HL Deb 08 December 1998 vol 595 cc812-28

3.8 p.m.

Lord Gilbert rose to move, That this House take note of the conclusions of Her Majesty's Government's Strategic Defence Review (Cm 3999).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, at last we are having a debate on the SDR. It has been some time since the review was published. I will rhubarb for some time until noble Lords have removed themselves from the premises—all those who are not going to listen to my dulcet tones with the attention that they deserve. I think that we derive a certain benefit not open to the other House in having the advantage of the perspective of several months before we come to debate the provisions of the review.

There are one or two matters I wish to make clear from the outset. As your Lordships may or may not recall, on one of the first occasions that I spoke in your Lordships' House I said that to me it had always been a matter of the highest importance to try to make defence a bipartisan question within this country. We in this Government want to make it clear that we were building on success and not on failure when we inherited our responsibilities last year. Our Armed Forces have a record that is second to none. I have been most heartened by the generous response from all parts of this House to the Government's strategic defence review.

Having said that, it was of course obvious to us that modernisation and enhancements were needed in many key areas and that defence needed a coherent vision to revitalise it for the challenges of the next century. We were also encouraged by the welcome the review has been given not only from the service chiefs but also from men and women throughout the Armed Forces. However, what really matters, as your Lordships will be astute enough to realise, is that we follow through the review. I am sure that your Lordships will be diligent in monitoring our progress in that respect.

The review was, of course, foreign policy led. Set against a foreign policy framework, it was rigorous, unsentimental and extremely thorough in its approach. There was a broad degree of consensus inside and outside government about the international security context in which we found ourselves and the role that defence should play in support of our interests and responsibilities.

As regards the future of NATO and of European security in general, these were subjects in which your Lordships displayed considerable interest during the recent debate on the Queen's speech. The Atlantic Alliance has changed almost beyond recognition since the end of the Cold War. These days it is difficult even to remember the psychological climate in which we used to operate in those days. The Atlantic Alliance has been a prime mover in shaping our security environment for many decades now and, more recently, in creating new partnerships with our former potential enemies outside the Alliance and with the new candidate members who will be joining us shortly. There is, of course, increasing attention paid now to non-Article 5 activities in the run-up to the Washington Summit. We now have the opportunity, in the new strategic concept currently under preparation, to set out clearly a long-term vision for NATO's future.

Similarly we must demonstrate the relevance of a European security and defence identity. As every serious commentator now recognises, a stronger European identity is in no sense an alternative to the transAtlantic relationship, but a necessary and long overdue complement to it. Our challenge is to give Europe an effective military capability, which so far it has sadly lacked, to contribute to NATO operations when our friends across the Atlantic either do not wish, or do not need, to be involved. We need to recognise candidly the harsh fact that in many European countries military reality does not reflect the local rhetoric. This was recognised in the Joint Declaration on European Defence made at the Franco-British Summit in St. Malo last week.

The declaration identified the need for countries in Europe to strengthen their armed forces to provide a credible and effective response to the new security risks, but also made it clear that our shared understanding is that NATO is the foundation of Europe's collective security. As so many brickbats are sometimes thrown in a certain direction, I think it is pertinent for me to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that France will provide between 1,000 and 2,000 troops for the extraction force in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia under NATO command. We feel that NATO will be strengthened by improved military capabilities and co-operation in Europe and by the implementation of the Berlin arrangements for a European security identity.

A number of noble Lords have mentioned in other debates, or in correspondence with the MoD, emerging risks such as information warfare, the problems of dealing with so-called asymmetric responses to our conventional capabilities, and the challenges posed by new technologies. I have touched on these subjects at this Dispatch Box over recent months and I do not propose to discuss them in greater detail today, but just to make it clear beyond peradventure that these are matters that have the attention of defence Ministers at this time. The Government take these issues seriously and will ensure that our defence capabilities are adjusted as necessary to cope with these challenges. These are, of course, issues not only for the Ministry of Defence; they are issues that concern government as a whole and they are kept under constant review across government. We have put in place a planning process that can address all aspects of the future evolution of warfare and our responses to it.

The process of modernising the Armed Forces has involved taking some difficult and sometimes painful decisions. However, the crucial test has always been that our forces must be able to deploy quickly, operate effectively and sustain and support themselves in difficult environments. They must be usable and relevant across the range of circumstances in which they might be required to operate. Consequently, we are restructuring our forces, shifting the emphasis towards an expeditionary and force projection capability of a kind that we have not had for many years. In practice this means a series of enhancements to build a capability fit for the next century. We need capable Joint Rapid Reaction Forces with substantial firepower and protection. We need the new strategic airlift and sealift to deploy those forces rapidly. We also need vital logistics, engineering and communications assets to support those forces once they have been deployed. To that end we shall add 3,000 personnel to the Army. A sixth deployable brigade for the Army and the development of an air manoeuvre brigade will be centred around the Apache attack helicopter.

