by retaining our seat at the Security Council, by leading in NATO and by being a force of good in the world, neither our Armed Forces nor our commitments can be cut any further. There is simply no room for any more manoeuvre and unless steps are taken to reduce overstretch, morale will plummet, retention will fail and recruits will not he forthcoming to join the services.

There is only one area that may produce savings; that is, through the procurement executive adopting different procedures along the lines of industry, as the Minister said earlier. If the United Kingdom is to carry out a planned future defence policy and our equipment programme is to remain the same, there can be no reduction in the defence budget.

I should also like to add a tribute to our magnificent Armed Forces. They frequently face danger with the utmost courage. They set a shining example to us all and are more than worthy of our greatest respect, which the nation will be showing them on this Remembrance Sunday. We owe each of them a great debt of gratitude. The country is justly proud of having such professional and highly skilled Armed Forces.

4.52 p.m.

Lord Renwick of Clifton

My Lords, first, I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House for the kindness and generosity they have shown in welcoming a newcomer. I have been most grateful for it.

I believe that there is, on all sides of this House, strong support and admiration for our Armed Forces, their extraordinary professionalism and military skill, and the courage and sacrifice they have displayed in numerous crises since the war. I am conscious how many Members of the House have served with immense distinction in our Armed Forces, and none more so than the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. I should like to say how strongly I agree with everything he said.

From the vantage point of 30 years in the Foreign Service I have been well placed to witness the enormous contribution the Armed Forces have made, and continue to make, to this country's influence and reputation. In Rhodesia we saw the British Army play a crucial part in bringing an end to a war which had already claimed 30,000 lives.

In the Falklands we witnessed our Armed Forces accomplishing a militarily exceptionally difficult task, operating 3,000 miles from their nearest base with no adequate cover against numerically superior forces. In those most difficult circumstances a remarkable victory was won. In the Gulf War the consequences for the NATO Alliance if this country had not been prepared to join the United States in sharing the military risks of that venture do not bear thinking about. In that conflict too our forces covered themselves with glory.

Nor would there be any peace in Sarajevo today but for the efforts of the British military contingent in Bosnia. I need hardly mention the enormous contribution the Armed Forces have made to peace and stability in Northern Ireland and the central role we continue to play in NATO. Those have been the accomplishments of our Armed Forces over the past 20 years and we are all rightly proud of them.

Those forces appear to me today to be more than ever in need of your Lordships' support. The collapse of the Soviet Union enabled us substantially to reduce defence expenditure, and rightly so. But, as my noble friend made clear, our forces today are a fraction of their former size. The total infantry strength of the British Army, excluding the territorial forces, is 25,000; the British Army will soon have fewer than 400 tanks. The US Marine Corps alone today has more planes than the RAF, more ships than the Royal Navy and more men than the British Army. Against that backdrop of slender resources and large commitments, the case for a defence review seems to me to be unanswerable.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my noble friend made clear that this is not to be another cost-cutting exercise. It is a foreign policy review and its purpose is to determine how resources can be applied most effectively. It is extremely important that that should remain so for it is surely self-evident that, without a follow-on force in Bosnia, to which we will need to make a continuing substantial contribution, we should soon see a return to anarchy in the former Yugoslavia. I was glad to see the recognition yesterday by the US Secretary of State that US forces also will have to stay in Bosnia.

We all hope that current negotiations will lead to a permanent ceasefire in Northern Ireland; but, sadly, we cannot count on it. There are other threats this country faces, including the evident determination of the regime in Iran to become a military nuclear power. We shall have a vital role to play in the expansion of NATO to the new democracies in Eastern Europe and in the efforts which are being made to strengthen European defence co-operation. The Government are concerned, and rightly so, to re-establish a leadership role for this country in Europe. Our Armed Forces are the most admired in Europe. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that it is of the highest importance that they should remain so.

My noble friend the Minister for Defence Procurement, throughout his career, has shown himself to be a staunch defender of the Armed Forces. I share his enthusiasm for conservation and know that we can count on him to help ensure that the British infantrymen and cavalrymen do not themselves become an endangered species. I am confident that the services will continue to receive the support they deserve, both from this House and from the Government, for I am convinced that we are united in our determination to maintain the morale and excellence of our Armed Forces.

4.59 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, it is not only a privilege but indeed a pleasure to be able, on your Lordships' behalf, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, on his erudite and interesting maiden speech, which was so relevant to this debate. That may reflect some "cousinage" with a fellow director of Robert Fleming, General Sir Peter de la Billiére. The noble Lord's long and distinguished experience at the Foreign Office, later the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, culminating as our Ambassador in Washington, is now at the disposal of your Lordships' House as the doughtiest of defenders of our Armed Forces. We shall all much look forward to the noble Lord's contributions to our debates as often as he is able to attend.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, for introducing this debate and the open manner in which he did so. At this stage of a long debate, with so many distinguished speakers, it is hardly appropriate that a post-war senior subaltern in the Reserve should speak for long. However, I wish to welcome the process of consultation on the Strategic Defence Review, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. Nevertheless, it is difficult for the relatively uninitiated such as I to enter upon any constructive debate without having read it. The declaration as to policy is also very welcome. The interests and obligations are indeed well conceived and I think it is a new approach to procurement—I stand open to correction if it is not; but as it was explained, it is surely a well founded innovation.

However, certain assurances are indeed sought, for the reasons advanced in particular by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne. Is defence of the realm the overriding priority of this Government? Was that defence budget settled to meet foreseeable defence requirements in weaponry, manpower, training and education, as referred to by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge? Was this as envisaged at page 38 of the Labour manifesto as a broad defence commitment? Was that in relation to foreseeable and foreseen commitments? Were the unforeseeable requirements to be met from the central or contingency reserve, whatever one calls it, referred to by my noble friend Lord Vivian a moment ago? Is the overriding priority as reflected in the Labour manifesto put to hazard in any way by the proposed massive depletion in funding, and, if not, why not so, if there is a depletion in funding?

We are entitled to know the order of any reduced provision, if there be one; the nature of any reduced provision, if such is the case; and whether in effect this is a case of robbing defence Peter, as the press seem to put it, in order to pay NHS Paul? We also wish to have the assurance that the Territorials and Volunteer Reserves shall retain their secured provision. I shall not elaborate because it was so well explained, if I may say so with respect, by my noble friend Lord Vivian.

One seeks also, if one may, an assurance that due account has been taken of overstretch in the context of recruitment. As to recruitment, overstretch cannot wholly be mitigated by the recruitment of women. There is the "apple factor" at sea, and on land the limitation of physical capability to heave around heavy loads, for example—speaking from experience—heavy artillery shells.

May I ask also, has due account been taken of the disincentive to enlist unless and until the law of homicide has been amended and the mandatory life sentence for murder has been abolished? I am not suggesting that there should be one law for the armed services and another for civilians: I am talking about the general law. But it affects the Army and the armed services in circumstances in which civilians do not find themselves. This general question has particular reference to the cases of Clegg and the two Scots guardsmen. It is understood that Clegg has now been released on licence but the two Scots guardsmen remain in prison. The release of Clegg was on the advice of the review board which was acted upon.

In a parliamentary Written Answer to a Question put by my noble friend Lord Westbury on 3rd November in the Official Report at col. WA275, the Secretary of State claims public interest immunity from disclosure of the advice of the review hoard. Such is his entitlement: it is not open to reasonable criticism. However, there is more to it than that because there are no grounds on which a refusal to answer the question I am about to put could be refused on grounds of public immunity. The question is, did the decision to defer the question of release for another year, taken by the Secretary of State, truly reflect the advice of the review board tendered in each case. Having given due notice to the Government Chief Whip of this question, I respectfully seek an answer. In a sense your Lordships' House is a court of law and it is right here that I should ask the question and that I should get an answer.

At all events, I most respectfully ask the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, to use his good offices to seek to call in those documents. The confidentiality to one Secretary of State can be held on the grounds of public immunity, but there is no reason why public immunity should run to prevent the noble Lord from seeking those documents from another Secretary of State. Will he do that? Will he also be good enough to seek to ensure that these guardsmen are dealt with according to the advice of the review board, each on the merits?

I apologise for the time I have taken. However, before concluding, I wish to associate myself with the most moving tributes that have already been paid by noble and gallant Lords and other noble Lords to our Armed Forces.

5.11 p.m.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, although I know it is not desirable to have a succession of formal congratulations on maiden speeches, I hope the House will indulge me, on the grounds of my personal association with both the maiden speakers today, to offer my congratulations. The maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, was precisely what one would have expected. It was a carefully measured, common sense and constructive speech of the kind one might expect from one of our most distinguished senior soldiers and, unhappily, one who might possibly be described as our last field marshal. As for the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, I can only say that his speech was as brief, as relevant and as cogent as most of the advice that he used to give me when I was a Minister in the Foreign Office. I very much hope that I shall be here many times to hear both the noble Lord, Lord Renwick, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, speaking in your Lordships' House.

I want to begin my remarks by thanking the Minister for giving us an opportunity to debate the Government's defence policy and also congratulating him on the clear, unambiguous and practical way in which he introduced the debate. Perhaps I may be allowed to intrude a faintly personal note here in that it was this week 33 years ago that I first took my seat in your Lordships' House. I mention it simply to say that in those days the government of the day had a most robust attitude towards the defence of the realm. Indeed, how could it be otherwise when the noble Lord, Lord Healey, was Secretary of State for Defence?

Much has changed, but I think it would be right and fair to express the view that this Government also have, so far, taken a welcome and robust attitude towards defence policy. I would only express the hope that that view will not be changed by the outcome of the current defence review, when it is known. As the Minister well knows, there will be pressures, both from inside his own party and from elsewhere, to modify their policy, sometimes on financial and economic grounds, but also at a more emotional level. There will be inevitable complaints on the lines that money saved from the defence budget could be more usefully directed towards overseas aid programmes, social services, education, health and so on. Those are, of course, to some people very seductive arguments. But I suggest that they ignore the obvious fact that, without strong and secure defences, we might well lose the ability to have any of those other desirable things at all. Edmund Burke said at the time of the French Revolution: The cheap defence of nations is gone". That statement has even more truth in it now than it had when it was made two centuries ago. In the age of advanced military technology there is no such thing as defence on the cheap. As the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, rightly said, we have to pay a premium to ensure our continued security. I hope very much that the Government will continue to resist any facile arguments against paying it.

There will also be, as I have suggested, pressures of a different kind. One which has had some currency recently is the campaign for what is called "a nuclear-free world". The arguments about this have been fully deployed in your Lordships' House on a recent occasion and I shall not rehearse them in detail again. I shall only say that there are two principal weaknesses in the nuclear-free world theory: first, that it is impossible to erase the knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons—people will make them and use them if they think it is in their interests to do so—and, secondly, that, even if we could remove and erase the memory of nuclear weapons altogether, their removal from the military equation would leave us all at the mercy of any country which was prepared to spend a large proportion of its national resources on conventional forces. I express the hope that the Government will stand firm against this kind of thinking which seems to be based on faith in the possibility of rerationalising the whole of military strategy and military theory in the absence of a nuclear weapon.

The Government will find—they probably have already found—convincing arguments against that way of thinking in a recent study entitled Thinking About Nuclear Weapons by Sir Michael Quinlan, a former Permanent Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Defence. I am sure that the Government have already studied that document with great care. But I suggest that it should be read by anyone seriously interested in the debate about nuclear deterrence and disarmament. For any noble Lord who would like to know, it is published by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies. It is a penetrating study by one of the leading experts on nuclear weapons in this country.

In parenthesis, this leads me to comment, outside the nuclear sphere, on the dangers of what might be called single weapon disarmament—the habit some campaigning groups have of seizing on a certain weapon and demanding its removal, although that removal would in itself change the whole nature of warfare. One of the more recent examples of this has been the campaign, referred to by the Minister, to abolish landmines as military weapons. Of course, we are all horrified by television pictures of people with limbs blown off and other terrible injuries caused by anti-personnel mines which have not been properly cleared from old battlefields. But all weapons of war are, in the final analysis, horrible. However, military planners have to bear in mind that there may be occasions when the security of a defensive force faced by overwhelmingly superior attackers could most effectively be protected by minefields. We must bear that in mind in confronting this kind of campaign. The real problem about mines lies in the need to have fully effective systems of clearance rather than the simple prohibition of mines as a weapon, which prohibition will be totally ignored if some country decides that it is in its best interests to manufacture and deploy them in time of war.

However, to return to the nuclear dimension, even those who do not subscribe fully to the nuclear-free world theory will be pressing the Government—and they have already begun—to reduce the number of missiles or warheads in our Trident force on the basis that they are more than we need to provide a "minimum deterrent". Many people who use that phrase have not the faintest idea what it means. The provision of a minimum nuclear deterrent is based on a whole range of interlocking strategic and technical criteria. It is very complicated. They include the ability of a potential enemy to provide effective defence against ballistic missiles—and let us bear in mind that ballistic missile defences are still allowed under international agreements. We should also bear in mind—and it is often forgotten in this argument: Sir Michael Quinlan has recently pointed it out again—that the Trident missiles on our new deterrent force will not have the aids to penetration of ballistic missile defences that the old Chevaline version of the Polaris missiles had. Trident will not be able to penetrate sophisticated ballistic missile defences to the same extent.

The number of submarines, missiles and warheads in the Trident force was very carefully calculated when the force was planned and in my opinion, as the noble Lord. Lord Trefgarne, so eloquently said, it would be foolish to start tinkering with it now. In this context I was especially interested, and a little concerned, to see a report in The Times last Tuesday that the Secretary of State for Defence has said that the defence review would, reassess Britain's nuclear posture with a view to seeing what is the appropriate level of credible minimum deterrence". When the Minister comes to reply, I hope that he can assure us categorically that that will be done on the basis of a careful assessment of all the military criteria and the strategic implications, and that it will not be distorted by pressures from the Treasury or elsewhere which do not take account of all possible current and future security requirements.

There will, of course, be pressures for change in non-nuclear defence policies as well. There is much talk about providing a common infrastructure for the Armed Forces to eliminate wasteful duplication of administrative and support elements of the Armed Forces. All that, of course, is eminently desirable and no one could possibly argue against it. But I fear that there is a danger that it may lead—it has already begun in some comments—to ideas about the merging of the three services into one single service: the process which used to be called, when I was in the Army, "The Purple Solution". This experiment, as we know, has been tried in one or two other countries without very much success and I hope that the Government will bear in the mind that the morale of the Armed Forces has been placed under enough strain already by recent reorganisations, redeployments and restructurings and that an attempt to make a radical change of this nature in the organisation of our Armed Forces might have disastrous results.

Pressures of that kind, and others, might not seem to matter so much if we lived in a safe and predictable world. But, as other noble Lords have said, we do not. Indeed, I would argue that the world is less safe now than it was in the relatively simple scenario of the east-west confrontation. It would perhaps be going a little too far to say, as Thomas Hobbes wrote in his famous Leviathan that, the condition of man…is a condition of war of everyone against everyone else". But it is true that we have certainly not found a way—nor do we seem likely to do so—of eliminating war as an element in the conduct of international relations. The possibility of conflict in which we might well be involved is as great today as it has ever been. In the interests of time, I shall not rehearse the familiar litany of possible threats—external ambitions in Russia; the dangers of Chinese expansionism; the threat of a critical breakdown in Arab/Israel relations; the unpredictable nature of Middle East regimes like Iraq, Iran and Libya; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them and international terrorism. I could go on almost endlessly. Any government which neglected their defence arrangements in such an environment would be placing the nation at great risk, and I do not believe that this Government will take that risk.

In conclusion, the need for well-organised, well-equipped and well-motivated Armed Forces for war fighting is further underlined by the recently declared intention of the Secretary of State for Defence, mentioned by the Minister, to use the Armed Forces in what has been described as a network of military-to-military contacts to disarm some of the Cold War perceptions that have grown up over the past 50 years. This is a most constructive concept and we must wish the Government every success in achieving it. When people talk about the horrors of war they sometimes forget that it is soldiers, sailors and airmen, especially those with experience of combat, who understand most clearly what those horrors of war really are and who are most determined to ensure that, if possible, they are never exposed to them again.

I repeat that in my view the Government are to be commended on the constructive and resolute approach they have so far taken towards the defence of the realm. We shall await with much interest, and with sharpened knives, the results of the current defence review, while expressing the hope that it will not give rise to any further instability in the defence establishment.

The Minister of all people will not need reminding that dangers come not only from malevolent and aggressive forces from without, but also from well-meaning but misguided friends within. I hope that the Government will be as firm in confronting them as they appear to be in their determination to confront the external threat.

5.26 p.m.

Lord Westbury

My Lords, although my noble friends Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Trefgarne have already spoken about Guardsmen Wright and Fisher, the late Lord Shinwell said that one had to say things three times in this House before anyone listened. So here we go for the third time.

May I now quickly say what a scandalous and sad affair for the whole of the Army is the extra year's prison sentence recommended by the Northern Ireland Life Sentence Review Board. These two guardsmen have already served five years for doing their duty for Queen and country, as laid down in the yellow card. It has now been recommended that they should be had up for murder and given an extra year. That is intolerable.

These men are roughly 20 years old, so that they will serve nearly a quarter of their lives in prison. I know that the final decision for their release is in the power of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I know how tricky is the situation in Northern Ireland at the moment. I have a sneaking feeling that this matter has become a political football. If the lives of young men serving their country can be treated like this, I believe that it is not a great encouragement to young men to join the Armed Forces. Therefore, may I plead for their immediate release on humanitarian grounds?

5.27 p.m.

Lord Judd

My Lords, at the outset I must declare an interest. For most of my life I have worked, and still work, both professionally and voluntarily, with NGOs and humanitarian agencies closely concerned with international security matters. These include organisations like Saferworld, International Alert and Oxfam.

In recent weeks we have seen a firm stand by leaders of the armed services themselves, together with their Ministers, on the imperative for the services to represent, in terms of gender and ethnic composition, the society they exist to defend. My noble friend underlined that again today. I hope that this House will unequivocally declare its support for all that is at last being done in an attempt to ensure that ethnic minorities and women are enabled to play the full part in the work of the Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force that they should have been able to play long ago.