One of the most difficult questions we have had to address is that of our legacy. I point no finger of blame at anyone when I refer to the state of the defence medical services. We shall invest some £135 million in enhancements over the next four years, including the acquisition of a new 200 bed casualty receiving ship. We shall bring forward more detailed proposals on the defence medical services very soon indeed.

We are also extending our power projection capability by fitting all our nuclear powered attack submarines with the Tomahawk cruise missile. Many of your Lordships may have seen that that was successfully fired off the coast of California a few days ago. We have plans for new, larger aircraft carriers and a joint Navy and Air Force unit to operate from them.

From time to time the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, has expressed a certain scepticism as to whether or not those carriers would ever arrive. I can tell your Lordships that I have already received the first papers in connection with the early work that we shall need to undertake in respect of procuring those carriers. Those papers are receiving my full attention. I have a number of questions to ask the admirals about those papers, but the process has already begun. These ships will give us the capacity to project power and to underline our resolve in crises, wherever they may occur around the world.

Joint service co-operation and integration will be vital both to maximise the military output from our defence expenditure and to improve our ability to support the front line. The Smart Procurement Initiative will be a key. That will not solve generations of procurement problems overnight, as I know very well, having had to wrestle with precisely those sorts of problems some 20 years ago in the Ministry of Defence. However, I am convinced that the new arrangements that we are putting into place, with, I am delighted to tell the House, the co-operation of both sides of industry, will produce major savings and greatly improve the service that we give to the front line, in particular with respect to maintain ability. I made it one of my first priorities a few days after taking office to visit Abbey Wood and to state that maintainability was an absolutely top priority. Although we propose overall to reduce our holdings of spare parts—when we have found out exactly what they are, given the inadequacies of our existing IT structures—I hope that we will make sure that some of the vital shortages that have occurred in the past will not recur.

We have set up a high-powered central SDR implementation team to track progress on these matters. We also have integrated project teams who will "live" with individual equipment projects from their concept stage, through their development and production aid through the life of the piece of kit that we are acquiring. We are revising our standard contracts with our defence suppliers so that they hold themselves responsible for making sure that spare parts are available right through the anticipated service life of the equipment that they sell to the department. Those contracts will of course attract financial inducement, and financial penalties should shortcomings arise.

I emphasise again that we have received enthusiastic support from industry in these new developments. We have already established some 10 integrated project teams and are on course to establish the new Procurement Executive as an agency by 1st April next year.

We decided in the SDR that individual service logistic organisations should be brought together into a unified organisation. General Sam Cowan has been appointed to take control of the new organisations and to develop the arrangements after an appropriate transition, which will take a little time, into one integrated organisation. His priorities will include not only the reduction in stockholdings but also reductions in the infrastructure for storage of those stockholdings. He will also be working to achieve the convergence of the different IT systems and processes used within the support area by the three services. That will be a key step in making the management of logistics a more efficient business.

We are taking forward what is known as the Joint Force 2000 Initiative. This is intended to build upon the success of recent joint operations from our aircraft carriers involving the Royal Navy's air defence Sea Harrier FA2 and the Royal Air Force's ground attack Harrier GR7. This concept involves the formation of a joint force which will be deployable as a key element of the new Joint Rapid Reaction Force. The headquarters of Joint Force 2000 will be established in a new fixed-wing maritime group, which will also include Nimrod maritime aircraft, within RAF Strike Command under the control of a Royal Navy Rear Admiral. It will be commanded by an RAF Air Commodore and will be in place by the year 2000.

I have probably said all that noble Lords wish to hear from me on the restructuring of the Territorial Army. Noble Lords will no doubt wish to raise points for answer at the end of the debate.

So far as concerns Trident, we have signed an MOU with the United States covering revised Trident missile procurement and buy-back arrangements. Our requirement for 58 Trident missile bodies is seven fewer than under the plans of the previous government. With the MOU and buy-back plan we expect that our decisions will result in a saving of around £50 million.

We are extremely proud to have launched an equal opportunities centre at Shrivenham, and now have mandatory targets for equal opportunities training. All the chiefs have themselves either been or are about to go through the course at Shrivenham. We wish to make it absolutely clear that the Armed Forces and Ministers are determined to maintain a policy of zero tolerance on racial discrimination or harassment in Her Majesty's Armed Forces.

The equal opportunities training centre is the first of its kind in Europe. It provides equal opportunities training for service equal opportunities advisers and all senior service and MoD civilian personnel at one star level or above. In this context, we were delighted to receive the recent visit from General Powell from the United States and to be able to draw on his experience. I am hopeful that that visit, with his sagacious advice and many years of experience, will prove to be of great benefit to us in this field of activity.

We have also launched the Veterans Advice Unit. It opened within the MoD for business on 5th October. In the first eight weeks of operation, it has taken over 1,300 calls from ex-service personnel and their dependants. The unit is manned by five serving warrant officers. It offers advice on where to seek expert help on a range of issues of concern to former service personnel. So far, those have included issues such as homecare and housing, Falklands and Gulf War issues, finance, and how relatives might be traced. The largest number of calls have concerned pensions, employment, the provision of medals and inquiries about the unit itself. While we have done a great deal to publicise the setting up of the unit, I am confident that any help your Lordships could provide in that respect would be greatly welcomed by the MoD and by ex-servicemen's organisations.

Finally, as I am sure noble Lords recognise, it is beyond the power of this Government to implement the Strategic Defence Review in isolation from our allies. Our work has given us important insights with a broader relevance, which will be reflected in NATO's modernised strategic concept; namely, the blueprint for a new NATO to be adopted at the 50th birthday summit in Washington next year.

We intend also to work with our friends in Europe to turn rhetoric into practical defence co-operation. We are working to enhance the ability of the United Nations to conduct peace support missions. In that context, our increase in strategic air and seaborne lift capability will be extremely important.

We are also working to maintain the multinational interoperability on which our continuing operational success depends. These are areas where we shall have to invest heavily in the years ahead. That sort of interoperability does not come cheap.

Noble Lords need no lectures from me on today's agenda—Kosovo; the Gulf; people such as Mr. Milosevic; and the problems that we still have in Northern Ireland. But perhaps the greatest test of the Strategic Defence Review will be its ability to deal with challenges that we cannot yet even identify, let alone predict. In the Strategic Defence Review we have given the Armed Forces and all those who work in defence a robust vision of how our forces will be shaped through the first decades at least of the next century. We are now putting that vision into practice and, at a time when Britain's armed forces are once again in the headlines as a very real force for good, I am delighted to be able to commend our work to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House take note of the conclusions of Her Majesty's Government's Strategic Defence Review (Cm 3999).—(Lord Gilbert.)

3.29 p.m.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving us the opportunity to debate this important matter at what is realistically the first opportunity. I am grateful for the Minister's comments about building upon the success of the previous administration. I enjoy taking a bipartisan attitude, which I shall certainly have to do, with my new responsibilities.

I particularly look forward to the contribution of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent of Coleshill, whom I first met when he was at NATO. It was a surprising visit for me because at the same time I also met at NATO headquarters a representative of the Russian Government. Developments since then have brought us to where we are now.

We on these Benches were extremely sceptical about the rationale behind the SDR, and indeed the outcome is a substantial reduction in the mobilised strength of the British Army. In addition, there is a planned reduction in expenditure of nearly £1 billion. However, it is nothing like as bad as we had anticipated. As the Minister stated, the broad thrust is to move away from a plan for all-out war in western Europe and instead to enhance our already unique expeditionary capability.

I note the Minister's comments about the St. Malo declaration and its relevance to NATO, and I am sure that our FCO team will be equally interested.

It is unfair to criticise previous reviews that had different objectives, and I am pleased that the Minister has not done so. The Minister referred to DCS 15. It was partly a visit by the all-party defence study group and the HCDC that identified problems to Ministers some time ago. Unfortunately, the situation remains grim. I understand that there are still only about four orthopaedic surgeons in the Regular Army. Furthermore, morale in the defence medical services could be improved, to say the least.

There are difficulties with the SDR. It does very little, other than offer fine words, to reduce the overstretch. Indeed, much is made of the likelihood of further operations in the foreseeable future. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union has made peacekeeping operations all over the world much more prevalent than during the old Cold War days. The Minister talked of the welcome increase in regular forces, but that will not greatly alter the percentage of the Regular Army involved in operations. We doubt that the new aircraft carriers will be built, but I am grateful for the Minister's helpful comments. The TA has been decimated. The 3 per cent. year-on-year efficiency savings have been described as "challenging". Presumably this will equate to a further cut in budget if the savings are not realised. Can the Minister assure me that the MoD budget is on target for the next two years?

On these occasions we ritually heap lavish praise on our Armed Forces and we are, rightly, convinced that it is fully justified. In the past five years, as a civilian NGO aid worker, I have been protected by our Armed Forces in Bosnia and, more recently, I have had the honour to serve with them in that troubled land. If anything, our praise is understated. Unfortunately, I do not have time to go into more detail.