Obviously, the House is keenly looking forward to the outcome of what we have repeatedly been assured will be a foreign policy-led strategic defence review. The Government are to be congratulated not only on the decision to break free of the Treasury short-term expediency, which had dominated defence for too long under the previous government—expediency which played havoc with morale and the ability to plan ahead with confidence—but they also deserve congratulations on the open way they have gone about the task, positively inviting comment and ideas from a wide constituency of interest and expertise. It is fervently to be hoped that what emerges will command widespread support and will convincingly set the context for a long time ahead.

I hope that the results will demonstrate that the New Labour Government have had the self-confidence and courage to take a clean sheet of paper, look at the real security issues and threats facing the UK now and into the 21st century and then design a defence and security policy which meets the challenges ahead. The hard decisions will be how to reshape what we have now to what we need for the future. The discipline must surely be at all costs to avoid an overarching commitment to what we currently have. The Government owe it to the service men and women, the civilians in defence, the defence industry and, indeed, the taxpayers to come up with a relevant, viable policy for the world as it is going to be—not a rationalisation for a modified status quo.

As this, I hope, radical review takes place, there will be an ideal opportunity to re-examine and, if need be, redefine what we understand security to be in the post-Cold War, highly interdependent world in which we live. How does what we have traditionally seen as defence knit coherently together with our global economic, social, migration, development, trade, environment and other policies which are all central to building a stable, secure future for humanity? Indeed, I hope that there has been the closest possible constant co-operation between those working on the defence review and those working on the White Paper on Overseas Development. The relationship is obvious. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can reassure us on this. It would be sad if New Labour had missed this opportunity to break out of the institutionalised mould and to think imaginatively and laterally.

We are one of only five permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations. What does the responsibility of that leadership position—if we are to retain it—demand of us? The Security Council is about global stewardship or it is about nothing. If we still aspire to a special place on the council, what should we be contributing towards global stewardship?

I know that the Polly Toynbees of the media are arguing for us in Britain to reduce our contribution to collective security and scale down the level of our international commitments. Their thesis seems to be that the UK suffers from delusions of imperial grandeur, that the size of the defence budget is vastly in excess of what is necessary and that billions of pounds should be redirected into health, education and other public services. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, referred to that. At a time when public services are desperate for additional resources, there is a superficial appeal in all this. But the UK cannot isolate itself from the global realities of which we are inescapably a part. It is difficult to think of a nation which has a greater interest in a stable, secure world than ours or, conversely, which is more vulnerable to the consequences of instability, with all its unpredictability, insecurity and violent upheaval.

Of course, we cannot police the world on our own. Such a notion is as ridiculous as it is dangerous. But that does not mean the world does not have to be policed. The challenge is how this is to be done successfully on a co-operative international basis and how we play our convincing part in it. Just as sane Members of this House, on all sides, recognise that strategic aspects of economic, social and environmental reality have become globalised, and that to safeguard the people of our islands we must therefore be in there batting in the EU, G7 and the rest, so the globalisation of the strategic aspects of security demand that we must be in there batting as part of NATO and the UN in order to safeguard our own people no less than anyone else; and if we are to bat effectively, we have to will the means to meet our part of the responsibility.

My noble friend was right to remind us that the review will naturally have to address the specific security issues which still have a unique significance for the UK: Northern Ireland; surveillance of the air and waters surrounding the UK; the external defence of the 13 remaining dependent territories, including the Falkland Islands; our obligations to British nationals living in areas of political instability or at risk from environmental disasters; and support for the civil power in combating terrorism.

But what of the wider challenges? These must include the stability of the European continent and adjacent territories—and this means not only adapting and expanding NATO and getting the relationship right between NATO and WEU, OSCE and the UN but, vitally, getting right the essential co-operation between NATO and Russia and between NATO and the non-member central and east European states. We must be vigilant not to provoke the very dangers of nationalism and hostility which NATO is there to contain.

Then there is the need for conflict prevention, pre-emptive diplomacy, peacekeeping, peace support and control of the arms trade across the world. For all of these, our contribution to the revitalisation of a credible UN will be indispensable; and the Government's determination to secure a code of conduct for the arms trade during their presidency of the EU will be of potentially far-reaching significance. But it must be a code which means something and which guarantees far greater scrutiny and transparency—not one carefully crafted to make no real difference. The dangers meanwhile of the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction are disturbing. Effective international action is urgently required. The non-proliferation treaty is crucially important. It needs to be reinforced. We must therefore take care in the presentation of our own nuclear deterrent policy lest, as perceived by others, it could give grounds to those who wish to undermine the NPT.

International law is highly relevant to security. When international law is violated with virtual impunity, as happened in Rwanda with respect to the Genocide Convention, there is a general weakening in its authority. The administration and application of international law must be invigorated. The importance of consistency cannot be over-emphasised. However, the process must not be allowed to become selective or simply another tool for the mighty. The proposed international criminal court, if—but only if—even-handed and consistent in its work, could make a powerful contribution to international security.

The UK has long had a key interest in helping to underwrite a global order in which trade and investment flows can proceed safely without disruption from violent conflict or political instability. But we also have a key interest in promoting fairer trade in the cause of more inclusive and sustainable development of the world's poorer countries, not just because it is ethically right—as it is—but because this will underpin greater world stability. It cannot be coincidental that 15 of the 20 poorest countries in the world have experienced significant violent conflict in the past 15 years. By far and away the majority of the world's contemporary armed conflicts are taking place within the less developed countries of the world.

Climate change, ozone depletion, damage to biodiversity are not so-called "soft security" threats. They are ominously real. We could yet look rather silly if, in an over-concentration on traditionally understood concepts of security, we fail to register the damage and destruction which is threatened by mismanagement of the environment. I hope that the Strategic Defence Review will look at this and consider what contribution might be made by the armed services to peaceful solutions before it is too late. And on our own doorstep, as we agonise about the pressures on our immediate environment, not least on land and open space, I hope that the review will seize the issue of the urgent need for an environmentally friendly comprehensive policy on the management and disposal of defence land and on the general use of land by the services.

It is also essential for the review to consider carefully the escalating number of refugees and displaced people—perhaps as many as 100 million by the turn of the century—and to analyse the implications of this huge pool of human misery for world stability, not to mention its close relationship to international terrorism; and we must remember that there will be increasing numbers of environmental refugees as well. I believe that the refugee crisis and its destabilising implications underline dramatically why concern for human rights and an ethical foreign policy is not, as the blinkered cynics would sometimes have it, nonsense—I have heard more crude descriptions than that—but basic to security. Oppression breeds insecurity. We forget that at our peril.

I believe that the Government have embarked on a brave course in this Strategic Defence Review. They have opened themselves to unprecedented public scrutiny and debate. I wish them well, but I believe that if they are to succeed in their endeavour, the issue of resources cannot be escaped. If we will the ends, we shall also have to will the means.

5.40 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, I feel diffident indeed speaking after two such distinguished maiden speakers. The difficulty about this debate is that while we are addressing our remarks to the Minister (whose heart I believe to be distinctly in the right place) and while the Secretary of State has said all the right things about the UK's commitment to NATO, the Atlantic alliance, the Eurofighter and Trident, together with small but significant gestures such as the new approach to the Gulf War and the investment of £1.1 million in reviewing records, alas the real arbiter of the future of defence in this country is the Treasury, renowned for its short-termism ever since the days of the 10-year rule, and, to a lesser but still perhaps significant extent, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office because of the almost inevitable conflict in some areas between the ethical foreign policy and the procurement aspects of defence.

Normally, I would have spoken about the Russian threat. Today I shall say only, once more, that Russia remains a potential threat to peace and stability in Europe and has not gone away and that NATO, the successful and non-aggressive preserver of peace for over 50 years, must be maintained at the strength necessary to provide a credible deterrent. This means that we must not allow our financial support of NATO and the ARCC to be cut. NATO has also acquired a very positive and constructive role not as a wall but as a bridge builder and force to reduce tension through the Partnership for Peace and the founding Act. However much I still believe that it allows the Trojans within the wall, it can be a first stage in the new relationship with Russia provided it is not allowed to weaken NATO's solidarity and it is accepted that no strategic review can ignore Russia's future capacity to act as a powerful military power and a potential threat to stability.

There is, however, one immediately relevant aspect of Russian activity. I refer to Russia's success in selling arms and equipment to the Far East and its near monopoly in India. I refer to its sales of military aircraft, and now possibly missiles, to Indonesia; sales of aircraft and submarines to China; sales of aircraft to Malaysia, and so on. Thus, the Russians are able to retain their defence industry—a major employer and scientific innovator—achieve growing political influence in the area and, not least, ensure that they are able to supply their own forces with the latest modern armaments. We, too, need to support and encourage our defence industry for the same reason. As strongly indicated in the other place this week, we cannot contemplate being dependent on the French for our ordnance in time of war, as we infamously were dependent on the Belgians during the Gulf War for ammunition because we had abandoned our manufacturing capacity. The trade union briefing on the Royal Ordnance issue was quoted in the other place on 28th October at column 765: Unless Government intervenes to protect strategic capacity … Britain will, in future, have to depend on France to meet the needs of our armed forces, including in times of crisis". When it comes down to it, the Government have a duty, as they have accepted, to protect the realm. The Minister needs no lectures on this. I say it for the Treasury's ears, not his. Meanwhile, a way must be found to prevent the application of the ethical principle as defined by this Government from emasculating the essential, inescapable commitment to equip our Armed Forces, themselves a most important part of our foreign policy, as they will need to be equipped in the 21st century if they are to keep the peace, not least in the vital area of Northern Ireland.

There is already in existence a formidable machinery of departmental checks and balances to ensure that all arms orders are fully vetted. That has been in place for some time. Since it is obviously right to save money where we can, for the Treasury's ears it is worth quoting the Ministry of Defence performance report. That report states that during 1996–7 defence exports saved £300 million for the defence budget through lower procurement costs resulting from the spreading of company fixed overheads.

There are other issues that I should like to address. One is trust; another is accountability, an example of a serious failure in that area emerging in the further memorandum on the Gulf War. A third issue is full recognition that the men and women of the armed services are fully entitled, like other citizens, to certain basic rights and privileges, notably a home, a decent quality of life and, among other things, access to medical services. I believe that part of the reason for the serious shortfall in recruitment is that the services are perceived by those who know little or nothing about them, and are judged by the media, as having a most uncertain future; as lacking status and relevance in society, as they understand it; and as survivors and a manifestation of outdated imperial privilege. That at least some in government share the last perception may account for the almost invisible profile of the military at the Commonwealth Conference. That was a serious miscalculation in the eyes of most Commonwealth countries who have had long and proud traditions of service under the Crown.

I need not expand the point about the apparently uncertain future. We already spend a lower percentage of GDP (2.7 per cent.) than Greece or Turkey, let alone the US; less per capita than Norway, France, Denmark or the US; and less in actual expenditure than the US, France or Germany. Before Parliament returned from the Recess it was hardly reassuring to read in the Sunday Times of 12th October that the Treasury, intended to force the MoD into a huge disposal of land and other assets in order to finance its future equipment spending". That included, land acquired for firing ranges and other military purposes but no longer used". I hope that that is not right and that the Minister will be able to tell us more, particularly as the article went on to claim that the military should take a less prominent role overseas, including international peacekeeping efforts, because the Armed Forces could no longer afford it.

Has the Treasury already decided that the Armed Forces can neither train at home nor operate overseas, or are they to be limited to clearing up rubbish in inner cities? The general fear probably within the services but certainly among those who still believe in their importance and value is that, while this review which is now set to last for a year proceeds in good faith, all the props will be quietly kicked away by unilateral Treasury action and never discussed on the Floor of the House. Its distinguishing feature will be short-termism, as displayed by that department over the married quarters estate. The Minister will be aware that the National Audit Office has since confirmed the view, cogently argued in this House, that, as the MoD's own figures showed, taxpayers would have been significantly better off if that sale had been halted. As it is, the new owner will make large profits while the MoD pays rents to be reviewed every five years and is responsible for maintenance. I raise this because it is an unhappy example of the short termism of the Treasury and its power to drive defence policy purely to save money.

It seems to me that the Defence Secondary Care Agency's only positive achievement is a substantial saving for the defence budget, as it proudly claims, at a terrible cost to the delivery of medical services to the forces. The noble Lord's right honourable friend in the other place has called for an urgent review of the position. I fervently hope that this will lead to the restoration of separate service medical care, as outlined by my noble friend Lord Vivian. In housing and in medical care the services have had a very bad deal. Part of the process of restoring trust will be to remedy that as soon as possible.

That brings me to another related concern. I see from the admirable MoD performance report that yet another agency, the Armed Forces Personnel Administration Agency, was launched on 1st April of this year as a follow-up to the Bett Report. I quote from paragraph 402: The Agency has two primary objectives: first, to provide a modern and efficient pay and pensions service for everyone in the Armed Forces, be they full time, part time or reservist; and, second, to deliver reliable and responsive personnel data and administrative support. central policy staff and personnel managers in each service". So far, so good.

It goes on: It is planned to appoint a private sector partner under the Government's Private Finance Initiative to provide these services on the Agency's behalf. The partner will be required to develop tri-service systems for pay, pensions and personnel administration, and to shoulder much of the business risk involved". I see shades of the student loan scheme there.

The House will not have forgotten the view of the Public Accounts Committee of the operations of the Student Loan Company in 1994–95 where its failure was largely attributed by the committee to inadequate consultation and inadequate contingency plans. It commented that the subsequent proposal for a twin-track public/private loan scheme would require extremely careful departmental oversight. Will the next step be an RAS-style sale? I hope that excessive contractualisation, too many redundancies and the civilianisation of some 1,000 military posts has not left the services without the professional skills they badly need, especially in the field of information technology. I hope they will be able effectively to oversee these outside advisers and partners who will not understand either the culture or the needs of the services.

I am not encouraged by what I read about the complex contracts required to implement Project CAPITAL. That is the new system for resource accounting and budgeting in the MoD. I feel even greater concern over this. I hope that the MoD will not have to spend more time on accounting for money than on its central purpose of defence. No successful business allows its policy to be driven by accountants.

Reverting, finally, to my point about the difficulties of recruitment, I have noted with great pleasure the many measures being taken under the performance report. I believe it is of the greatest importance to convince potential recruits that on joining the services they are entering a modern environment, full of high-tech skills and professionalism, where they will find exciting challenges and go away with considerably enhanced prospects in the world of work outside.

The Government, therefore, have to be seen by their deeds to regard the Armed Forces as a major national asset worth boasting about as part of the future as well as the glorious past and, above all, as something worth investing in.

5.52 p.m.

The Earl of Effingham

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Minister for introducing this very important subject in your Lordships' Chamber. I also reiterate the remarks of earlier speakers in saying how very much I enjoyed listening to the two maiden speeches.

The Government of this country has for many years had limited choice as to how they arranged Britain's defences. There was a clear and certain threat which had to be met and an absolute and binding commitment to NATO which required us to maintain certain forces in particular locations.

Today the scenario is very different. There is not a direct threat to Britain, or in relation to the question of our aid to one of our NATO partners. It follows that we are no longer constrained to the same extent by the needs of defending our homeland and meeting the stringent defence requirements of NATO. The Government therefore have some choice about which of Britain's interests it seeks to promote or protect, how to meet our obligations and commitments around the world, and whether to become involved in any disputes at all.

There are a number of people in this country who believe that since the demise of the Soviet Union there is no threat for our Armed Forces to meet and that without the threat we once faced from the Soviet Union the needs of defence can safely take second or third place behind the many other worthy claims on taxpayers' money. To accept that scenario is both wrong and dangerously misleading. The fact is, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, we followed a continental strategy. We relied upon relatively static, mainly land based, forces to meet the threat we saw coming from one particular source. Such certainties have gone and with it the logic of relying on such forces. I firmly believe that the Strategic Defence Review has the potential to undertake an important role here. It must become the watermark in the transformation of the services into expeditionary forces.

The number of disputes flaring up around the world has increased markedly. The geographical spread has grown and, where technology and the sale of advanced weapons to maverick states has ballooned, we face some very demanding requirements of our forces. The overriding aim must be to prevent crises and conflict through deterrence and to promote Britain's interests. That means we need capable forces for use in war which are useful in peace.

As an ex-naval officer, I am struck by how our naval forces get on quietly with their day to day tasks. Just consider for a moment how useful our ships are today and every day in peacetime. We have seen HMS "Monmouth", off the Congo, standing by to go to the aid of British citizens if needed. We have also seen the Royal Navy's quick reaction to safeguard British lives in Albania, and HMS "Liverpool", as the West Indies guardship, combining the vital roles of disaster relief, so needed in Montserrat earlier this year, with her very successful anti-drugs work. The list goes on.

Those same ships and their crews, while being flexible enough to promote this country's interests in peace, are also ready at extremely short notice to deter, coerce, or meet force with force and win. They have the ability to operate wherever they are required, with or without any infrastructure or help from neighbouring states. They are also able to operate together, and with other nations.

Let us not lose sight of how best to achieve the most effective Armed Forces this country can afford. I have heard much nonsense talked during the review and in the past about the diminishing need for the Armed Forces, how the Royal Air Force could be disbanded, how peacekeeping operations only require land forces and how, with modern air communications, there is no longer any need for an amphibious capability.

The fact is, we require all three services to complement each other, to be used to working together on a regular basis and to be capable of leading or participating with other nations' forces in the widest scale of operations; in two words it means jointery and interoperability. If we are to aim for true jointery we need joint doctrine leading to a joint concept of operations. If we are to achieve real interoperability with the Armed Forces of other nations we also need to bring in our allies and friends. The review must embrace this fact. This means prioritising certain assets—in particular, command and communications, which must be totally interoperable. It also means ensuring priority is placed on the best of each service, complementing each other.

This joint approach avoids the pitfalls of looking at a single conflict and shaping our force structures to meet that scenario. In this regard I am concerned that much of the review seems to concentrate on experience from the Gulf War and land forces. Clearly, maritime forces can never be a substitute for substantial land forces or significant land based air power, but none of us should forget we face one overriding consideration: uncertainty. If we cannot provide forces with flexibility, we shall certainly fail to have the capability to meet the future risks we face.

Whenever I talk about flexibility I am brought back time and again to the advantages of maritime power. Maritime forces have an enormous contribution to make to joint operations. Just consider for a moment the list of requirements I mentioned a few moments ago. I know from my service in the Royal Navy the remarkable way a warship can come and go in areas of tension such as the Gulf, the Adriatic and in the Far East, using the international highway of the high seas. They may be fully involved in low level diplomacy at one moment and, in the next, represent a fully capable unit, fully worked up and fully ready to deter, coerce and fight.

There is no way other than by sea that we can deliver heavy battle-winning equipment. There is no more cost-effective way to allow the Government the choice of whether to intervene, or get involved in a regional dispute, than through the ability to deploy a warship, submarine or amphibious task group. It does not commit the Government to anything, but can, nonetheless, send the strongest of diplomatic signals to strengthen our Foreign Office initiatives. It does not depend on persuading neighbouring states to get involved, by hosting our forces, perhaps against their political wish. It does not require even basic infrastructure, such as airfields and roads, to deliver a powerful punch if required, and nor is it time limited, given the ability to replenish at sea.

Will the Minister assure the House that the review will ensure that our Armed Forces are able to operate without host nation support? Of course those advantages depend on the availability of aircraft carriers, amphibious ships and submarines, with their supporting units, but it is important that these are not considered just naval assets.

The future carrier is a classic example. It must be seen for what it is, a joint defence asset, a large floating airfield capable of carrying the maximum number of types of aircraft, from all the services, and from our allies and friends' services around the world. Will the Minister assure the House that the contribution given by the core capabilities of the Royal Navy and its supporting assets to our joint capability will be safeguarded in the review?

If the Government want real choice about whether to get involved or not in yet unforeseen incidents arising around the world, they must fully recognise the vital role and contribution of maritime forces in projecting this country's foreign and defence policy.

I turn finally to a specific aspect of the review that concerns me particularly. From what I have read in the press, it appears that there is a view, held by some, that Britain should not, in defence terms, look east of Suez. The logic appears to be that, as a medium-sized European nation, with few commitments in the Far East, where any major threat is well beyond the horizon, we should concentrate our defence assets within the European region.

If that is true, I cannot think of a more short-sighted approach. In these days of increasing globalisation, none of us can pretend that a lack of stability in the Far East will not affect us, whether in a fortress Europe or not. The recent reverberations from the roller coaster ride of the stock markets in the region is a small but timely reminder. If it is the sheer cost of stationing forces in the region that is of concern, then let me say that the recent Ocean Wave Task Group showed what can be achieved for this country through periodic deployments.

The marginal cost was remarkably low, while the benefits were extremely large, in terms of visible commitment to stability in a region, quite apart from the more direct benefits to the economy, through defence and non-defence sales. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will not lose sight of the vital importance of forward presence, by the Royal Navy, in areas like the Far East?

I said at the outset that prevention is better and cheaper than cure, and our Armed Forces should be designed with that fundamental premise in mind. The Government must ensure that the strategic defence review enables Britain to retain the most flexible Armed Forces possible, with the real capability to undertake whatever challenge is given to them, wherever in the world such a challenge might arise; nothing less will do.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl who has had, as noble Lords will be aware, a distinguished career in the Royal Navy. It is also a great pleasure to find that the Minister has instituted a debate on defence policy. I admire his devotion to duty and courage. Whenever there is a review of policy—perhaps I am a cynical accountant—I think always of "do more for less". I shall forgive the Minister, because he has considerable experience. In terms of my low level military career, he can be said to have his knees brown in a previous administration as well as in this one. In all seriousness, we are lucky to have him and his experience in your Lordships' House so that he can put your Lordships' views into the mixture and hotchpotch of a defence review. I hope that there will be no more radical changes as a result of the review. If anything does happen, I think that it will be for the better, due, in no small measure, to the Minister, because he will know what to do.

I have read a great deal about more joint training and exercises. I do not think that it is necessarily part of the Government's programme, let alone is it being discussed actively, but I have seen some reports that discussions were circling round the suggestion of combining the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Marines. A cold shiver went down my spine. I can see the point of combining training, because the two do similar tasks. That is one example, and I hope that the Minister will bring his good sense, competence and experience, to bear on such matters, and on what I might call the zeal of the reformers.

The Chief of the General Staff spoke to some of your Lordships earlier this week. He stressed what has been mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Effingham. The Chief of the General Staff said that the British Army could not do without the enormous help it receives from the RAF and the Royal Navy in Northern Ireland, let alone anywhere else. Northern Ireland is special for me. One sees the example of the combined operations which have developed there in support of the civil power for over 30 years now. It is a frightening thought—is it not?—that at the end of this parliamentary term, when summer comes again and when your Lordships become more and more overburdened with late and all-night sittings, it will be 30 years since there were things such as the civil rights marches in Northern Ireland which gave rise to the present unstable political situation.

Who has kept the peace, kept the ring there? We heard from the Minister that it is the RUC aided by the British Army and, of course, the RAF and the Royal Navy. I have every reason to be grateful to the RUC and many branches of the defence forces as I spent five and a bit years in Northern Ireland.

I am batting quite high up the speakers' list. I am speaking at number 12 which for me is very high indeed. However, I am number one for humility because I, of all your Lordships of a certain age, do not have a great deal of military experience—less than two years as a national serviceman. My knowledge of all things military and connected with defence has been enormously improved thanks to my noble friends Lord Ironside and Lord Vivian and the APDSG which is not a new battle tank or anything like that, but is the all-party defence study group. It is a group of noble Lords of enormous experience, wisdom and toughness. It has already been explained that the treasurer of our group is now serving in Bosnia.

I had no idea of that. I had heard that my noble friend Lord Attlee was away. I received a little reminder from him with a cheque asking me to pay a small bill that arose from a ceremony last June. It was one of the attendants who said to me, "Oh, well, my Lord, you will not find him, he is in Bosnia. Isn't that interesting?". I can assure the noble Earl, Lord Effingham, that the cheque has gone to him. At least I hope that it has. It is an enormous privilege for me to travel with and be part of that group. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, has taught me a great deal and we are lucky to have her talents and personal qualities on our visits around Europe and Britain.

At the end of August my regiment, the Scots Guards, was recruiting in my home city of Dundee. Two issues arose. First, the Deputy Lord Provost suggested to me and to the Scots Guards that countless boys and girls, which is nice, in Dundee had great personal qualities. They know that there is a good career, a wonderful job and a new life in the Armed Forces. Thank goodness a few of them were thinking of joining the Scots Guards. The Deputy Lord Provost's announcement visibly shook many members of the recruiting team who believed that they would have to make a big effort. They were delighted with the enthusiasm shown by many young people and their interest is being followed up.

Secondly, I was greatly impressed with the enthusiasm of every member of the recruiting team. They had adapted their enthusiasm and personal qualities to the era of the late 1990s and into the new millennium—the dreaded word. During that visit two aspects were apparent. The first related to recruiting. As the Minister pointed out, it is necessary to boost the numbers in all the Armed Forces. Whenever I go on a visit with the all-party defence study group the quality of the soldiers amazes me. Soldiers of all ranks are articulate, forthright and, if I may put it politely, on the good side of bumptious. They are enormously self-confident and immensely proud of their job and their capacity to carry it out, no matter what we might demand of them.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, who made a cracking maiden speech, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, might ponder on my next remark. I spent five weeks away from your Lordships' House. There was a television in my room and most evenings I was a little idle and pressed the button. I noticed an advertisement on the independent channel showing fireworks, pyrotechnics and men and women with painted faces. The advertisement was for the British Army. It pointed out that the British Army wins its battle at night and used the three words, "Be the best". That is interesting—I had never thought of it—because it represents what we are debating today.

The number of men and women needed in all the services will be addressed competently by the Minister. One could spend 24 hours discussing the strategic role of the defence forces, and the Minister reminded us of the various seminars and the constructive contributions to them. I believe that the Minister is capable of seeing what is required and will be the best, or close to it, of all the political representatives. I have some military knowledge of the Army and know what the strategic role involves. For the past 30 years it has been in Northern Ireland, but there has also been a major strategic role in Bosnia. Do your Lordships recall the extraordinary spring day of April 1982 when your Lordships and Members of the other place met on a Saturday? That started what I believed to be a terrifying campaign, which turned out unbelievably well, in the Falklands. Do your Lordships remember the first days of August 1990? I was in Switzerland and saw on the cable network news the invasion of Kuwait. That illustrates the fact that one never knows the demands which will be placed on our servicemen and women.

"Overstretch" is a popular term of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. I hope that the Minister agrees that the training of soldiers has become more complicated and that they must use more sophisticated equipment. Furthermore, they must take part in joint operations. There is always a need for new recruits and new members of the team, whether in Northern Ireland or in Bosnia.

There is another life which, happily, was referred to by the Minister and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. It is family life. Not just husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, but often fathers and mothers require help. I hope that the Minister will indicate that soldiers, let alone other members of the defence forces, will no longer be asked to spend two, three and even four consecutive Christmases away from their families.

The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, spoke about the cases of Guardsmen Fisher and Wright. As an aside, I point out that there are five Scots Guardsmen in the Chamber today. I am, to use a tactful word, "gobsmacked" at hearing that a public interest immunity has taken place in relation to that decision. I am not astonished by anything that happens in Northern Ireland, but I hope that at some stage we shall have some decent news.

At the end of the previous debate in the summer I told your Lordships that it was the 40th anniversary of me becoming Guardsman Lyell, let alone recruit Lyell. Forty years ago this week I was seized firmly by an avuncular figure. He said, "Thanks to the training and the effort that we have put into you, it is likely that you will end up commanding a platoon of 30 men". That distinguished Coldstream Guardsman shook me firmly like a small terrier and said, "Don't you dare let them or me down". That was the late father of a well respected and loved member of your Lordships' staff, Mr. Blood. Forty years ago, Mr. Blood senior dinned into me that my efforts and responsibilities at the low level of platoon commander were part of what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, described today.

I conclude by suggesting that tradition and families go together in the Army. I totally reject the suggestion that they are a hindrance to the effectiveness and efficiency of the Army. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, in the Chamber today. He was present during the debate in the summer. He and I are "Helvetophiles" because we spent a happy evening at the Swiss embassy. He and other Members of your Lordships' House may know that Switzerland is not entirely a land of sophisticated cities, towns, industries and factories but that it consists of hills, mountains and rural areas. If the noble Lord, Lord Saltaire, and other Members of your Lordships' House would accompany me to the hills and mountains of the Graubunden and Davos they will discover the enormously fierce regimental pride of the Swiss Army in serving with their families, friends, relations and neighbours. They train, exercise and work extremely hard together. Furthermore, in Switzerland there is a unique relationship between my regiment, the Scots Guards, and the 54th Battalion from Basel land. Oddly, that came about before the war. I have met many members of the battalion from Basel land and know that they are immensely proud of the relationship. They continually stress that the Swiss Army and the British Army have an enormous tradition, without which both armies would be much the poorer.

I conclude by saying that the British Army is the best. I repeat the words of Mr. Rudyard Kipling: But it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins,' when the hands begin to play". I hope that they will play properly; but if they do begin to play, I hope that we shall have—and I am confident that we shall—the protection and support of the Minister.

6.20 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I begin by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, that I wish to claim the position of number one in humility as I have not served in the Armed Forces at all and, indeed, this is the first time that I have contributed to a defence debate. Also, I thank my noble friend for introducing this Motion.

Nevertheless, I hope that my civilian experience has some relevance to the debate this evening. I am a delegate to the WEU and I spend much of my working life in Russia where I am involved in the oil industry in Western Siberia. That link to defence is not as far-fetched as it might sound, as in our operation we own and run some 400 vehicles, all of which are of military specification and all painted green, and my Russian colleagues never tire of reminding me, in their typical avuncular Russian way, that all the vehicles which carry our pipes out to the oil fields used to be missile carriers and they could easily be used again for that purpose.

Yesterday I was in Paris as a member of the Political Committee of the WEU, where Russian parliamentarians gave us a presentation on their aspirations to join the WEU. Clearly that prospect is a long way off, but it shows that there is an ever-growing momentum for greater dialogue and co-operation in Europe and, indeed, beyond.

Greater co-operation will inevitably affect the development of our Armed Forces. With the exception of Northern Ireland, about which we have heard quite a lot this evening, it is difficult to imagine British troops acting alone. We are far more likely to be acting in concert with our allies in NATO, in the WEU, in the Commonwealth or, indeed, in the UN. Even humanitarian operations will require some support from host governments.

One of the major questions which the strategic defence review must address, therefore, is the likely nature of any future collaboration. Will it be an operationally integrated force of land, air and sea forces under an integrated command structure, or will it be collaboration with self-sufficient units operating side by side with our allied counterparts?

As the pressures for enlargement of our international structures grow, so do the opportunities for ever-greater military duplication. Operational requirements and national pride have naturally favoured national forces which are complete in themselves. But is that the most efficient arrangement for the future? Do we really want the duplication which exists already among our NATO allies to grow further as NATO expands?

Incidentally, it is the experience of the commercial sector that corporations grow precisely to eliminate the duplication of resources and to take advantages of economies of scale. I make a general point but I believe that it is profound. The consequences of that question will affect the development of our international institutions and, indeed, our Armed Forces.

I wish now to turn to a related topic—Europe's defence and aerospace industry. My right honourable friend Mr. George Robertson, speaking on 6th October, said that it must either rationalise or die. I believe that he is right in saying that. The Americans have tackled that problem. Over the past three years, 15 prime contractors have been whittled down to just three—Boeing Douglas, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Hughes. Each of those prime contractors is bigger than all the European defence industries put together.

I am glad to say that the WEU is looking at that problem, but the time for action is now. My right honourable friend was quite right to warn: rationalise or die.

Lastly, I wish to return to the subject of homosexuals in the Armed Forces, a subject on which I know many noble Lords have strong feelings. At the outset I should say that I believe the Government's approach to be entirely appropriate and the question of operational effectiveness is at the heart of the issue rather than questions of decency or privacy. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I have never served in the Armed Forces, but I have worked on oil rigs as an engineer in many parts of the world. On oil rigs, many people work in cramped and sometimes dangerous conditions, not unlike those found in the Armed Forces. I say that with some confidence, as many of the men whom I worked alongside had come from the Armed Forces and it is no doubt the similarities in the living and working conditions which attracted them to work in the oilfields. But I have never heard or received any complaint or even reference from anybody working on an oil rig that he felt somehow vulnerable to homosexuals or insufficiently protected by the law from homosexuals. Indeed, to me, that idea is quite ludicrous.

As regards the operational effectiveness of the oil rig operations with which I was involved, the issue has never arisen. In the time that I worked on them and in my now more elevated position, that has never arisen as far as I am aware. Why do the Armed Forces believe themselves to be peculiarly vulnerable? I really do not know the answer to that question. I look forward to receiving an answer.

In conclusion, I welcome the Government's Strategic Defence Review and look forward to the results. I congratulate the Government on so scrupulously meeting their manifesto commitments.

6.26 p.m.

Lord Ironside

My Lords, I welcome today's debate even though it is really about policy-making rather than policy. The debate in another place last week centred on Gulf War illness, the expansion of equal opportunities, diversification and the search for a foreign policy baseline among many other connected issues. I want to dwell mainly on the defence industrial base, on diversification and Gulf War illness.

I am very glad to hear that the Government want to keep the defence industrial base looking healthy. However, before going further into those issues, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, and his right honourable friend in another place, for their continuing support for the all-party defence study group's parliamentary visits to our defence units and establishments.

A number of us were privileged recently to visit HMS "Montrose" in exercises at sea off Plymouth during her shake-down for her operational tour to the South Atlantic and to take up guardship duties in the West Indies, presumably to relieve HMS "Liverpool" which I believe is there already, as the noble Earl, Lord Effingham, said. I pay tribute to the very high quality and dedication to duty of that mix-manned ship's company. It is clear that we are now reaping the rewards of more than a decade of forward-looking investments in equipment, training and smart procurement, originally master-minded by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Levene, and his successor, Malcolm McIntosh, who is now back in Australia. If the Government can make procurement smarter than it is already—and I believe that there are US techniques available for doing that which are already being employed—I welcome that. However, I hope that the UK industry remains competitive.

HMS "Montrose" is an efficient and happy ship and a great credit to—dare I say it in the presence of noble and gallant Lords from the RAF and the Army?—the Senior Service.

The defence industrial base now responds competitively and rapidly to the requirements of the Armed Forces and provides through-life support for its products. The gap between supply and support has narrowed and while industry gets closer to the front line, the reserve forces increasingly populate industry. I am glad to see that there are some 5,000 firms supporting the Territorial Army. Clearly, the right balance must be struck between in-house self-sufficiency in the field and contracting out, but I hope that defence strategy will continue to develop support services so that industry's role can be perfected.

My own experience in the Trident field, which was very much allied to that of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has convinced me that the problem is not how much should be contracted out to get better value for money, but what is the additional cost of contracting services in when the design, supply and refit expertise of these platforms and weapons in Trident lies almost wholly in the hands of industry. What we can pride ourselves most about is the fact that the underwater warfare capability of the Royal Navy has reached unprecedented levels of fighting efficiency and must stay that way. As I understand it, the new generation Astute class will never need refuelling during its lifetime—that, of course, raises a policy-making issue—and I hope the strategy for submarines (and they are all nuclear now) will continue to be industry led.

I believe that the successes at Faslane for industry were readily acknowledged by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the submarine Syncrolift designed and supplied by a Rolls-Royce subsidiary is a world winner. The largest one first installed at San Pedro, California has been sold to a Malaysian company, enlarged, reinstalled at Johore to lift 24,000 metric tonnes—and that is very large indeed—and was commissioned last April. It is a remarkable export with no export licensing hang-ups. Nevertheless, I welcome the Government's efforts to encourage defence exports. I hope that they will continue to do so.

If we look ahead to the new generation of nukes, I hope that the Government will be open about whether they should be designed for mixed manning. If any public consensus is needed on defence issues, it is surely needed most of all on this issue where men and women might be shut up in a submarine on patrol, going round the world for months on end. It is a very important issue.

I move on now to the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, which masterminds the mix of investments needed in defence concepts, feasibility, demonstrators, project definition and trials. Its remit is to harness science and technology to defence. I really do not see how the agency can profitably turn its efforts into the reverse direction to spin off ideas when it is geared to spinning them in. Previous attempts to do so through defence technology enterprises (DTE) did not thrive as there was no market for cast-off technology.