There are, however, serious manning and morale problems due to overstretch, which the SDR and the Minister recognise. But the SDR does not indicate any attempt to reduce operational commitments and we still do not know what is the foreign policy basis of the SDR. The SDR states that full manning for the Army should be achieved by around 2004. We know that the services, and in particular the Army, are experiencing very high rates of marriage breakdown. In addition, it is extremely difficult for young, single soldiers to establish durable relationships due to pressure from operations and training. Like all its predecessors, SDR contains fine words, but will they match reality?

Before speaking about the TA, I remind the House that I have an interest as I currently command a REME TA recovery company at Redhill, which has, fortunately, survived the SDR. In view of my direct interest, I shall leave it to others to comment upon the proposed size of the TA and anything to do with man training days. I detect a modest amount of spinning regarding training on battle-winning equipment, such as Challenger 2. This was referred to by the Minister when he repeated the Statement on the structure of the TA. Noble Lords will be aware that operating a main battle tank (MBT) is a highly specialised business. I believe that it would be a waste of time and resources to train TA personnel for this role when there will inevitably be far more crews in the Regular Army and the Regular Army Reserve than there are MBTs to be crewed. Furthermore, what regular unit would want to lend its carefully maintained MBT to a TA unit? I certainly do not believe that there is an intention to issue MBTs to TA units. Is there an operational requirement? If there is, why is it not identified in the SDR? If the TA is to have an enhanced armoured role, it should be with light armoured vehicles that would be useful for rear area security. Talk of MBTs is just a spin.

Talk of a more relevant, usable, integrated and rewarding role for the TA is welcome. Increasing use of the TA will help make the hard training much more worthwhile and relevant. All units in the new TA structure are now to be fully recruited. It was always my understanding that the target was that the TA would be 100 per cent. recruited; the difficulty was how to achieve that. What changes will the average member of the TA and the reserve forces see and experience?

I have been in the TA since I was 17½. I confess that, when I started, I practically hero-worshipped my senior NCO regular permanent staff instructors (PSIs). In the same way that one realises that one's parents are not infallible, this relationship with the various PSIs has changed over the years. Now that I am in command, I rely upon my PSIs to do the things that my TA NCOs cannot do. I also rely upon their wise counsel and experience. The non-regular permanent staff NCOs, who are effectively full-time TA, while very useful, are no substitute. They lack the Regular Army currency, rapidly experience skill fade and can have an "old soldier" attitude.

The optimum number of PSIs per unit has been determined with many years of experience and does not vary directly with the number in a particular unit, each PSI post having a particular function rather than a responsibility for a proportion of the soldiers in a unit. That being the case, can the Minister explain why there is a plan to reduce the number of PSIs at each surviving unit? Does he agree that this plan would fly in the face of all the spin on "improving" the TA and making it "more usable"? How can the TA become better integrated with the Regular Army if the Regular Army input and ethos is to be reduced? Furthermore, is the Minister aware that the Regular Army itself needs these high profile postings in order to create good career opportunities for the best NCOs?

I turn to a matter that is more the responsibility of the Minister of Defence Procurement. My point impinges on Smart Procurement and concerns MBT variants. The existing Challenger 2 is termed a gun tank but the REME and Royal Engineers also operate variants. The REME have in service the Challenger Armoured Recovery and Repair Vehicle (CRARRV). Automotively it is a Challenger 2. The Royal Engineers have in service Chieftain Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVREs) and Armoured Vehicles Laying Bridges (AVLBs). Neither of these vehicles can keep up with the in service Challenger MBT and urgently need to be replaced. My understanding is that the Minister is seeking competitive bids for these equipments. He is certainly looking far and wide, to the extent that he is even considering a Polish T72.

Another option is to rework some Challenger 1 MBT hulls. Does the Minister agree that the cost of logistic support to anything other than a Challenger 2 variant would be prohibitive? This cost arises from the increased training requirement, increased Equipment Support facilities in any operational theatre and a massive increase in spares inventory of the formation holding these low population variants. As for the need for a competitive bid, he knows what was paid for the CRRARV recovery variant and the engineer variants will not be technically too wildly different. Will the Minister's procurement policy for MBT variants be under the Smart Procurement initiative, will it be competitive or instead will it be smart and recognise that technically there is no alternative to a Challenger 2 variant?

The Armed Forces face many challenges but a particular one is information technology. For example, the essay on the reserve forces stated that the IT system would be improved better to manage reserve forces. Presumably, this is a reference to the UNICOM system that is now being finally installed. Unfortunately, this system was first introduced in the late 1980s and has been overtaken by advances in technology. One must remember that the power of a laptop doubles almost every 18 months but that the MoD takes years to procure anything. I sympathise with Ministers who have to grapple with anything to do with IT policy at the MoD. I fear that the policy is one that is almost impossible to manage.