If the KONVER programme—the Commission's in Brussels—is already feeding diversification money into UK industry, then it might make sense to suck these grants into the UK via DERA, which is best placed to formulate projects based on disseminating its skills. The DERA already competes for commission contracts in the R&D framework programme, but if it succeeds it will have to spread the results to other EU member states and that does not help to strengthen the UK industrial base. KONVER (1) grants to the UK in 1993 totalled some £18 million, and KONVER (2) grants in the current round are £113 million. So I wonder why we need a diversification agency. If the Government want to build on the activities of DERA, why not let it mastermind some of the projects for KONVER grants as it is well placed, as the largest contract research organisation in the UK, to win work from the Commission and thus spread its skills exclusively into UK firms looking for diversification. I shall not say any more, but I look forward very much to reading the Green Paper when it is published.

I turn now to Gulf War illness, which is causing increasing concern to the MoD and the National Health Service. I do not know what the numbers are or what the balance is between service and ex-service sufferers, but my guess is that the number of ex-service sufferers is growing thus bringing special treatment needs. I welcome the Government's emphasis on helping the veterans.

Speaking from personal experience in another field, where women receiving radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer were injured, the Department of Health commissioned a report to make an assessment of the optimum management of sufferers and the current availability of specialist services for such management. All interested parties, including patient advocates, were brought round the table under the chairmanship of a very determined consultant (Dr. Jane Maher) to knock heads together. The outcome of the report was that clinical oncologists were identified at all NHS regional centres to whom GPs could refer sufferers for special treatment of the delayed onset of devastating adverse cumulative effects.

I hold up the report—Management of adverse effects following breast radiotherapy—for noble Lords to see. Although I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, took the hint from the noble Countess, Lady Mar, in her Starred Question on Monday 3rd November, he did not go far enough. Can the Minister give the House an undertaking that he will examine the needs of the Gulf War illness sufferers with Sir Kenneth Calman, the Chief Medical Officer, to find a way of commissioning a report on the management of adverse effects following immunisation treatment against chemical warfare agents? I am not trying to put words into the noble Lord's mouth, but the adverse effects have delayed onset and are cumulative and very debilitating. I am sure that the noble Lord would have the support of all sides of the House for taking such action.

As I have been so closely connected with aspects of Trident, I shall indulge in some speculation. What has changed in the last decade is the accuracy of weapons, which has increased so dramatically that it may be possible some time in the future to look at deterrence in a different way. Whereas, in the past, the explosive power made up for lack of accuracy, we now see in the extreme that the US Brilliant Pebbles project relies on using the kinetic energy of a projectile and absolute accuracy to destroy ballistic missiles in flight. As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, ballistic missile defence is still permitted; there is no treaty in force to prevent it.

However, while the long-range nuclear deterrent capability remains in Russia, I believe that we cannot afford to lower our guard. We now have the combined strategic and substrategic nuclear deterrent, but we must be very cautious about how and when we trade away our deterrent strength. I hope that the strategic defence review will not be flawed by concluding that because we have relegated the Cold War mind-set to the past, we assume that the Russians have, too. Like the IRA, they keep their weapons just in case. We cannot relax our deterrent strength until decommissioning is activated, verified and seen to have been completed.

6.39 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, I should like to say a few words about the Eurofighter programme, but before I do so perhaps I may also express my welcome for the opportunity which this debate has given us to cover a wide range of issues. In his opening remarks the Minister made reference to the large commitment which the Armed Forces still have in Northern Ireland. Yet within the next six months we hope that there may be an agreed solution to Northern Ireland—in which case, one hopes, the large numbers of forces devoted to supporting the civil power can be reduced. I should like to be assured that there is no chance whatever that, should that commitment be reduced, there will be a subsequent call to reduce the size of the front line; or, indeed, that the spin-doctors might point out that it has been possible to reduce the serious undermanning because of any reduction made in that way.

The knives are out once again to try to kill off Eurofighter. But many of its detractors display an unforgivable lack of understanding of the procurement process and of how air forces operate and have to do so within tight budgets. Eurofighter is a mega-cost programme. Overall it is even more expensive than Trident. Costs have risen. Critics like to blame these on technical problems and to infer that British industry is not up to the challenge of coping with the problems. The reality is that there have been major delays which have had nothing to do with the advanced technology, however demanding. Changes of national governments, the complexities of multinational collaboration, to say nothing of changes in the threat to this country and our allies have all had their impact on progress. It does no justice to the debate, or to the critics' case, to belittle and dismiss those factors. Each in a different way has been responsible for some of the perceived delay. I welcome any explanation from the Minister as to how SMART procurement procedures will be able to tackle those other kinds of problem.

Not for the first time in the life of this programme, and others before, has the assertion been made that buying United States aircraft would be cheaper and operationally better. But why should those who make such claims be allowed to ignore some of the ground rules of defence procurement? It is true that previous administrations, going back to the 1960s, have flirted with total reliance on the United States industry. We bought F4s, the Phantom, when TSR2 was scrapped. We bought, and continue to buy, Hercules transport airframes. We had no option but to buy the Chinook helicopter. But in the late 1970s, when the operational case favoured the purchase of Boeing's AWACS, the government of the day decided to adopt the Nimrod AEW solution. It proved unworkable at reasonable cost, and a switch to AWACS was forced after considerable delays and at greater costs overall.

Since then Cabinet level directions about the importance of European collaboration have pointed us towards the Tornado and now Eurofighter. The reasons, of course, are not far to seek. They are employment, technical competence, and some assurance, if committed to action on our own, that we could field operational forces. These are crucial arguments; we cannot just ignore them, and nor should the critics in reaching their views. Nevertheless the current thrust of the "Eurofighter is a white elephant" lobby is that we must switch horses to the United States Joint Strike Fighter, the JSF. But this case is full of holes. JSF is required, the critics now argue, because Eurofighter is too pedestrian. Only a year or so ago critics were saying that Eurofighter was too high performance for our post-Cold War needs and that we should settle for the less capable F18. The common thread joining these extreme views is the promotion of United States products. I offer no prizes for guessing the "who" or the "why" for that.

While every delay in the Eurofighter programme is added in, there is an implausible assumption that the yet to fly JSF programme will run to time. We have to think only about the serious delays being experienced in obtaining our new C130J transport aircraft from the States—a far less technologically demanding programme than JSF—to appreciate that the case for JSF is not being made on a level playing field. Even if JSF were to run no later than is now claimed, it could not be in Royal Air Force front-line service for the best part of a decade after the Eurofighter. To the already sunk cost in Eurofighter would be added both the fly-away cost of JSFs and a healthy levy to cover our share of the R&D and support costs. I seriously doubt, in comparing Eurofighter and JSF costs, that there could ever be any saving, except in terms of in which years the major expenditures fell.

Another favourite argument of the "knockers" is to claim that the programme, first conceived in the period of the Cold War, is now ill conceived because of the strategic changes in the threat. Further, it is claimed that no attempts have been made to review the operational need for the performance which Eurofighter will provide. Without such ridiculous assertions the critics have little on which to base their own wild ideas. Of course a programme of the size and cost of Eurofighter is reviewed and revalidated, and not by us alone but by all the countries involved.

All who are informed about air power agree the need for air superiority if joint operations are to be mounted successfully against air opposition. We cannot assume that our foe will not have acquired modern fighters or that he will pose no air threat to our ground forces. We hear and understand the arguments for a high intensity capability ably put by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, in his excellent maiden speech. But such ground forces are of little value without the air components which contribute to the joint overall capability, and for that we require not just superior aircrews and training but superior aircraft and weapons too.

Those who would ditch Eurofighter say that we could let others provide our air superiority—by "others", they can mean only the United States. But as in the early stages of the Bosnian tragedy, and perhaps elsewhere in the future, our two governments will not always agree about the actions to stem the crisis. No British government are yet prepared to plead operational inadequacy as their reason for refusing to participate with United Nations or other international forces. I hope that they will never have a need to do so. It would not be in keeping with the Government's international outlook mentioned by the Minister in his opening remarks.

Eurofighter, with which I had a great deal to do to convince the Cabinet that it was the right decision a decade ago, is still the best possible option for the Royal Air Force and for the roles for which it was devised. The German Government's support reinforces our own decision to proceed with Eurofighter and to exclude it from the strategic defence review. The politico/military case for Eurofighter is as strong today as it was a decade ago during the Cold War.

I am delighted that it has proved possible to combine in one design the potential to dominate in air superiority and in those offensive support roles which are so critical to joint operations and to the overall joint capability of our forces. Such a combination brings great economies in training and support costs. Few of the criticisms I have read appear to give such factors any weight at all. Why does "knocking" copy emerge at specific points in the procurement decision-making process? That could make an interesting research study. The more vociferous the opposition and the more often it relies on innuendo and fabrication, the more confident I am that the case for Eurofighter has been made and tested by those who must find the money as well as by the Royal Air Force. The aircraft is performing extremely well in trials. Pilots—and I have spoken to some of the RAF pilots involved—are full of praise for the aircraft. They see it as a winner.

I believe that the Eurofighter will fly, operate and sell in a way which will confound its detractors. It is a real winner. It deserves this Government's strong continued support.

6.50 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, we all welcome the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, in his present position on the Government Front Bench. We wish the noble Lord and his right honourable friend the Secretary of State, well.

I should like to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on his moving and brilliant maiden speech. He makes me wish that we had more field marshals. I wish, too, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, on his brief and pertinent maiden speech. I agreed totally with it. I hope that we shall hear often from both noble Lords in future.

I expect it is a long time since some of your Lordships put your money into tins labelled church collection, presents, holiday money and sweeties. If you only had threepence or sixpence a week and one penny had to go into the church collection, it took a long time to fill some of the other tins, especially if you borrowed. The Treasury is in essence no different from one's pocket money. It is finite. There is only as much available as can be squeezed out of one's parents or the taxpayers' pockets.

Because this Government are failing to meet their manifesto commitments on health, more money is needed. So where do the Government look'? They look at defence. Although defence of the realm must always be of primary, indeed vital, importance to all governments—for without a realm to defend there would be nothing left to govern, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and my noble friend Lady Park said—in peacetime or when there appears to be less of a threat, that priority sometimes fails to be taken into account.

It is said that last year the Ministry of Defence overspent by £168 million and that therefore that money will have to be cut from current income. So, alas, the strategic defence review seems to me to be no different from Options for Change or any of the other defence reviews over the past 10 years. Nor does it even have the excuse of a peace dividend. Like all the others, it is a euphemism for cuts. I fervently hope that the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, and his right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be able to prevent the greedy tentacles of the Treasury from emptying the defence tin.

Our services are splendidly equipped. I support the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, on the urgent need for the Eurofighter. All our airmen are waiting for it with bated breath. I hope that we shall have it as soon as possible. We have a great deal of very good kit. I am glad that the Minister made reference to the shortage of spares about which he so courteously wrote to me. But how different are the engine rooms of ships now to those in which my aunt worked, as I reflected when the defence study group visited HMS "Montrose" last week. There were banks of computers, but no stokers, firemen or trimmers with harrows. As, in simulated warfare conditions, we watched young men and women of an average age of 20 climb down ladders in the near dark to stem a leak or dash into a chamber filled with choking smoke to extinguish a fire, we were, as always with our services, impressed by their courage, high level of training and dedication. When we had coffee with some of the young rates later in their mess, without any officers present, we asked them what their complaints were. They had none. That says much for their officers and for the morale of the whole ship.

The defence study group has been lucky enough to meet personnel of all our three services in all sorts of places. We have always been impressed by their dedication, their professionalism, their high morale and their courage. This weekend I shall march with the war widows and the Royal British Legion at the Cenotaph to honour all our British men and women who gave their lives in the service of their country. This Saturday and Sunday, Remembrance weekend, and indeed the 11th November, when, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the heart of our nation stands still, are proud and emotional times for us all. They did not fail us. I hope that we shall not fail their successors.

6.56 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, the traditional congratulations to the Front Bench and to maiden speakers are sometimes simply traditional. On this occasion they need not be so perfunctory. I found the speeches interesting. It is not entirely untrue to say that we hope to hear from the maiden speakers again. I shall have something further to say about the speech of my noble friend Lord Gilbert in a moment. Nevertheless, he was up to his usual form. He is always engaged in his subject. I did not disagree with much of his speech. But what struck me about the debate is the massive lacuna: the most important issue in the world has been entirely omitted. Some noble Lords do not even know that it exists.

I wish to point to a couple of issues in that connection. The General Assembly of the United Nations is wholly opposed to the nuclear weapon. There is a conflict between the Security Council, on the one hand, which consists largely of nuclear weapon owning countries, including ourselves, and the General Assembly, which consists largely of members who do not have them. Unless we are prepared to take more seriously the elimination of the nuclear weapon, those members will be keen to get hold of the weapon that we apparently hold so dear.

Putting that lacuna to one side, it has been an interesting and important debate. I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, in regretting the absence of more field marshals, in particular the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. As a member of the Canberra Commission, he supported the Government's position—although until now we would not have known it was the Government's position. But that is the Government's position: they want to eliminate the nuclear weapon. We have not heard that from anyone yet. All we have heard is that we shall hang on to Trident. But Trident, too, will have to go, however much my noble friend is in love with it. If we achieve general elimination, as I sincerely hope we shall, Trident will have to go.

As my noble friend said, the debate is on the Strategic Defence Review. I made a couple of contributions to the review. One was as a member of a group consisting mainly of Labour Members of Parliament who made a collective demarche. Noble Lords who are interested might like to dig out that document from the massive contributions that are in the cellars of the Library. All the contributions to the defence review under the Government's commendable open policy are available to us and will, I believe, shortly be available to the public as well.

I also wish to make a personal contribution, for which perhaps I may be forgiven since personal matters have been mentioned by one or two other speakers tonight. I begin with a summary of what I said to the defence review in this way. At the end of the war in Europe, as a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force, I was posted to south-east Asia command and to an operations unit in Rangoon. When I arrived in Bombay on my way to Rangoon, on the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, after the initial rejoicing was over I came to see the deed as a war crime of holocaust magnitude and my view has not changed.

The nature of war changed during the last war. It is no longer a war between armies primarily; it is also a war fought by armed personnel, armies, against civilians. At the beginning of the war our belief in the preservation of the distinction between civilians and armed personnel was absolute. I remember that a little booklet was circulated among commissioned people in all the forces pointing it out and saying that the distinction had to be preserved. By the end of the war, possibly instigated by the Germans, we were blockbusting. If noble Lords imagine that the blocks were all filled with men, they are entirely mistaken. They were mostly women and children because the men were in the armies and so on. We set fire to German towns, we burnt out women and children.

The major distinction between the situation at the beginning of the war and the end was exemplified in Hiroshima when we deliberately destroyed men, women and children, non-combatants, in that town. That is a reversion to barbarism and something ought to be said about it in any defence debate. There was a reason for the old-fashioned rules of war which we have discarded: it was that we wanted to preserve the world and people. If we revert to barbarism and massively kill civilians, we shall ultimately destroy ourselves. After the initial rejoicing was over on 6th August 1945, I came to see that deed as a mark of a deterioration in mankind's behaviour to man which, if not arrested, would finish us all.

Enough of that. All I need add is that ever since I have done my best to advocate nuclear disarmament. Since I became a peer in 1981, I have strained the tolerance of the House—as no doubt I am doing now—by raising the subject constantly. I shall continue to do so as long as I have the strength.

Some progress has been made since the end of the Cold War. The nuclear weapon was once lauded; now it has few friends, one or two here tonight. The previous government must be credited with rationalising the situation in this country by concentrating the so-called deterrent in the Trident fleet. Members of that Government might not object to their position being described as changing in the 18 years from enthusiastic support of the nuclear weapon to reluctant retention. I hope I am right in thinking that one or two of them, if not most of them, feel that to be the position.

That is part of a world change of view during which distinguished military leaders in many countries have reached the conclusion that the nuclear weapon must be eliminated before it eliminates our civilisation.

I am glad to be able to say that the new Government have made further progress, exemplified by the following Written Answer from my noble friend Lady Symons, who is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office and thus the spokesman in this Chamber. On 11th June this year, at col. WA 81 of Hansard, in answer to my Question she said: We strongly support the goal of the global elimination of nuclear weapons. We believe that adequate verification and mutual and balanced reductions are necessary elements in that process. We remain to be convinced, therefore, of the wisdom of a pre-set timetable for nuclear disarmament". On reflection, I am not sure that it would be a good idea to regard a "pre-set timetable" as essential. It is certainly beyond the power of any single government to guarantee it. On the other hand, a timetable in the sense of a considered aspiration, rather like the railways since privatisation, is certainly necessary in this context.

Non-nuclear powers must be able to hope that the move towards elimination is serious if they are to cease seeking to become nuclear powers themselves. Perhaps the best way to achieve that might be to announce in the Strategic Defence Review the intention to seek a meeting of the five declared nuclear powers for the purpose of agreeing a common elimination policy and first steps towards its fulfilment, as recommended by the Canberra Commission. Otherwise, it may be curtains for all our hopes.

7.7 p.m.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, it has been my privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, on many occasions in defence debates over the past 16 or 17 years. I do not know why. It is not my intention to take him on because I have many other, more important, matters to talk about. I suggest to him that there were very good answers in the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and my noble friends Lord Trefgarne and Lord Ironside. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, might care to read them; he may find that some of his comments would not be helpful in preventing war. The point about warlike equipment of all kinds, including nuclear armaments, is that they should deter people from attacking when they otherwise might. In a sense, use of weapons is mainly to prevent war, but those weapons must be good enough to enable you to fight, if you have to. It is as simple as that.

I thank the Minister for this debate, which gives us a further opportunity to contribute to the defence review, following our debate on 2nd July initiated by my noble friend Lord Vivian and after an exchange of letters with the Minister during the rest of that month which I much appreciated.

I do not have much to add to my letter of 15th July, which I emphatically endorse. For the benefit of this debate I repeat briefly that I emphasised the need for the retention of a balanced fleet for major operations. That is because we have a greater need for a navy of adequate size and quality than most other major powers. Something like 80 per cent. of our trade is by sea; we have a need to safeguard our world-wide dependencies, and we have treaty obligations more widely spread than any other nation except perhaps America. To that end we also need land and shore-based air forces of adequate size and quality to complement our Navy in joint operations, as well as providing for the defence of the United Kingdom and continuing operations such as those NATO is conducting in Bosnia.

Our most important contribution to the rest of the world is the maintenance of peace. We do that through our contribution to deterrence and operations with three armed services of the very highest quality. We still do that, notwithstanding the fact that, sadly, my friends in the last government reduced those forces to their lowest manpower levels since 1934, as the Minister mentioned in his speech. Even allowing for the increased efficiency in men and materials since the 1930s, that must be the last time that our forces are reduced. We must now only consider strengthening those forces both for our own benefit and for the benefit of the world at large.

Those who would put a gloss on looking after other people instead of just ourselves must consider that our Armed Forces are of the highest order in the world and better than any other, notwithstanding the difficulties under which they operate. It is the best contribution that we can make, and where our skills really lie, that we use them to the benefit of the world at large.

Careful study of the speeches of the Secretary of State for Defence and other defence Ministers in the Commons defence debate on the 27th and 28th October, complemented by the speech of the Minister in this House today, gives one hope that this Government thoroughly appreciate the need for armed forces of the sort I described. It will however require great resolution on behalf of all Ministers—not just defence Ministers, but the Prime Minister and all below him—because of other demands on national resources to which many noble Lords referred. Important it is and vital it is for the defence of this country and the safety of the world at large.

The Secretary of State for Defence said at col. 619 on 26th October—the Minister said the same in a slightly different way—that the Ministry of Defence assessment is that we are likely to be most directly involved in defence problems in Europe, the Gulf or the Mediterranean. That may well be the case now and perhaps for the next 10 or even 20 years. I noted that the Minister set a timescale of 20 years on this review so that may be relevant.

It may not always be so. For instance, one can foresee that in the middle of the next century China may be the threatening force. Perhaps it may subordinate Indonesia and threaten directly Papua New Guinea and Australia. By that time perhaps Australia may have distressed some of us by becoming a republic, but it is highly unlikely to have left the Commonwealth.

Although, in answer to a question at col. 610 on 27th October the Secretary of State for Defence said that the Commonwealth is not an institution with a defence dimension, I cannot believe that the people of this country would ever wish to desert a Commonwealth country threatened by external aggression. Surely, even in 2040 or 2050 many good, solid British citizens will have heard of the immediate and splendid response to our call for assistance by the Australians and New Zealanders in both the First and Second World Wars. Whatever happens, we must always be ready to repay that debt.

Assistance to those countries and New Guinea, if relevant, will almost certainly be spearheaded by the Royal Navy. The ships, submarines and aircraft required for the Navy at that time must be provided long before the date of the unexpected conflict. That relates back to the 20 years that the Minister put on the review that we are now considering. As he agreed when we debated this matter last, it is a long timescale to keep the Armed Forces of the day properly provided for right into the future.

The Navy has the special value of being able to provide a deterrence force, wherever required in the world, and to build it up to the size required to show suitable aggressive intent. An example of that was in the summer of 1958 when the King of Iraq was murdered and the Iraqi revolutionary forces were suspected of wishing to invade Kuwait. The Far East Fleet was called upon to detach a carrier force to strengthen the deterrence provided by the land and air forces of the Middle East Command and, if need be, actively to defend Kuwait. The bulk of the Far East Fleet, including the carrier force, was visiting Japan at the time that happened. The destroyer which I commanded had just completed a work-up in Singapore. I was ordered to proceed with despatch to Bahrain. When there, the Commander-in-Chief East Indies Fleet, whose command I joined, showed clearly during the subsequent weeks that my ship was an advance element of a major force which arrived about five or six weeks later. Kuwait was not invaded.

I give that as a typical example of what the Navy can do to stabilise the instability mentioned by the Secretary of State for Defence in col. 610 on 27th October and repeated by the Minister in his speech today. He said that instability is the enemy that can threaten the peace and prosperity that we now enjoy. I agree with that assessment. Indeed, I trust that the Government will continue to have well-equipped, modern, capable Armed Forces, able to counter the problems that we are likely to encounter in the 21st century.

7.19 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble kinsman Lord Mottistone. If I can pick out one phrase of his excellent speech it is when he said that we must strengthen our Armed Forces for the good of the world. I entirely concur. If that means that we must spend more money on our Armed Forces after the defence review, then so be it. We must find cuts elsewhere.

I thank the Minister for introducing this debate and for something else as well. Since he has been representing his great department of state in this House I have received full, prompt and detailed Written Answers and private letters when I have asked questions which he has not answered in his place.

To my regret, although I was a serviceman for over 20 years, I never served in the noble Lord's department of state. I assure the noble Lord that I will keep my questions to a minimum. I hope we realise what stress the civilian staff and military servicemen in that department undergo in defence of this nation and what they do for us. They are very highly skilled and important people.

I enter the debate, like the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, with some trepidation. All around this Chamber are men with very great experience ranging over 30 or 40 years. My experience was half of that. I speak for this reason. In 1815 after the Napoleonic wars and also in 1918–19 after the First World War, we cut our defences and our Armed Forces. We said that the threat was over. We could do that then because we had the most powerful navy in the world. Now, of course, we do not have the most powerful navy and it is also necessary to consider the air dimension, the missile dimension and the nuclear dimension.

We have heard two very powerful maiden speeches. I salute the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. I declare an interest. I believe that I am the only Member of your Lordships' House who served under him in a headquarters—the headquarters of the Second Infantry Division, North-East District, in 1985 when he was the commander. He showed in his speech wisdom, clarity of thought and clear direction. One other quality also came through: humanity. As a serviceman, I wished and I expected that the senior officers under whom I served had humanity. The noble and gallant Lord, although he lives in the north of England, is Constable of the Tower of London, one of the most senior appointments that the sovereign can give. It is said of course that old soldiers never die: they just fade away. I hope that the noble and gallant Lord, having made his speech today, will not fade away from this House but that we shall hear him many times in the future not only on defence-related matters but on the other range of interests he has.

I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Renwick. The noble Lord is a mandarin from the Foreign Office. He says that we have a vital role to play in the expansion of NATO. I entirely agree. I was delighted to hear those remarks from a very distinguished member of the Foreign Office.

There is another tribute I should like to make and perhaps I can tell a brief story. Once I left the noble and gallant Lord's headquarters in York, I went to command an armoured car squadron on the inner German border south of Brunswick. In that squadron there were 100 soldiers of all ranks, ranging from myself as a major to troopers and craftsmen, and including the light aid detachment which belonged to my unit. I learnt with a certain amount of horror that all my officers, like myself, were unmarried. I discovered that the wife of my squadron sergeant major was in England where she stayed working at her full-time job, and so her husband was unaccompanied. It was the wife of a quartermaster sergeant who, over two years, looked after the wives and families of that sub-unit. Her task was unpaid. Of course there were staff assistants, welfare workers, chaplains and indeed doctors; but at the end of the two years she would take nothing, not even a small present, and I had to order her husband, the staff sergeant, to accept a present for both of them. The wife of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, did the same job as my staff sergeant's wife did for 40 years. We take our servicemen's wives and families too often for granted.

I have three points to make, and I will speak from the micro rather than the macro; first, as regards the married quarters, accommodation and welfare. I shall also talk about recruiting and military training teams. The noble Lord the Minister was not in his place on 11th July. There were probably 500 of your Lordships present in the House. It was what one could call a full House. And it was an electric debate—of a sort I hope we never have again. We were arguing about the married quarters; whether they should be sold, how they should be privatised. Whether or not we liked the decision, it was taken and we must look forward. Thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, we have heard all three service chiefs in the last two months address the parliamentary all-party group. We questioned those gallant and distinguished officers about married quarters. It would appear that the jury is still out. I informed the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who is not in his place, that I was going to quote from his speech on 11th July. He said: From the sale proceeds we shall have an extra £100 million (ring-fenced) to enable us to get on with the upgrading exercise as we would wish to do".—[Official Report, 11/7/96; col. 470] I understand that only 25 per cent. has been spent on refurbishing accommodation. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will inform us by what date he expects the £100 million to have been spent and whether he is satisfied that our servicemen are also satisfied with the condition of the married quarters. If we do not put that matter right and our servicemen vote with their feet, all that we have discussed about the macro side will not come to fruition.

On recruiting, we learn that the services are about 10,000 short. I shall concentrate on the Army and remind your Lordships of a remark made in 1945, an exhortation by that great Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, to the miners: If you produce one more ton of coal each I will give you a better foreign policy". I expect that the chiefs of staff will be saying to the Minister, "If you can produce another 5,000 soldiers, pay for them and bring us up to full strength, we will give you a better defence policy". Perhaps the noble Lord will tell us how the recruiting measures are working.

I wish to refer to military training teams. I have had the good fortune to live in eastern Europe—the Baltic States—at a very interesting time. The military training teams are worth their weight in gold. We have been told that we have one of the best armies in the world. That is correct, but it does not go far enough. The Finns and the Swedes, when they see the work of our military training teams, say that we have the best army in the world. It would appear that we do not have sufficient training teams in eastern Europe. The Minister informed me by letter that in 1998 we shall have six individual officers and 10 short term training teams. I hope that he can give a projection of what he would like to see deployed in the former Soviet occupied nations of eastern and central Europe.

Before I conclude, I wish to tell your Lordships a tale. As a second lieutenant I was encouraged to join the Royal United Services Institute. I needed no encouragement. I recall the final sentences of a speech by a Norwegian officer, General Gunderson, who was chairman of the NATO committee. He said: No free and independent democratic nation has ever regretted spending quite a lot more money on defence than it can afford when it has seen the results of what has happened to those countries which have neglected their defence forces". I hope that the Minister and his colleagues will bear General Gunderson's remarks in mind during their most important and necessary strategic defence review.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for long but I want to say a few words about defence procurement. I was interested that the Minister mentioned this subject in his opening speech.

I think that I am a fairly broad minded chap, and normally when I see the headline in a paper "MoD wastes billions", I do not get too excited about it. However, I was shuffling through my papers at the weekend trying to find something original and constructive to say and my eye fell on the Sunday Telegraph of 10th August 1997. The headline was "MoD wastes billions in buying blunders". I wish to share a little of the article with your Lordships. It says: Brigadier Bill Kincaid, the MoD's former Director of Operational Requirements (Land), says that massive bureaucratic duplication, lack of financial accountability and an often mediocre staff without the necessary expertise or experience is costing the taxpayer billions in mismanagement. 'In terms of bureaucratic overheads, we are still living as we were at the height of the Cold War,' he said. 'The procurement budget is £9 billion a year and we waste £2 billion of it' … 'I cannot think of a single project I have ever known that came in on time". The article continues: decisions are taken in triplicate—or even quadruplicate—by a plethora of scrutiny committees, each with up to 100 members. This means that massive amounts of paper work are generated at every stage. 'No one is accountable for his decisions—some people have power without responsibility, and others have responsibility without power'". Noble Lords will have heard that catalogue of disasters and will judge the information for themselves. Can the Minister confirm that the report is not too accurate—I am aware that some press reports can be far from accurate—and can he tell the House in the clearest possible terms what action the Ministry of Defence has taken to make sure that the situation is not continuing and will not recur in the future? The article was written three months ago and so there should have been plenty of time to sort things out.

Under the heading "Catalogue of failings", the article also says: Some staff were seriously underworked, with one wing-commander finishing his day's work by 10 am". I thought that 10 a.m. was pushing it a little. I know, having worked in the Ministry of Defence, that "morning stand easy", which is when a cup of coffee comes round—probably without sugar and without milk, as these are stringent days—is usually at about 10.30 a.m. So for this Wing Commander to have left at 10 is really moving things. When I first read it I thought that it must have been 10 p.m., which is more the experience that I had when I was there. But no, it was 10 a.m. So that gives one a gauge of what might have been going on. I seriously hope that the article is inaccurate.

I want to say a few brief words about the Royal Yacht. I apologise in a way for bringing up the Royal Yacht in a defence debate, but the Ministry of Defence is the lead department dealing with the Royal Yacht. However, I have a great sympathy with the Ministry of Defence because I do not believe that the Royal Yacht should be on its budget at all.

I declare an interest. I speak as the chairman of the All Party Royal Yacht Parliamentary Group. I wish to express gratitude to the Minister. He has been extremely helpful and courteous. The gracious way in which he has answered our questions has been very much appreciated by the group. We are extremely grateful for that.

The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, who has recently joined your Lordships' House from another place, handed me a letter which he received from one of his former constituents in Wales. I should like to share the letter with the House. I do so in the light of the sad decision taken by the Government on 10th October to the effect that we shall have no Royal Yacht in the future. My group regards that decision as both ill-judged and short sighted: ill-judged, because of the prestige the yacht provides for the British nation around the world, not to mention the boost she gives to British exports and the stimulus she gives for inward investment; and short sighted, because a new yacht would last for 50 to 60 years, so that the on-going effect would be considerable.

The letter is signed by a Marina Davies, who signs herself "British housewife". It reads as follows: Dear Sir, I am writing to voice my disgust at the decision to withdraw the 'ROYAL YACHT BRITANNIA' from service, by the 'FACELESS BUREAUCRATS' AND 'ENEMIES WITHIN'. I have been one of the 'SILENT MAJORITY' who has sat back and viewed this from afar, expecting someone else to do something; to stop the demise of our traditions and the things we hold dear. What else is to be discarded before we become grey, boring 'EUROPEANS'? I fear for the 'ROYAL FAMILY'. The Queen has had taken from her 'THE ROYAL TRAIN', 'THE QUEEN'S FLIGHT', 'THE KING'S TROOP', 'SCOTLAND' and 'WALES' and now 'THE ROYAL YACHT'. The letter continues: Enough is enough". Some noble Lords listening make quibble with the Queen losing Scotland and Wales. She has not quite lost Scotland and Wales yet, I hope, but the thrust of the letter will be clear to everyone in the House. I must confess that I agree with the thrust of the letter. It is sad that we are in this position. In our opinion the Royal yacht should be a flagship for Britain and a symbol of British excellence. That is how we see her. It is a tremendous shame for the country as a whole that she is not being replaced.

I have only one further point to make and it refers yet again to the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. When he spoke about morale he mentioned ethos. Ethos is a curious thing and not generally spoken about in your Lordships' House. It is a complex matter and it has a spiritual dimension. I agree with the noble and gallant Lord that ethos is very important for long-term morale. But it does not affect only the Navy, Army and the Air Force because ethos affects the whole nation. So it is very important indeed. Whether we know it or not, each of us is made up of body, mind and spirit. By and large we expend terrific effort on our bodies: we preen them; we go to the gymnasium. I see that the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, is sitting on the steps of the Throne. He runs here every morning in trying to get himself in good shape. It is good to see him here. We take great trouble with our bodies. We take some account of our minds, but not a great amount. We go to concerts; we listen to talks and take part in erudite debates as we are doing now. By and large, we take no account at all of our spirit and spiritual life. If noble Lords can imagine the three legs of a stool that one is sitting on, one can see that it is distinctly wobbly.

My message is that ethos—a spiritual dimension to all our lives—is extremely important and that includes the services. It is worth making that point because my own spiritual life was at rock bottom when I was in the Navy for over 20 years. It did not exist.

Lord Mottistone

What a shame!

Lord Ashbourne

The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, says, "What a shame". It was a shame. Twenty years is a big slice out of one's life. It was not until I lurched into the jungle of the City that I stumbled into a church very shortly after leaving the Navy and the penny dropped. I support the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, and congratulate him on raising this rather unusual but very important ethical dimension for the services. I have said enough.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I point out to him that the King's Troop, which is mentioned in the letter that he quoted, still exists. It is dead worried, but it still exists.

7.43 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, I certainly found the noble Lord's comment about a wobbly stool of interest. I also noted his support for the comments made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, about ethos. I hope to make reference to that in my speech.

I shall try not to detain the House too long. I am conscious of the great expertise of noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I wish to make a number of comments as regards the future arrangements for European security and to reflect my interest in the Royal Air Force.

There are varying degrees of enthusiasm for the second pillar for the development of the common foreign and security policy in Europe. The most enthusiastic countries seem to be those which are unlikely to be able at this time to make meaningful contribution to European security and defence. Their record may suggest that they have not made much of a contribution in the exercise of international authority nor that they are capable of doing so in the service of the alliance of which they are a part.

For many years, and until a few weeks ago, I was heavily involved in the Council of Europe and Western European Union parliamentary assemblies. Both of them are ill-reported but they serve essential roles. The Council of Europe proved to be the agency and mechanism by which the transformation of Europe politically was achieved. The Western European Union is the only European defence organisation. It is a modest organisation and perhaps too easily satisfied and content to be ill-regarded or ill-rewarded. But it is certainly to be hoped that it does not disappear rapidly in order to facilitate the transfer of defence responsibility to Brussels at this stage. I am not suggesting that the second pillar is undesirable, because it is desirable. It must have adequate defence capacity if Europe is to make a proper contribution to any pretence of independence from the umbrella of the United States.

Over the years I have found that the existence of the WEU, while essential, was often infuriating. I was reminded of that just after the Gulf War when we received at the assembly an excessively triumphalist report. It was odiously triumphalist. It attracted a long list of speakers. I believe that I was the last speaker. I could not refrain from pointing out that many member states had sent more parliamentarians to speak in the debate than personnel to contribute to the victory they were odiously triumphalist about. Indeed, my caution was justified when one considered what happened in north and south Iraq immediately after the conflict and the critical situation which still exists as a result of the maintenance of the Saddam Hussein regime.

We were equally dissatisfied—I believe that this applied to the Conservative as well as the Labour Members of the delegation—when we considered the blockade in seeking to enforce the arms embargo in former Yugoslavia. The Royal Navy was zealously and effectively conducting the embargo at sea, while British parliamentarians saw for themselves wholesale breaches of the embargo on land. Members from both sides of our delegation raised this matter with the chairman of the Council of Ministers, who was the then Italian Foreign Secretary. He agreed that there was wholesale evasion and that the Council of Ministers possessed a great deal of information about it but told us that it would remain confidential. It was a pity that the British Government at that time allowed it to be confidential. Our sailors, effecting the blockade at sea, must have rejoiced at that!

Then came the question of the need to provide military personnel in support of the peacekeeping role in former Yugoslavia. When we looked at the contributions offered by the member states we found that a majority were prepared to make contributions of stretcher bearers and traffic policemen but not to send combat personnel. But they were happy for Britain and France to fulfil that role. We did not feel that that was acceptable.

It meant that barbarism and horror continued for far longer than was necessary. The worst problem and conflict in Europe for half a century went on longer than it need have done. That horror may now have stopped but it did not come to at least a temporary conclusion until a greater resolution was shown and the United States was involved. One of the reasons why it stopped was the use of air power.