I enjoyed the Minister's opening of the debate. We are broadly pleased with the way in which SDR was undertaken and its outcome. I have identified some difficulties particularly with the TA. I am sure that other noble Lords will raise important and interesting points this afternoon. It is unfortunate that my role is to identify weaknesses and largely to ignore any good decisions that have been made that we wholeheartedly support. My real anxiety is that some of the fine words and sentiments in the SDR may prove to be just that.

3.43 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, we in the Liberal Democrats also welcome this review and its overall outcome in defence terms. It is far better to have a thorough going review like this than to continue with the death of a thousand cuts. In a number of ways this has reversed the minor mistakes which the previous Conservative government made in pushing Frontline First and thus cutting back on some of the necessary support facilities, in particular medical forces. Clearly, it is correct to invest in long-range sea and air lift and in more flexible forces.

We also greatly welcome the further extension of joint operations and command. It is efficient, saves money and reduces inter-service rivalry. We also welcome the reduction in the number of nuclear warheads and the general stepping back of our emphasis on the independent nuclear deterrent. In particular, as a party that has been much concerned with the promotion of equal opportunities in defence we also welcome the new stress on that matter, the excellent conference that was held and the presence of General Colin Powell. My noble friend Lord Dholakia informs me that the Ministry of Defence is moving forward in many ways on this front. Recently in Birmingham there was active Ministry of Defence participation in a programme to give awards to Asians who had done well in the Armed Forces.

We have however some questions. We are unsure exactly what the role of the aircraft carriers will be. Is it intended that the aircraft carriers when built will have joint floating command post capacities? That appears to be an important part of how we view their future role. We also have a number of questions about the future integration of reserve forces into the regular Armed Forces. If, as seems most likely, British forces will be engaged over the next 10 to 15 years in a number of awkward peace-keeping and peace-making activities, some of the points touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee—the problems faced by soldiers on the ground who serve abroad and are away from their families for long periods—raise questions as to how far the Army should be encouraged to move towards long-term service for all of its infantry and support troops. As I have said in previous debates, I believe that the integration of reserve forces on short service, or even on three-year terms, is perhaps desirable because it deals with the problem of keeping people away from their homes and their loved ones for too long.

We also welcome the concept of defence diplomacy and the emphasis that is given to that concept in the report. I have seen examples in central and eastern Europe of the extent to which British officers help to train and retrain the armed forces of former socialist countries. There is a great deal that can be done in eastern Europe, Africa and elsewhere to educate the military to understand how to operate in a civilian-led world. There is a lot that we can do with our immensely good training base. We can invite others over here to take part in training with the British Armed Services.

As a university teacher I am struck by the commitment of Armed Forces personnel to peacekeeping and peacemaking. When I visited the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford two months ago, I was particularly struck by the number of people who had left the Armed Services and gone straight there to study as a clear indication that that was what they wanted to do next. At present a former Welsh Guards officer is studying European integration with me. He moved from the Welsh Guards to Carl Bildt's personal staff and now for some odd reason believes that the London School of Economics has something to offer him.

Our hesitation is concerned with the foreign policy framework. We were not entirely convinced that this was foreign policy led. The strategic framework was very loosely defined. There was almost no consultation with our European allies during the review. That has followed rather than preceded the review. There are some astonishingly loose references in the opening chapter of the review to the Gulf and beyond and to Britain's, dependence on imports of oil". I thought that Britain was largely self-sufficient in oil.

There are some very big questions about the Middle East and the Gulf in particular which I do not believe the strategic review takes into account. The oil price now stands at an historically low level. The likelihood is that oil supply will exceed demand for the next five, 10 or possibly 15 years, with Venezuela wishing to expand its oil production very substantially and central Asia about to come on stream and predicted to supply some 10 per cent. of the world's oil demand in 10 years' time. This is not a strategic context in which we need to keep forces in the Gulf to protect oil supplies; rather, it is a context in which possibly the Middle East will be an area of considerable internal turmoil, but not necessarily one in which we should assume that we play the role of world policemen in the Gulf.

I have some very big questions as to how far American assumptions about Middle East policy are ones with which the British should necessarily go along. At lunchtime I heard Carl Bildt say that the new central front for NATO for the foreseeable future is south-eastern Europe and that we are going to have to commit troops long term to maintaining the peace there and to providing the framework within which civilian societies can grow, develop and become stable. That is clearly a commitment which we share with our other European and North American allies. Beyond that I found in the Strategic Defence Review a larger number of questions than answers. How far do we see British interests at stake in the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean? How far do we see British interests at stake in the collapsed societies of Southern, Eastern and Western Africa? Do we see ourselves playing a peacemaking and peacekeeping role there? These carry large implications for the kinds of forces and the long-range power projection that we might ourselves need.

There is very little reference in the Strategic Defence Review to the current immense American preoccupation with weapons of mass destruction and the American predilection for using long-range air power to suppress "rogue states"—the current American phrase—which seem to be developing these new weapons of mass destruction. I hesitate to accept the American perception that NATO now has to expand and take on a world role. Part of the argument that we need to have between a developing European pillar within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the United States is precisely about the balance between NATO's regional responsibilities and the broader global responsibilities which we all share as members of the United Nations. I, and many others in this House, also share the nervousness on this side of the Atlantic about American determination at present that NATO should be able to operate outside its own area without UN supervision and some UN backing.

Having said that, we on these Benches welcome very strongly the St. Malo agreement. It puts the horse after the cart, but nevertheless it is the right horse. There is nothing very new in closer European defence co-operation. After all, it is developing the European pillar which President Kennedy called for in his Declaration of Interdependence on 4th July 1962. There is nothing dangerously Euro-fanatic about it, though that is the way in which William Hague was reported as having greeted the St. Malo agreement last weekend. After all, Britain was one of the founders of the Eurogroup some 30 years ago. We have had a Dutch-British marine amphibious force now for 25 years. We have had joint naval forces in the North Sea and the Channel for 20 years. We have had a Franco-British air wing for nearly two years.

Clearly, it makes sense to work more closely with those with whom we may have to operate most closely. We are unlikely to be operating on our own in most conceivable circumstances over the next 10 to 15 years. There are not many specific threats to Britain and certainly there is no direct military threat to us. This is an area where Britain can legitimately take the lead in Europe and should do so. Sadly, it has failed to lead for much of the past 30 years.

Where then should the St. Malo declaration take us? I welcome its terms, which suggest that we move much of the limited capacities of the WEU into the second pillar of the European Union without unnecessary duplication. We should have a capacity for the analysis of information sources of intelligence and the capability for relevant strategic planning. That seems an extremely sensible way forward. We clearly need to reinforce that with a strong political figure as the new Secretary-General for the Council of Ministers, "Mr. CFSP", someone comparable to the Secretary-General of NATO in order to balance the European pillar with our American friends.

I and my party look to a further strengthening of European forces and, as we are talking about sources of intelligence, to greater European satellite intelligence capacity and perhaps towards some kind of AWACS model for joint, long-range air lifts. Coalitions of the willing are something that we should be doing our best to develop further. I also encourage the Government to make it more visible: for example, to have the British and Dutch Prime Ministers standing together inspecting the British-Dutch marine amphibious forces and perhaps joint British-French fly pasts where we can see them. As the Minister may know, I was one of those who expressed a wish that we should have a Guards Regiment march down the Champs Elysees on 14th July last on the 50th anniversary of the occasion when the Scots Guards did so in 1938. That is the kind of thing which makes it real to the Murdoch press and others—and even to William Hague—that we are in a European partnership and that we want to make it work.

This Franco-British initiative marks a very clear step forward, based on a Strategic Defence Review, which also marks a clear advance. On that basis we very much welcome what has been achieved.

3.55 p.m.

Lord Vincent of Coleshill

My Lords, it has been a special honour for me to join your Lordships in this House. I am very grateful for the warm welcome I have received. Maiden speeches have something of a daunting reputation, but I find the occasion slightly more relaxing than my first visit in a NATO capacity to Moscow where I spent two hours alone with the Duma Defence Committee.

As two years have now elapsed since I had my introduction into this House, I should perhaps make it clear that the delay in making my maiden speech certainly implies no lack of interest or respect on my part. It has occurred quite simply because, since the end of my full-time military service, I have found myself increasingly engaged in a variety of new and unexpected activities including, by invitation, the Strategic Defence Review. More specifically, I did not think it appropriate to speak on matters related to that review until it had been completed and I could judge both the process and its final outcome on its merits.

I have of course been directly concerned with reviews of this nature both on a national basis and in the wider international context of NATO. Therefore, I know from first-hand experience how difficult it is to structure and undertake them in a manner that avoids narrow vested interests and produces timely changes that are, above all, strategically and operationally sound. Such an undertaking becomes even more challenging as an ever smaller proportion of our population—maybe we should be grateful for this—has any experience of military service and the ultimate test of military operations.

It is an accident of history for me personally that my military career, starting with National Service in 1950, spanned almost the whole of the Cold War. Before that, as a young boy living with my parents in the outskirts of London, I have the clearest memories of the events of 1938 and 1939 and all that followed in the next six years of the Second World War.