In his remarks the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, made reference to the precision with which weapons can now be used. Those noble Lords who attended the last presentation of the Royal Air Force in the Grand Committee Room around March of this year were able to see for themselves that significant development. We saw film of precise targets being clinically destroyed without collateral damage or casualties. It is a very significant development indeed. It is one which those of us who recognise the horror of war might welcome. If one can teach politicians lessons without killing people, it is a very desirable development.

Four years ago I was asked to prepare a report for the WEU Assembly on the capabilities of western European air forces. I embarked on that report—I did the work myself—and when it was completed I felt that my principal recommendation should be that there should be a follow-up report which should commence in not less than two years. The reason for that recommendation was that I discovered far more inadequacies than I had expected. As I do not want to speak for too long, I shall mention only a few.

There was a marked lack of combat and strike all-weather capacity; a marked lack of marine patrol aircraft; and there were inadequacies in intelligence gathering in reconnaissance and in air-to-air refuelling. There was an astonishing inadequacy in capacity to fulfil the logistic role because most member states would rely on other people's civil aircraft, yet that is not an intelligent approach if one is to move forces into hostile environments or rugged terrain. There was certainly cause for concern about the number of flying hours allowed to air crew in most member states. Some aircraft were obsolete. That is not surprising because if aircraft do not fly they will last rather longer. But it did not provide much reassurance about the capacity of western Europe's air forces which were content—or rather, their governments were content—to rest for ever under the United States umbrella. That is why I suggested that there should be a follow-up report.

However, one air force stood out—our own. Flying hours in Royal Air Force squadrons were far higher than those of our partner states. The RAF continued to bear astonishing commitments, despite contractions—and they were all the more astonishing given the size to which the air force has shrunk.

Last year it was time to start to prepare for that follow-up report, so I tabled a question to the chairman of the Council of Ministers. It took a while to get a response, which was that the information required was now confidential. I asked the new chairman of the Council of Ministers earlier this year at a meeting in Paris whether the council was prepared to give information in order to allow comparisons to be made with the 1994 report. The answer was no. I asked Mr. Cutileiro, the Secretary General of the WEU, whether the Secretary General's office could secure that information and the answer was that the only information that the WEU could obtain was that relating to the forces which had been directly allocated to the WEU. That is grossly unsatisfactory.

That means that rather than there being an attempt to contribute properly to European security, there was instead an attempt to hide behind inadequacy and to be content to rely on the United Kingdom and the Royal Air Force to bear the burdens. Indeed, burdens have to be borne because Europe has to have the capacity to respond when a response is needed.

I believe that the previous government were woefully weak and woefully inadequate in their response to that approach. I hope that our present Administration will take a more realistic view. If they are to conduct a defence review—I believe that it is right to do so—they must include in that review our relationship with our partners and the contribution that we can fairly ask them to make. One of the reasons that our partners want to see a common foreign and security policy is that many of them recognise that the European defence industry has to change. It has to match the enormous changes that have taken place in the United States with the Boeing and Lockheed mergers. We have to see a consolidation in European defence. They want their share of the loot and it is important that the United Kingdom, which has been bearing the burden for a very long time, does not lose out commercially.

As I have said, I do not want to speak for too long, and my final point relates to ethos. I was rather angry a few years ago when I suspected, as did other Members of the other place, that rather unfavourable comments about the Royal Air Force had been planted from the political offices of the Ministry of Defence. On several occasions, there emanated leaks which compared the Royal Air Force, to its disadvantage, with the Israeli Air Force, without any attempt being made to demonstrate that the Israeli Air Force operates within very much narrower terms of reference and flies in a rather more cordial climate than that to which the Royal Air Force must be accustomed. That seemed to me to be mischievous.

Then came the Bomber Hams memorial event and then came the public comment following the anniversary of the Dresden air raid of early 1945. Each time there was severe public derision (almost) of the Royal Air Force and a belittling of the sacrifice which the RAF made in the Second World War. Given that this debate is being held just before Armistice Sunday, it is appropriate to make these points. We cannot expect the leaders of the services to adopt a political role. If their services need to be defended in a political and public context, it is for Ministers of the Crown, elected to bear that responsibility, to defend the services for which they have responsibility. However, we saw no response from Ministers of the Crown when the Air Force was held up to derision by ridiculous historic analysis. The Dresden air raid was awful, but at the time it took place—and it took place under political instruction—the concentration camp ovens were still operating, German children aged 13 were being equipped to shoot at the advancing allied forces and the dust had scarcely settled from the explosions of the V2 missiles in the south-east of England.

That is why the criticism of the role of Bomber Command in the Second World War, as was repeatedly allowed with a ministerial squeak from the last Administration, was an outrage. For about four years, Bomber Command was the only major offensive from the West in the Second World War. Had those operations not taken place, had not bomber crews flown night after night, the German aircraft industry would not have been producing fighter aircraft to respond to the allied operations and Bomber Command's sacrifice; it would have produced hundreds or thousands of bombers and the House will understand the targets that those aircraft would reach. Not only that—Bomber Command ensured that at least 1 million German soldiers and at least 100,000 German guns were retained in Germany. If Bomber Command had not flown, would the Normandy invasion have been certain of success?

That is history, but it is the sort of thing to which the noble and gallant Lord, Field-Marshal Lord Inge, was referring when he talked about ethos. Ethos is important. As I am sure that my right honourable and noble friends will recognise, ethos has to be maintained. It was scarcely maintained by the previous government when servicemen, such as RAF aircrew and those in the advanced engineering formations, spent vast proportions of their time leaving their families behind in married quarters—and the particular interest the previous government showed in married quarters was in how quickly they could flog them off and for how much. I hope that we shall not see the same approach from my right honourable and noble friends. I do not think that we will.

The review is necessary. It has to be realistic, but it has to grasp the history, reality and ethos in a way which the previous administration found impossible.

8 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, I thank the Minister for allowing this important debate to take place and to take forward the views of this House on the Strategic Defence Review (SDR). Like many others, my first military experience was through the Combined Cadet Force (CCF). The CCF, the ATC and the ACF have always been an important part of military recruiting. The figures show that 49 per cent. of all Army officers, 26 per cent. of all naval and air force officers, 20 per cent. of soldiers and 24 per cent. of airmen have received cadet training. Although no statistics are available, I believe that experienced cadets tend to be better recruits. It is important to catch young people at an early age, for once they have decided on a career and started on the road to their careers they are lost to the Armed Forces. That point was made at a meeting earlier this week with the Chief of the General Staff which some of us were fortunate to attend. At a time when the Army finds it difficult to recruit and to attract good quality recruits surely we must continue to nurture this pool of high calibre people. I should be interested to find out whether the ethnic minorities are properly represented in the cadet forces. If that is so, it may go a long way to solving the problem of underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the Armed Forces at a later date. Can the Minister inform the House whether the CCF, AFC and the ATC are covered by the SDR?

Today, the British Armed Forces are much smaller than those in which I served in the 1970s. Defence spending now stands at 2.7 per cent. of GNP, which is the lowest level since the mid-1930s. The professionalism and dedication of the Armed Forces is now superb, if not better than in the 1970s, and British forces are presently held in as great if not greater esteem by the world. It is we who demand that our forces have great professionalism and dedication; it is we who demand greater performance from our forces than virtually any other country in the world. At present 28 per cent. of our forces are on tour, preparing for a tour or are recovering from a tour. That places great pressure particularly on the senior ranks and their retention. They are the backbone of our Armed Forces. Their families are equally important, as the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, has already said.

We demand of our troops the ultimate: to give their lives in the line of duty if necessary. Therefore, one would expect the Government to treat the Armed Forces with respect and care, attempting always to maintain their high morale. So, why has the Treasury used the gimmick of fining our Armed Forces £168 million? I hope that the Minister will not try to persuade the House that that fine is due to the MoD's overspending of last year's budget and thus lay the blame on the previous government. If he does so, can he say whether other overspending government departments are to be fined? This fine appears to be more about Treasury spending priorities than anything else. One wonders whether the Government will be able to conduct the SDR, which is meant to be policy led, for it appears that the Treasury is in the driving seat and the SDR will be resource driven.

Further, can the Minister confirm that the Treasury will reimburse the MoD for the cost of the UK's peace implementation force in Bosnia from the Treasury contingency reserve in the current year? With a £168 million so-called fine and no reimbursement for Bosnia, the MoD will have lost nearly 2 per cent. of its budget this year. In addition, in his speech at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies (RUSI) the Secretary of State for Defence stated that the Government were committed to finding a further 3 per cent. saving on defence spending. That could result in a 5 per cent. loss of the MoD budget, or greater if it is to be fined again.

The task of deciding upon the strength of the Armed Forces has historically proved to be most difficult. Many of the recent conflicts since the Second World War in which our troops have fought such as Korea, the Falklands, the Gulf War and Bosnia have been sudden and unforeseen. At a time of greater instability in the world than we have experienced for some time the Secretary of State's RUSI speech provided some comfort by restating the Government's manifesto promise to retain a strong Defence against post-war security challenges". The noble Lord, Lord Healey, once said: Once we cut defence expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled we have no houses, no hospitals, we have no schools. We have a heap of cinders". The Secretary of State himself believes that our forces are severely overstretched. He also wrote in the Independent in July 1997 that, slashing our defence spending … would in my view completely remove our capacity to mount operations such as those in Bosnia". He also believes that the previous Government's cuts have left serious holes in the capabilities of our Armed Forces. On top of this, the Labour chairman of the Defence Select Committee in another place has stated that, any further cuts will endanger the defence of the realm". How is it that the Government can fine the MoD £168 million this year and reduce its budget year on year on year?

I hope that the SDR will deal also with the possibility of allowing HIV high risk groups, such as homosexuals, into the forces and to serve in the front line. In an active combat situation and in the harsh environment of the front line, troops will have scratches, cuts and even battle wounds. One will be faced with the problem of dealing with injured comrades. Combat injuries can be very messy. In that difficult combat environment it is not difficult to envisage bodily fluid contamination. If one is in the front line, one has to tend to comrades' injuries. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect that someone may catch something like HIV, which is a deadly virus. It is not morally correct to expect our troops to face such a problem. One can expect them to die for their country. Does the Minister expect our troops to be placed in this position or will he reduce the risks by preventing HIV high risk groups from undertaking front line duties?

Recently, I was fortunate to be included in an all-party defence group visit to "HMS Montrose", a Type 23 frigate. Aboard ship we were able to see at first hand, among other things, mixed manning and to speak to those officers and sailors who had experienced this for some six years. In a situation in which men and women worked together in the cramped quarters of a ship, and also lived often for long periods in cramped dormitories, albeit segregated, the reaction was extremely positive. There appeared to be a very positive atmosphere aboard. We saw women perform tasks to a very high standard, in some cases probably equal to or better than men. However, we were also a little surprised to discover that a female member of a gun turret crew of three was forbidden to lift an eight stone shell on health and safety grounds. We also saw another woman struggling to perform other heavy duties. I ask the Minister whether the SDR will consider enforcing a gender-free fitness test in all the teeth Armed Forces, similar to that which I understand the Army intends to introduce in April 1998.

Finally, I ask the Minister whether the findings of the SDR are to be introduced in Parliament rather than, as is the wont of this Government, leaked through the media first.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, I believe I heard my noble friend say that he hoped the Government will allow people who are HIV-positive into the forces. If I understood him correctly, did he not mean he hoped they will not allow it?

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, to clarify the position, I was saying that I hope they will not allow HIV-positive people to be in the front line where they will possibly be in a position where other members of their combat team are scratched and bruised and there could be a risk, therefore, of bodily fluids contaminating their fellow combatants.

8.11 p.m.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, this is the first major defence debate in this House since the start of the new era heralded by the election victory for Labour and the country in May. It gives us the opportunity to restate with the utmost conviction Labour's commitment to the effective defence of the realm. That commitment has always been there, because we are the party of the people. As my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel reminded the last government only last year, the first duty of the Government is defence of the realm. I offer my sincere thanks to my noble friend Lord Gilbert for introducing this debate in such a clear and lucid manner.

It is said that it is a wise man who learns from his mistakes. I would suggest that it is probably better to learn from the mistakes of others. In this connection we can see that it did our defence capability no good for our industrial base to be decimated as it was by the Conservative Government in the early 1980s; we can also see that the decimation of our ship-building industry and our merchant marine fleet made us vulnerable. The poor relationship of the previous government with our European partners has meant that the rationalisation of major industries on a European-wide basis has been inhibited. It has meant that major defence collaborative projects such as the Eurofighter have suffered due to international bickering and a lack of co-operation.

We need to remember that it was the trade unions—the so-called enemy within to which the last government used to refer—that ensured in the early days of the Eurofighter development project that it was not killed off. I would also like to pay tribute to British Aerospace for their foresight in starting the early development of what became the Eurofighter project as a private sector initiative. I welcome the positive attitude that our new Government have shown in the development of future large aircraft by means of European bases.

There are other areas where we can learn from the errors of the previous administration. For example, there is the matter of small arms. In the late 1970s the then Labour Government realised that there was a need for a small calibre small arms system for the Armed Forces. They commissioned the Royal Ordnance factories to develop and manufacture such a weapon system. That programme was called the SA80: small arms for the 1980s. However, a Tory Government was then elected and they engaged on an ideological programme of privatisation. They wanted to sell off one of the pieces of family silver—the Royal Ordnance factories—but the Royal Ordnance factories were worthless unless they had a forward order book. Therefore, the Tory Government authorised the production of the SA80 system, which subsequently proved not to have been fully developed. I suggest to my noble friend that there is probably ample justification for determining that we should have a new small arms weapon system for the millennium.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? I was the Minister who authorised the development and production of the SA80 weapon system to which he refers. His account of what happened is quite wrong.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I hold to my version of those events and I am sure that many members of our Armed Forces would agree with me. Only last night I was speaking to some members of the Royal Marines, who were very clear in their understanding of the situation.

As I was saying, we have a new Government with a commitment to effective defence, with a commitment to European collaboration, and we have the prospect of a long-term future in government. I would suggest that this new Government is best placed to initiate the necessary programme which I believe is required for a small arms weapons programme.

I have attempted to highlight how we can learn from the mistakes of our predecessors. Time prevents me from expanding at length. I could talk at length about helicopter procurement. Perhaps my noble friend would like to say a few words about that in his summing up.

Before I conclude, I shall say a few words about nuclear weapons. In my opinion, it was rather sad that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, made the remarks that he did. I can understand why he did so—because he obviously had a prepared speech and he had not listened too closely to my noble friend's introductory remarks. My noble friend was very clear in spelling out that, yes, we are committed to retaining the nuclear deterrent of the Trident system, but we also have another commitment and that is to seek the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons.

That is a new commitment which the previous government would not entertain, and that commitment I welcome. In saying that, I ought to pay tribute to the work of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The members of that campaign may feel that they have not succeeded in achieving their objectives, but I believe that the whole world owes them a debt of gratitude. If they did not exist, the risk is that we would have had the use of nuclear weapons during the 1960s and 1970s. We should all recognise that that would have been a terrible tragedy and a catastrophe for the whole world. Therefore, we owe a debt of gratitude to people like my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney for the determination they have shown in publicising the terrible barbarity of nuclear weapons.

I finish with these words. Twice within the last 18 years under the previous government we sent our young men to die in battle. They did a good job and we are immensely proud of them. However, I hope that, with the combination of effective defence capability and our ethical foreign policy, and by working in partnership and co-operation with other countries, we can help to build a new world order that prevents conflict and ensures not only our safety but the safety of our Armed Forces.

8.18 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, we have already heard this evening that the Army is over 4,000 men under strength. I must admit that I thought the figure was closer to 5,000 than 4,000, but I accept the Minister's figures. One of the ways of dealing with this is retention of the more experienced servicemen. It also means that it is essential that injured or sick servicemen should receive the best treatment possible promptly in order to be returned to their units as quickly as possible.

Where service means that the health of men's families is not properly looked after, it is likely that these men will leave the Army. I understand that there are problems with the provision by the Health Alliance of care for our troops and their families in Germany. I am advised in this matter by one of our medical officers in Germany who has experience of the current situation. I hope that the Government will consider these concerns in their defence review.

I am advised that the majority of specialties are now provided by German medical consultants, with whom there is a clear cultural and language barrier. It is also clear that the German doctors, who are all civilians, have no understanding of the associated military medical interface.

I am told that certain out-patient services, notably dermatology, plastic surgery and ENT surgery, are supposedly still provided by UK civilian or military consultants. There are, however, no scheduled clinics in those specialties and Army doctors therefore have no routine access to those out-patient clinics. Due to the absence of UK consultants in Germany and the fact that the German consultant system is not organised in the same way as our familiar UK system, it is virtually impossible for doctors to access specialist opinion in difficult or complex cases. That is especially so as any medical liaison with the remaining UK military hospitals is discouraged by the Health Alliance and the Health Commission.

I am told that waiting times for the specialties that are provided by the Germans are reasonable. However, waiting times for the specialties such as dermatology, plastic surgery and ENT surgery are appalling as there is just no clinic available because there is no consultant. Some patients have been waiting for five months for appointments.

Rather seriously, I understand that certain garrisons in Germany have no access—I repeat "no access"—to an emergency ophthalmology service. The consequence for a soldier or dependant suffering major eye trauma that requires immediate specialist treatment out of normal working hours does not bear thinking about. I am informed that there are major differences between German and UK national drug formulas. Many drugs prescribed to our soldiers and their dependants by the German doctors are not familiar to our UK doctors. No doctor should prescribe or advise any form of treatment with which he is unfamiliar. In fact I am told that it may be illegal for one of our doctors to prescribe a drug with which he is not familiar.

Major problems therefore arise when a German doctor advises treatment with which UK doctors are not familiar, and vice versa. Again, that is especially dangerous when patients are discharged from German hospitals outside normal working hours. UK doctors are frequently put in the impossible situation of having admitted a patient to hospital for specialist care and then being unable to carry out the recommendations of the specialist because they are unfamiliar with the advice that is given. That strikes me as being thoroughly unsatisfactory. I am told that it seems clear to most of our doctors with the British forces in Germany that soldiers and their dependants are clearly unhappy with the current provision for their medical care. That is manifest by the fact that formal complaints are at an all time high. The technical service provided by the Germans is not in question; rather, it is the cultural differences, administrative indifference and apparent lack of awareness by the health authority, the Army and the MoD that such problems exist that is at the root of their concern and discord.