In the last decade of my military service I also witnessed the largest ever military confrontation, born of the Cold War, come to its conclusion without an international conflict in the nuclear age. From a personal perspective, I have no doubt that nuclear deterrence played a key role in that outcome and that it still has a strategically important role to play in the uncertain years that lie ahead.

As we sought to respond to the momentous changes arising from the collapse of the former Soviet Union, I inevitably found myself comparing the effectiveness of our security policies and defence arrangements, which failed twice so catastrophically in the first half of this century, with those that on the whole have served us so outstandingly well ever since. For over the past 50 years, despite periodic alarms and upheavals, we have in western Europe and North America enjoyed the longest period of peace and growing prosperity in modern history. That has come about because since the end of the Second World War we have taken a broad view of our security. Apart from our military efforts, we have placed reliance on historic and cultural ties, trade and economic partnerships, and treaty arrangements where we thought them soundly based.

Additionally, and most significantly, over the past 50 years we and our allies have formed through NATO the most successful security and defence alliance ever created. Those who doubt NATO's continuing relevance in the post-Cold War era have only to look at its effectiveness in Bosnia after the tragically unsuccessful efforts of the United Nations over the preceding three-and-a-half years.

Measured against that remarkably complex and changing strategic background, I judge the Strategic Defence Review overall to be a thorough, objective and relevant response to the new security challenges that confront us. If I have a lingering concern—it has been referred to today—it is born of recent events: that in trying to seek more effective European security and defence arrangements we should not duplicate the very costly defence overheads and capabilities already available to NATO where they have been honed and tested over nearly half a century. By all means let us encourage a more effective defence commitment within the European Union, but let us also set ourselves realistic objectives to avoid trading off short-term political and economic problems against our longer term security needs and to avoid a costly and inefficient security and defence bureaucracy being created within the European Union at the expense of our much needed operational capabilities. Those are already available within the proven multinational political and military structures of NATO. It is through NATO—unlike the situation in the first half of this century—that we have on the whole kept the United States constructively engaged in European security. That has made a fundamental strategic difference over the past 50 years.

The real test, as the Minister acknowledged, is to implement the Strategic Defence Review effectively at a time when our regular forces are still heavily committed to operations. It is an extraordinary statistic that at the ending of the Cold War we now find the Army relative to its strength more heavily committed to military operations than at any time since the late 1940s. We have to do something about that—it will require sound plans and adequate resources—and not least secure the major changes in the Territorial Army which, on the whole, I judge to be timely, relevant and necessary. My concern is that a smaller and more thinly dispersed Territorial Army will require more administrative and regular support than exists at present. That seems to be in doubt in some instances; it is a matter that needs to be urgently addressed.

I thank your Lordships again for the welcome I have received in this House and for hearing me so patiently today.

4.4 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I should make clear that in speaking from this position in the debate I do so personally, although I remain a loyal Member of my party's Front Bench on other subjects. I know that I speak for the entire House in being the first to express thanks to the noble and gallant Lord the Master Gunner for a fine maiden speech. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent of Coleshill, brings to this House a fine military record and much wisdom, as he has demonstrated to us in his maiden speech. He joined the Army for his National Service and became a Field Marshal. I, too, was a National Service subaltern in the Royal Artillery, but that makes me all the more delighted and proud to pay a well deserved tribute to the Master Gunner of St. James's Park for his maiden speech. As the noble and gallant Lord mentioned, he has been quite a long time in getting round to speaking to your Lordships' House, but we look forward keenly to the benefit of more of his wisdom and experience on defence and other matters.

The noble Lord spoke appropriately on the wide front of the Strategic Defence Review; and the Minister rightly did the same. But as befits my infinitely more modest experience, I am aiming at a lesser target, but not, I hope, an irrelevant one. We all know that plans can go wrong if the strategy is not well conceived, politically and militarily. But we also all know that things can go wrong because on the ground the operation does not or cannot be worked out in accordance with the strategy.

I wish to discuss the plan for the TA which has been prepared under the Strategic Defence Review and the extreme difficulties which it seems to me it will present in practice, and which will be such as to jeopardise the possibility of fulfilling its objectives. The aims of the plan for the TA are set out in the foreword by the Secretary of State to Volume 1 of A Territorial Army for the Future and expanded in detail in later chapters in Volume 2. In essence, the Secretary of State wishes the TA to be available to back up the Regular Army in operations like Bosnia or the Gulf War rather than being available to provide the basis of vast citizen armies as it did so successfully in two world wars.