I suspect that if patients were aware of things such as the lack of an emergency opthalmology service, dermatology consultant and many other purely medical issues, the Army's existence in Germany would become untenable as so many soldiers with families would be leaving and moving home.

There are also problems for service families in the UK. Those problems are caused by families following husbands and fathers who are posted from one NHS trust catchment area to another. On posting, patients waiting for treatment go automatically to the bottom of the waiting list of the new area's NHS hospital. I know of one young child who is waiting for an operation to correct a squint. I believe that it is a minor, simple operation of putting a tuck in a muscle. She is on her third waiting list for that operation. I am told that her father has been warned that he is due to posted yet again within the next few months. Would the Minister be kind enough to look into ways in which the MoD could co-operate on that matter with the NHS because it is unsatisfactory? Servicemen are posted whether they like it or not. Civilians often have a choice as to whether they move, particularly when there is illness or difficulty in the family.

On a different subject, and one upon which I shall end, in his opening remarks the Minister indicated that the proportion of GDP that we now spend on the Armed Forces is the same or less than we were spending in the mid-1930s. I hope that he and his colleagues will study their history and remember what happened in 1939. We were not prepared and not ready for the invasion of the Falklands by the Argentine forces. Neither did we expect there to be war in the Gulf. We should have strong enough, large enough and well-enough funded defence forces to be prepared for any emergency.

8.26 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, there has been much publicity recently about the Army's initiative to increase the number of ethnic minorities within its ranks. It is a subject upon which the Minister touched. In particular, the Household Cavalry, my former regiment, has been the target of some misleading press attention over its record in that regard. The issue is being addressed seriously by the Household Cavalry. The regiment regards the recruiting of members of ethnic minorities as its top priority apart from its operational commitments. The regiment is also determined to ensure that any latent racism is firmly stamped out so that those who join are treated in an equal way to other soldiers. The Household Cavalry is keen to recruit anyone of any persuasion and cultural background who is good enough.

In the context of the Household Cavalry Regiment, it is appropriate to note the extraordinary degree of professional skill developed in the regiments of the Household Cavalry and Royal Armoured Corps and to say something about the high cost-effectiveness of that capability. Manoeuvre warfare, which is the operational posture of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, is the most demanding of war-fighting scenarios. All elements of our mobile forces have a part in the ARRC, but the cutting edge is formed by our armoured regiments.

The tank regiments are presently equipped with Challenger 1 which will soon be replaced by Challenger 2, arguably the best tank in the world and one with demonstrated capability of hitting six separate targets all at different ranges in just 26 seconds. The training needed to enable those regiments to use such powerful equipment to its full effect is arduous and complex. Owing to the shortage of young officers, the tactical handling of tanks at troop level is often the responsibility of a sergeant or corporal. So technical skill and leadership among the non-commissioned ranks has to be of the highest standard. The result of this professionalism is that armoured troops can be and are employed across a full spectrum of military operations. They are frequently deployed as infantry in Northern Ireland, take their part in the rotation of forces throughout United Nations commitments, such as that in Cyprus, and will be found keeping the peace in Bosnia.

These regiments are in constant cycle, taking them from their primary employment in the ARRC through the other roles developed by necessity and circumstance. In the past, that has included such diverse employment as acting firemen on Green Goddesses and then back to their tanks and reconnaissance vehicles. It is only the very highest standards of leadership, discipline and training which make this commendable versatility possible. This professionalism is also demanded of their families, who have to cope on their own for extended periods.

We tend to think of all three services in terms of their primary equipment; frigates for the Royal Navy, combat aircraft for the Royal Air Force and tanks for the Army. That is the effect of making the tank a kind of totem or symbol of military power and thus the first target whenever cuts in defence spending are considered. The tank fleet has already been reduced by 47 per cent. since 1989.

In terms of value for money for taxpayers, and as a compliment to the oft-berated procurement system, it is worth noting that the development of Challenger 2 cost only one- eighth of the cost invested by General Motors to bring the Vauxhall Vectra into production. The reliability and durability targets for Challenger 2 are three times as great as those for Challenger 1. The operational performance measured in terms of the ability to acquire and hit a target is about five times greater. Despite this dramatic enhancement in performance, Challenger 2 costs in real terms less to develop and the same to buy as its predecessor.

Tanks may be a symbol of military power on land, but they are really an integral part of a capability enabling operations as diverse as the armoured battle to drive the Iraqis from Kuwait at one end of the spectrum to peacekeeping operations in Bosnia at the other.

What is quite certain is that the new and ultra-sophisticated equipment now available for our Navy, Army and Air Force cannot be properly used without the highest standard of prolonged training and those being so trained must be individuals of the highest calibre in terms of intelligence, courage, discipline and morale. It is because our soldiers, sailors and airmen fulfil these requirements that we can be confident that Britain's Armed Forces, despite being smaller than they have been for many decades, make our country one of the most formidable fighting powers in the world.

8.33 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, this has been a good but a long debate. Those of us who are winding up must be hesitant about detaining your Lordships too much longer. I hesitate to speak, having heard so many noble Lords who have served in the Armed Forces. Not only did I not go beyond my school CCF but for many years have been professionally employed as a critic of diplomacy and military forces and on occasions as a lecturer to them. I have been made most aware of the scale of the transformation of international order during the past 10 years because since 1988 I have lectured annually to the Royal College of Defence Studies on the shape of European order. Each year I have to tear up my lecture and start again. I well remember two years ago the Russian general who had arrived as a new student rising to contradict my analysis of the situation in Russia. That really is a world transformed from its position in 1988.

I must apologise to the House for having to spend 40 minutes away from the debate. I chaired a sub-committee at 4.15 p.m., which meant that unfortunately I missed two maiden speeches. I was particularly sorry to miss the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, who was one of the insiders who most helped me as an outside critic during the 1970s and early 1980s.

I wish to touch on four themes which appear to be underplayed in the defence review. The Minister said in opening that the defence review must be foreign policy led. Unless we have a foreign policy led defence review the military dies the death of a thousand cuts. I regret that the Government have not yet published a Green Paper setting out their foreign policy objectives because on the basis of that we could define the military forces that we need. We need a new concept of Britain's place in the world; we need a broader definition of security; we certainly need a new concept of European order; and the Armed Forces which we need should follow from those concepts.

The scale of the transformation since the end of the Cold War has been immense. We lack a national consensus, even a widespread understanding in the public outside, of what that transformation implies for Britain. It was largely taken for granted in the debate that we have a shared understanding of Britain's place in the world; that we are a great power with a global reach; and that we have particular responsibilities. The students who I teach at the London School of Economics were born between 1975 and 1980. With luck, their personal memory goes back as far as 1985, but for most of them the Cold War is an historical memory and Russia is a distant country about which the main fact they know is that it does not work. The idea that it could be a threat to us is almost unthinkable to them. We must provide for them a rationale of why Britain needs a defence policy and what we believe the threats to be.

To my great surprise, I heard my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Judd, say that it is difficult to think of any nation which is more vulnerable to world insecurity than Britain. I thought to myself, "Well, within NATO, I would say Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey for a start". If one goes outside NATO, there are a good deal more. The noble Lord also spoke of Britain's international responsibilities, which I always thought was code for "The white man's burden".

A number of noble Lords said that the threat of Chinese expansionism was something for which Britain had a particular responsibility. I must ask why. If there were severe problems with Arab expansionism in the Mediterranean, would we expect the Indonesians and the Japanese to contribute to a Mediterranean fleet?

I believe that the answer is probably no, we would not. Therefore, the issue of the role that we have militarily in the Far East seems to be open to question. We must be careful not to extrapolate from the past and to assume that we go on defending it in the future.

I remember as a graduate student hearing Michael Howard give a talk at Chatham House in 1966 on Britain's role east of Suez. A lady in the audience stood up and said, "Yes, but you haven't explained how Britain is going to defend the vital trade route between the Persian Gulf and India". Michael Howard replied, "Madam, if you could explain to me why we should defend it and against whom I should be able to answer your question as to what we might need to do so". There is a danger of assuming that we should continue to shoulder our historic burdens of 20 or 30 years ago when we need to look 20 or 30 years ahead.

My good friend the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, talked about the Swiss Army. Last month I took part in the Churchill Symposium in Zurich and heard a great deal about the crisis of Swiss national identity. It is partly that they have an army which holds the nation together, but they no longer know why it exists because no one threatens Switzerland. By the time we came to the end of the evening and the Mayor of Zurich thanked Coutts for paying for the dinner because, as he explained, Zurich is now almost bankrupt and the problems of how one funds Swiss public expenditure, not to mention Swiss military expenditure, are clearly acute, I was left with a real sense that Switzerland is looking vigorously to the past and is extremely unclear where its future will take it.

Earlier this afternoon, I asked a Starred Question on the teaching of British history in English schools. That seems to me very much part of the same thing. What is our national identity? How do we explain to our younger generation who they are, and why? That is very much part of how we need to rebuild a consensus on defence and foreign policy.

We have heard a certain amount in the debate about the recruitment of ethnic minorities into our Armed Forces. I remember two years ago being with my family in the military cemetery in Monte Cassino with a British tourist party and seeing there a young Asian couple, clearly on their honeymoon, from Birmingham. They were looking lost in that cemetery which, as far as they could see, had absolutely no relevance to them. I went over and showed them that four of the 10 pillars in the middle of the cemetery were inscribed with the names of Indian regiments. They were totally unaware that there had been Indian regiments fighting in the British Army in Italy in the Second World War. That seems to me to be part of how we need to rebuild a sense of national identity on defence and foreign policy without which we cannot have a successful defence review.

We need also a broader concept of security, conflict prevention, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, remarked, the re-orientation of the military, in which the Secretary of State for Defence has been doing some sterling work, particularly with the Russians, democracy building, education and information. That suggests that our defence policy is part of an overall effort in which the know-how fund, the BBC, the British Council and the Foreign Office Chevening scholarships are all part of an effort to widen security in the former socialist world.

I should love to see a foreign policy annual White Paper and an overseas budget. That is not that radical an idea. I can remember James Callaghan, as Foreign Secretary, suggesting it in April 1974. Unfortunately, he never carried it through. Therefore, how imaginative are this new Government prepared to be? I suggest that for a successful defence review, they need to think much more widely.

Moreover, we need a new concept of European order. We are moving at rapid speed towards the enlargement of NATO by April 1999, in 18 months' time, and we have committed ourselves to a second and potentially a third round of the enlargement of NATO. It seems to me unavoidable that that will transform NATO. It cannot maintain what has been the traditional sense of a North Atlantic Treaty when it becomes much more European and when it extends its reach over what was previously Warsaw Pact territory.

The enlargement of the European Union, sadly slow and not going as fast as it should be, is also a security issue. Consolidating democracy and giving prosperity to those countries makes them much less of a threat to us. If one is talking about potential threats, it seems to me that the countries between Italy and Greece—not just Bosnia but also Yugoslavia, Albania and Macedonia—and the problem of how we handle relations with Turkey, which is a very important but not fully democratic country while being a fellow NATO member, are very much part of how we consolidate our future security. Therefore, we need to make more of European defence co-operation.

The noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, said that it has not worked very well. I wish that he had said a little more about the useful role which has been provided by the Nordic units, the Spanish and Dutch troops in Bosnia, and the Dutch troops in particular who were left high and dry in Srebenica, and now at last also the German troops in Bosnia. We must make European defence co-operation work. Britain must play a much more active part in that.

The question of what Armed Forces we need follows from that. Reading through the press cuttings, I kept coming across the phrase, "We don't want to be a pocket superpower with a bit of this and a bit of that". Clearly we want a military which is more European. As the noble Earl, Lord Effingham, said, that means more "jointery", more interoperability and more concern about how we make the best of co-operation with others.

I was struck when reading the RUSI journal of August by the statement: The argument is not whether Britain should allow her forces to be fully integrated into multinational formations or not. but the level at which that integration should take place". That is a discussion again in which we have not really yet engaged in Britain. We have not yet symbolised the extent to which our forces are already caught up with other European countries. I have been pressing hard, for example, that on the 50th anniversary of the Scots Guards marching down the Champs Elysées, we should again have a guards regiment, if the French will encourage us, marching down the Champs Elysées on 14th July. Next year is also the 50th anniversary of the Berlin air lift. That provides a splendid opportunity to symbolise the transformed relationship between the German armed forces and ourselves. That is the sort of thing that we want this new Government to do. I offer all these suggestions to the Minister in a spirit of constructive opposition, which I am sure he knows my party is willing to provide.

Therefore, we need a more European and regional reach and not so much a global reach. Ocean Wave was wonderful, but I am not quite sure what they were doing in the South China sea and I am not sure that we necessarily want to get caught up in the defence of the Spratly Islands or Paracel Island, if it really came to it. Do we want a long-term professional military, or should we look rather more at a greater emphasis on part-time soldiers and reserves? I find myself readily teaching Norwegian and Finnish graduate students who have spent a year as part-time soldiers in the Middle East in various peace-keeping forces. Perhaps there is room for us to look at that sort of thing as well.

I conclude by saying—and repeat—that in the absence of foreign policy direction the review will unavoidably be Treasury led. If we cannot provide a new rationale, public support for the current level of spending on defence will shrink. Therefore, a defence review must be first and foremost a foreign policy review.

8.47 p.m.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, from his long experience of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, reminded your Lordships that it is not the custom for later speakers in a debate to congratulate maiden speakers on their performance. He then proceeded to ignore his own advice and I shall do the same. I should particularly like to congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, on his maiden speech. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, described it as constructive. I would add the word "inspiring", and I do not believe that that word is misused.

I had the opportunity two years ago of visiting the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, in the Embassy in Washington with a Royal British Legion delegation at which we discussed the problems of Gulf War disease. I believe that the change in attitude towards problems in the Gulf has arisen from the time of that visit. Belatedly, two years later, I thank the noble Lord for what he and his staff did for us.

During the course of this afternoon, my noble friend Lord Vivian produced a comprehensive and almost all-embracing review of the problems facing the defence of this country at present. There is very little I can add to that. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, on his fascinating speech. I do not agree with all he said but, goodness me, it was good to hear it. We also had the benefit of the enormous and almost unique experience in the medical affairs of our Armed Forces of my noble friend Lord Swinfen.

It is a pleasant custom in your Lordships' House for noble Lords who follow on in a debate to thank the introducer of the debate for introducing this important and relevant subject, whatever it may be, and to express the hope that the House will be better informed at the end of the debate. Realistically, in expecting a reply from the noble Lord, I can express no such hope of that, however important and relevant the debate may be. It is not the fault of the noble Lord; I do not see how he is able to reply. We are sitting here a few months before the publication of the defence review.

We had a debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Vivian in July, and last week, in another place, we had a two-day debate on defence which we are told is an annual event. However, it was magnificently mis-timed in that it took place at this moment before the publication of the Strategic Defence Review at a time when both Houses and, above all, the Ministry of Defence, are in limbo waiting anxiously for the review. Unlike the last administration, this Government never have leaks. We shall remain in ignorance of what will be in the review, though just the odd whisper is coming out.

As I said, to be fair, it is not reasonable to expect anything from the noble Lord today and, except for a statement on the employment of women and the so-called "Gulf Syndrome", those in another place heard nothing last week. They cannot have expected to. In the other place the debate was largely an opportunity for a number of maiden speeches and for honourable Members to express their concern for the defence-oriented industries in their constituencies. That concern is justified because of the unshakeable belief that we are about to see a sizeable cut in the defence budget and in defence procurement.

Ministers tell us that they are bravely fighting the defence case. The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, will not be surprised to hear me quote his remark in another place last year, while in Opposition, although he may be surprised that no one else has done so during the debate. The noble Lord then said: I also happen to think that this country does not spend enough on defence".—[Official Report, Commons, 14/10/96; col. 506] That statement was quoted twice last week in another place and gives me some small hope that we may today hear something of advantage from the Minister.

Nevertheless, we heard nothing—unless I was not listening; and I was certainly here—about the defence budget, nor about the foreign policy base of the review. One noble Lord spoke about weapons which will be designed in the light of the tasks that the Armed Forces would be called upon to perform. A defence policy must be designed upon a foreign policy base. As I said, we heard nothing about that and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to help in that respect.

What we have heard so far about the SDR leads me to believe that the Secretary of State has never been involved in any serious business negotiations. He has promised that it will be defence led and not controlled by the Treasury. At the same time he tells us that we cannot reasonably expect an increase in the defence budget; I hope that I never made that mistake with the trade unions. To have said that is to surrender his position to the Treasury before he even begins to talk. Of course, it is not possible for every aspect of a policy to carry priority, but many items are extremely important and it would be foolish to withdraw them from the pot until it is essential in order to save something else.

Now I come to what I would call the Raymond Chandler novel, the Mystery of the £168 million, which was referred to by various noble Lords. According to the Secretary of State, this fine on the Ministry of Defence comes as a result of the previous year's overspend (the fault, of course, of the Conservative Government), which had to be clawed back. I am afraid that he will have to do better than that in explaining it; particularly as he claims the episode as a triumph—the overspend, he says, was in fact £246 million and he has brought it down to £168 million.

The Minister for the Armed Forces, Mr. Reid, has said that a large part of this alleged 1996–97 overspend is accounted for by an earlier than expected delivery of and payment for goods and services. We do not know how much this is, nor where the rest of the overspend comes from; he has not told us. The Minister believes that absorbing the reduction will be manageable. But, in his words, it will not be without pain. How much pain, and where? From a sitting position, the noble Lord replied to my noble friend Lord Rotherwick that other departments were treated in the same way; but I would ask him, again, whether any other departments which overspent have been treated in the same way? Perhaps the noble Lord could touch on that subject in the course of his reply.

The long time it is taking to get the SDR out is causing a blight in the procurement programme in particular. Those responsible will not rush to get on with a project if there is a fear that it will be cancelled. I hope that the review will lead to smart procurement, which has been referred to, and get rid of what is known as the Downey cycle. Under this, if anyone carries out a feasibility study, he has got to have an end product. You cannot get money for a feasibility study which in the end may say that the project is not feasible. You have got to produce something even if it is not what you want.

Undoubtedly, especially as regards the logistics and background area, there are savings to be made and some may be relatively painless. Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord whether one of the subjects to be considered is the closure of the naval establishments in Bath and their move to the new building being constructed at Abbey Wood, Bristol. Does the noble Lord agree that that would achieve a major saving, including probably 300 civilian staff? Further, have the unions been consulted on that point? I doubt whether they would be very happy about it.

Trident is to be continued, thank goodness. But there is no reason why the Director General Submarines, procuring the Trafalgar class, should not be combined with the Chief Strategic Systems Executive managing Trident. That might persuade one of the services at least not to buy a weapon—Trident in this case—off the shelf and then spend a great deal of money messing about with it. It was Trident this time, but other examples are Sea King and Phantom, to name just two.

We have been told that many savings can be made by introducing different levels of readiness in the Armed Forces. We are told—indeed, as my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth said in, again, and not surprisingly, a startling speech—that Russia cannot be a threat again within the foreseeable future, certainly two years; and that commitments can be covered at a lowered state of readiness. That may be so, but is it safe?

The £168 million is one blow to the defence budget. A further potential blow arises from the fact that no word has been heard from the Treasury about the continuation of the reimbursement from Treasury contingency reserves of approximately £250 million for the costs of running the British share of the peace campaign in Bosnia. Here I am puzzled and would ask the noble Lord to clarify what seem like two contrary comments. Within 20 minutes last Monday, I heard the Secretary of State in another place and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, in this House, give different replies on the point. The Secretary of State refused to comment until the costs of the Bosnia operation were known, while the noble Baroness stated that, under the current practice, any need would fall on the contingency reserve at least until June 1998. The Secretary of State ought to be able to reach an agreement with the Treasury and his own Ministers on at least the principle of the thing. The defence budget is not expected to allow for war.

However, if I have got it right—and I am open to correction from the Minister—the defence budget is likely to be down by nearly half a billion pounds, even if the Secretary of State thinks that he has held it steady.

The Government have confirmed that the fourth Trident will be built and they are committed to the Eurofighter. Do they also commit themselves to the systems which both those weapons demand? If so, that will be a considerable chunk out of the budget, a chunk which is non-negotiable. What effect will that have on the review as a whole?

The Territorial Army is at present shaking in its boots, or rather in its non-existent Land Rovers whose absence, I understand, can be laid at the door of the noble Lord because of some problems with exhaust emissions. Also afeared are the King's Troop, the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment and all who carry out ceremonial duties.

In last week's debate there was some disagreement about increasing delays in the issue of export licences for military material. To be totally fair, I understand that the problems here do not arise in the Ministry of Defence but in the Foreign Office or the DTI. I am told that the delays are largely due to the establishment by this Government of a Foreign Office ethical desk. Under the previous Government the target was to get licences approved in 20 days. The figure is now far higher and getting worse. Companies such as Vickers, which hope to be selling large numbers of tanks to Turkey, can look after themselves as they are big enough. However, small firms are different. Hollow Extrusions of Birmingham, for instance, which has a £½ million contract to provide tubing for shells for the Turks, has been told that unless approval is quickly given, it will lose the contract. Incidentally, this contract has been in existence for years and the end user is the United States.

Paynes Wessex—which I thought had its big night last night—is seeking a follow on licence for flares for life boats. That company has been waiting for 100 days. These delays are immensely damaging to the British defence industry but they are not, to be fair, the fault of the Ministry of Defence, as I have said. It is suspected that the other offices I have mentioned are being deliberately obstructive. One end user certificate was rejected because it was written in French and another because something had been written on the back of the certificate. If applications are to be rejected, so be it, but the companies concerned should at least be told what is happening.

We have heard today from many noble Lords who know much more about the requirement of the services and service procurement than I do. Some time ago the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, said that the problem in another place was that almost no one had had their hair parted by a bullet. The noble Lord has clearly had his parted by a 25 pounder. That is an important point and I hope that all Ministers and the Chancellor in another place will take note of what has been said here.

I apologise for speaking for rather too long. In conclusion, I wish to refer to a matter which has been raised by a number of other noble Lords, particularly the mafia from the Scots Guards which exists in this House. This matter is not solely regimental business but is deeply involved with the morale of the Armed Forces. As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway pointed out, people in the forces are in difficulty because of the law on homicide.

Guardsmen Fisher and Wright of the Scots Guards were convicted of murder in September 1992. The murder victim who was carrying a bag and who tore out the patrol commander's radio was shot while running away from a patrol who shouted numerous warnings before firing. These events have been relayed in your Lordships' House and in another place on a number of occasions. I shall not go into them any more except to say that Wright and Fisher have now been in prison for more than five years. Last year they applied for a judicial review of the Northern Ireland Office decision that the case should not be reviewed until the end of 1998. Mr. Justice Girvan quashed that decision and ordered that the two cases should be freshly considered according to the precedents set in the cases of Privates Clegg and Thain, who were released after fewer than four years.

This year Mr. Justice Girvan ordered the Northern Ireland Office not to wait until October but to reconsider the case immediately. This was overturned in the Court of Appeal and last month the Life Sentence Review Body gave certain advice to the Secretary of State as a result of which she ordered that the guardsmen's case should not be reviewed until October 1998. I ask the Minister to tell the House what the advice was which gave rise to that decision. We are told that the Secretary of State has apparently refused to give that information. However, I ask for it again and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give it.

Last February I was given a categorical assurance in this House by the then Minister that this was solely a judicial matter and must remain so. As things stand, this assurance would seem to be being breached, albeit by a different government. There is a widespread belief, both in your Lordships' House and elsewhere, that the current Secretary of State for Northern Ireland dares not, for political reasons, offend her friends, Adams and McGuinness, and the failure to release the men is part of the peace process.

The decision on whether to let them out is purely a judicial matter. I hope that Mr. Justice Girvan's judgment will carry some weight, particularly if it is supported—and I do not know this—by the Life Sentence Review Body, and that the men will be released in the near future, certainly before October 1998. I look forward to hearing the noble Lord replying to the debate. He has a difficult task and a great deal to do for which he has my fullest sympathy. I wish him luck and hope that he can give many of us much satisfaction.

9.5 p.m.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, it is an extremely difficult task to reply to a debate which has run for well over five hours and has contained so many distinguished contributions on many different subjects. I am sure that your Lordships will forgive me if I do not succeed in replying to all the points that have been raised this evening although I give your Lordships an assurance that, as on previous occasions, I shall write to any noble Lord whose points I have not managed to cover in the course of my remarks.

It is an enormous pleasure to be able to welcome to this House the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. It is one of my great regrets that I was never at the Ministry of Defence when he was in a senior position there. It goes without saying that we all look forward to his regular contributions, and as one noble Lord said, not just on defence matters. I wish to pay him the compliment of starting my remarks by referring to his speech in some detail. I am glad to say that he began by welcoming the wide consultation that the Government have undertaken on the strategic defence review. He also welcomed the fact that we understand the need to maintain the ability for high intensity conflict. I agree entirely with him that it is far easier to slip down the path from high intensity to low intensity capability rather than to struggle back up in the other direction. I take his point that we need to analyse precisely what we mean by high intensity conflict. I agree also with him—I hope he does not think it is patronising that I agree with him—that much rethinking is needed because many of the old post Cold War assumptions need to be overturned and looked at afresh.

I take very seriously the noble and gallant Lord's remarks on the defence medical services, training and our need to keep our readiness levels high. Above all, I agree with the noble and gallant Lord on the need for a period of stability for Her Majesty's Forces. It is precisely because we seek to address the question of long-term morale in the forces after a period in which their size, the expenditure on the forces and their equipment programmes have been cut so drastically that we are having this review. We are inviting not only the outside world but also members of the Armed Forces individually to write in to make their own suggestions as to the future of the services in which they serve.

It is my second great pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Renwick of Clifton, to your Lordships' House. I am doubly pleased to be able to do so in light of the Bench that he has decided to make his home during his time here. It is not for me to say anything which could possibly add to the distinction of his public service. On this occasion, I join with him in his admiration for British forces. As he said, they are the most admired in Europe. The noble Lord will know full well in how high a degree of admiration they are held in the United States. That is a matter of enormous assistance to this country's foreign policy objectives. He will know as well as I do some of the remarks made by General Schwarzkopf at the end of the campaign in the Gulf as to the quality of the contribution that our forces uniquely made—I emphasise the word "uniquely"—alongside American forces in that campaign.

I agree entirely with the noble Lord that the democracies in eastern Europe need all the help we can get. I was glad he welcomed the initiative of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in this new programme of defence diplomacy. Needless to say, I also welcome his interest in conservation matters. I think that there may be a time when I shall need his support in this House very vigorously.

I turn to the beginning of the debate. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, knows better than to expect me to anticipate in detail the findings of the defence review. But he knows perfectly well my views on the need for this country to keep a credible minimum nuclear deterrent. I should not be at this Dispatch Box if I did not think that this Government shared precisely my views on those matters.

The noble Lord raised the question of the two servicemen in Northern Ireland, as did several other Members. It has been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham. I must make it clear to the House that this is not a matter for defence Ministers. It is a matter for Northern Ireland Ministers. It is in your Lordships' discretion whether you wish to make inquiries of Ministers from that department in this House. I am simply not prepared to comment on that question today, although I fully understand the concern that is felt by Members in all parts of the House.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, is it not the custom in your Lordships' House for Ministers on the Front Bench to answer for the Government, not for individual departments? The noble Lord is answering as much for the Northern Ireland Office as for the Ministry of Defence in this matter.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, of course it is the case—it has been repeated often—that Ministers in this House answer on behalf of the whole Government and not only on behalf of their departments. However, in this case the subject of debate is strictly defence; and questions arising from different departments should be addressed to those departments.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to intervene—

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I am coming to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in a moment, if I may. I was going to thank the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, for having written to me about this. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, that when he was on his feet I had inquiries made because no message had come to me that he had wished to raise this subject. As far as I can make out, I am afraid that his advances to our Government Whip's Office seem to have become lost somewhere in the woodwork. I have had no notice whatever that he was going to raise the matter.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene. I wholly accept without reservation everything the noble Lord has said. But will the House accept that I gave specific notice to the Government Chief Whip that I was going to ask the question, and he told me that he would pass it on? It is all very well; one either cares about this situation or one does not. The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, does. I do. What are we going to do about it?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I can only apologise to the noble Lord and say that I received no communication. Of course I totally accept his assurance that he passed a message to the Government Whips Office. I hope he accepts my assurance, speaking at this Dispatch Box, that no message reached me on that account.

I turn to other matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. I am happy to confirm that the Government very much support the cadet organisations. The matter was referred to by one of his noble friends as to whether they would be part of the strategic defence review. The answer is that they are not part of the Armed Forces and they will not come under the strategic defence review.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, made a comment about the ethnic composition of the forces. I shall pass it on to my honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces.

I turn now to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Vivian. I could not agree with him more that the third world countries will be able to deploy sophisticated weapon systems. As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, the world is not necessarily a safer place than it was at the time of the Cold War, not least because, although we may not be up against the forces of the Warsaw Pact, we shall be up against other countries. They will deploy weapons of the capability that the Warsaw Pact forces used to have at their disposal and regularly modernised. It is for that reason that this country must have an equipment capability of the highest order into the foreseeable future.

The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, mentioned the lead time for new weapons being some 15 years. We hope very much to bring that interval between different generations of weapon systems down. Even more important, what we hope to do in the improvement of our procurement systems is that, instead of making huge quantum jumps in capability in weapon systems, a mid-life improvement for future generations, we shall introduce incremental improvements throughout the life of weapon systems and thereby reduce the many dislocations that the MoD, as the final customer, has in getting and keeping its weapon systems at the level of capability that the Armed Forces deserve.

I also take the noble Lord's point that you can have too high a degree of readiness because it can undermine training arrangements. I do not think the noble Lord needs to worry whether there will still be tanks available to Her Majesty's Army in 10 years' time.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, asked whether the defence of the realm was the overriding priority of this Government. All I can do is recommend that he reads an article in the Daily Telegraph by the Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition, just before the general election. The article makes it absolutely clear how high a priority he places on the defence of the realm. I think we shall see that reflected in the strategic defence review in the fullness of time.

I was therefore a little surprised to hear the noble Lord refer to a proposed massive depletion in funding. I am not sure exactly what he meant. However, if he was referring, as other noble Lords did, to the fine imposed on the Ministry of Defence recently, let me say this clearly. I do not wish to make a partisan point about it; it is a question of history. That fine arose because of overspending in the Ministry of Defence under the previous government. It was calculated according to a methodology that was agreed by the previous government.

The Ministry of Defence was not the only department that suffered a fine last year for those reasons. The Department of Trade and Industry also did. It was not a matter of singling out the Ministry of Defence at all; it was not a piece of opportunism. It followed almost mechanistically from the previous arrangements. The fact that the money then became available to the Treasury was extremely useful for this Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, put it, in helping to meet their commitments to the National Health Service in some of the difficulties which that department faces.

The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, raised the question of Trident penetration capability. I do not believe that he has anything to worry about. I can also reassure him that there is no prospect under this Government of the three services being merged, as happened in Canada a few years ago.

I have already touched on what the noble Lord, Lord Westbury, said with regard to the guardsmen in a moving brief intervention.

My noble friend Lord Judd welcomed the Government's commitment to securing a code of conduct for the arms trade. I am optimistic that we can get something done seriously with our friends in Europe in the near future. We are certainly not interested in taking part in what would be merely a cosmetic exercise.

I was particularly grateful to my noble friend for his remarks in relation to the dangers of proliferation of other weapons of mass destruction. We often tend to focus far too exclusively on things nuclear without looking at the capabilities being developed in other parts of the world by malevolent people. With respect to both chemical and biological weapons the agents can be dispersed easily and the capabilities acquired more cheaply and secretly than the capabilities in the nuclear field. Our debates on these matters will be much better informed if we keep in mind that there are dozens of countries in the process of acquiring or which already possess an aggressive chemical capability and are hoping to possess an aggressive biological capability as well. I fully seize my noble friend's point that if we will the end, we must will the means.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Park, that one of the reasons for poor recruitment is poor public perception of the Armed Forces and their uncertain future—that is one of the matters we hope to address in the review—and their reduced status in this country. I am not sure that I agree about the perception of outdated imperial privilege, but there is a perception of the forces not being as friendly and receptive to ethnic minority groups as we would wish. That is another factor that has inhibited recruitment.

In that respect I particularly want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, who spoke of the Household Cavalry. I agree with his remarks. I am aware of what is happening and that is why I was able to stand at the Dispatch Box a little while ago and tell the House that I thought matters would improve in areas where we have not had as happy a record as we should have done. There has never been any doubt under any government about Ministers' commitment to a colour blind Armed Forces. There has never been any question that the chiefs of staff under both governments have been committed to that. The problem has been getting further down into the system to the level of colonel, company sergeant major and people like that who have the greatest influence in these matters. I am sure that the messages that have been sent in recent months, endorsed by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, will produce considerable and dramatic improvements in this area before long.

Returning to what the noble Baroness was saying, it is not a case of land disposal, which includes firing ranges, being forced by the Treasury. All these issues come to me for consideration, and I can assure the noble Baroness that we have surplus capacity of firing ranges. It only made sense operationally and financially—we must operate a tight ship—to make the savings that we were planning to make.

I am acutely aware that I have detained the House for nearly 20 minutes and I still have not touched on many other contributions by noble Lords. I can only apologise. I am sure your Lordships will not want me to stand here for a further half hour. I therefore crave the indulgence of the House and welcome to the Dispatch Box the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, who made a fairly ferocious contribution. I can see that we will have some lively and enjoyable debates in the future.

I want to make one matter clear to the noble Lord. The reason for this debate is that debates in both Houses were intended by my right honourable friend to offer an opportunity to noble Lords to make a contribution to the defence review. He is quite right. I did say not so long ago that the country spends too little on defence. That still remains my view and, like any departmental Minister, I fight to try to get more expenditure for the matters for which I am responsible, just as an education Minister or a health Minister would. So I make no apology for having said that.

The noble Lord talked about savings to be made in logistics. That is an area where I would disagree with him. I believe that in the recent past we have made far too many savings in logistics, supplies and maintainability. We have bought platforms that we have not been able to operate because of logistic shortcomings. I think that, if at all, the balance will have to be changed in the years ahead.

There was one other question that was asked by him about the naval officers in Bath and whether they were going to be moved to Abbey Wood. It is certainly the intention to move them, and the second phase of the move is set to be completed by 1999 with the transfer of about 900 posts from Bath and Copenacre and we are looking at the possibility of needing a new building to accommodate all the staff, so the dates may have to be revised. We expect to have a decision early in the New Year.

I must not sit down without referring to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. That would be a terrible thing to do in the light of the cosy relations which the Liberal Democratic Party has with—I do not know whether that is a term I am allowed to use in this House—the other place.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, it is constructive opposition. We are the party of Campbell-Bannerman, Haldane and Archie Sinclair, and I think we have a contribution to make to this very important subject.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I do not doubt that for one moment. As I am sure the noble Earl appreciates, I was only jesting. We were delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, at one of our seminars and I hope that he found it worthwhile. Another member of his party, Mr. Menzies Campbell, sat right through yesterday's seminar at the Ministry of Defence. I quite agree with him that we need new concepts of Britain's place in the world, and that is precisely why we are having this review. I am sorry that he felt a little disappointed that so far we have not been radical enough in our thinking; but I have to say to him that I thought yesterday's seminar was the best of the three we have had so far. I suggest that he discusses it with his friend in another place, and he might be more encouraged.

I am particularly seized of two things that he said: one was that we need to provide a rationale for defence for the young people of this country. If we do not do this everything is at risk. Some years ago I used to think that every secondary school child should be taken and shown the Berlin wall or the inner-German border, without any comment from school teachers, so that they could ask the questions themselves—"What is this thing?" and "Why are our troops here?"—and work it all out. We no longer have the obvious incidence of dictatorship and totalitarianism to parade in front of them and so it is much more difficult to explain to them. I am also fully seized of what he said about how very few of them have a political memory going back more than a handful of years. This is going to be a problem for all of us in this House, and in the other place as well, in the years ahead. I also take very seriously the point he made about how ethnic communities in the United Kingdom are unaware of the military contributions made by their forebears. I am sure that this is one of the points my honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces will be taking into account in our attempts to enhance recruitment from the ethnic minorities.

I have detained your Lordships for far too long. I only regret that I have not been able to touch on many speeches. However, I assure your Lordships that I shall do my best to reply to the points that have been raised.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I most respectfully ask him to use his best endeavours to seek to do something about the guardsmen?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I give the noble Lord this assurance. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at half-past nine o'clock.