It is indicative of that back-up role that it is planned for the medical corps in the Territorial Army to be larger than the infantry. If the TA were still regarded as an army by itself, it would be an exceptionally pessimistic military leader who organised his army on that basis. But training is supposed to be of a higher standard. The links between the Regular Army and the TA are supposed to be strengthened both to ensure the necessary training and to assist the Regular Army in its recruiting. Ministers have set out the strategy and the Ministry has published the plans. However, in respect of the local TA in my part of the country the detail of the plans makes the objectives difficult to achieve.

The example which leads me to that conclusion is one that I know best: the city of Bristol. Your Lordships will know that Bristol is the largest city in the country south of Birmingham apart from London. We are to be reduced to a total Territorial Army strength in the city of 186 soldiers; 110 of those are to be Royal Signals; 44 are to be Gunners; and 30 are to be infantry. Those will be part of the amalgamated South West Battalion—with our part presumably wearing the cap badge of the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment, an amalgamated regiment sometimes known as the M.4 Rifles.

Our 30 infantry soldiers are to be one-third of a company, the other two-thirds of which will be in Gloucester, nearly 40 miles to the north. The company will be part of the new South West Battalion, with its headquarters in Exeter, 85 miles in the other direction, and with other elements stretching all the way to Camborne, which is a further 100 miles beyond battalion headquarters. The headquarters must therefore try to train its troops on weekday evenings and at weekends, when they are spread over 200 miles over difficult roads. Any soldier towards the end of the line in either direction, as the Bristol ones will be, will not only have difficulties in receiving training but will not be able to try for promotion, whether as an officer or an NCO, unless he is prepared to undertake a fantastic travel commitment.

The proposed position of Bristol's Gunners is in some respects worse. They are to have half of a rather small battery—44 soldiers—with the other half 125 miles away in Croydon. Are they seriously expected to travel a 250-mile round trip after work on a Tuesday in order to train with their colleagues? It is bad enough to expect them to travel such a distance at a weekend in order to join with their fellows, but it is much more difficult during the week. A Gunner battery functions as a battery and needs to train regularly as a battery and not just occasionally. We all know that belonging to the TA is a team matter, both militarily and socially, but some individuals will meet their fellow members only a few times a year. Furthermore, they will effectively be denied promotion or the opportunity to become specialists. It will be extremely difficult to run an efficient unit that way.

The Secretary of State said in his foreword that he proposes to include training in the TA. I cannot see how that follows from the geography I have described. He also stated that he wants to see the TA more integrated with the Regular Army. The existing Gunner battery in Bristol is now a battery of a Regular Army regiment, the 7th Regiment Horse Artillery. That direct link with the Regular Army is to be broken. In future, its Regular Army staff will be 125 miles away. That is not increasing links with the Regular Army; it is the reverse of the Secretary of State's proposals and reinforces the general point made by my noble friend Lord Attlee. The only remark in the Secretary of State's foreword which is borne out by the proposals is that the TA should maintain as wide a spread as possible across the country. But I am not sure that the Secretary of State had in mind that that should be within a single unit or, indeed, a single sub-unit, but that is what has happened.

If anyone thought at all before deciding what to do about Bristol's TA, the real intention must be that the units will have great difficulty and be in danger of failing. That seems to be the most likely outcome. We have no Regular Army in Bristol, so if the TA's part-sub-units disappear or do not do well, the Army's presence in the city will almost vanish. That is a deceitful way in which to treat the Army, given what the Secretary of State outlined as his objective. Perhaps I have taken a bad example. Other cities are not treated as badly as Bristol; some have twice as many TA soldiers, although they are considerably smaller than Bristol. Even Croydon is to have more TA soldiers than Bristol. I believe that the detail of the proposals makes the Secretary of State's word into a spin-doctor's deception.

I want to end on a positive note. At least as far as our Gunner battery is concerned there is a solution. The Croydon half of the proposed new battery is to be found from the existing battery in East Ham. Those of your Lordships who know London will know that those who parade in East Ham are unlikely, to say the least, to want to transfer readily to Croydon. It is a difficult journey across London. It would be better if the part battery which is supposed to come from East Ham were to link with the HAC in Finsbury, which is far nearer and a much easier journey. That would leave Bristol free to find a whole battery, as now, for the Field Artillery Regiment. Proper training would be possible again, although the links with the Regular Army would still suffer.

I do not expect the Minister to give me a detailed answer to the plan tonight, although I made the suggestion last month in a letter to the Secretary of State, copied to the Minister, saying that I intended to refer to the issue. I trust that he will be giving careful thought to the suggestion and will write to me as soon as he has made the right decision.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, before moving to the Statement on mental health, I wish to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on a Statement should be confined to brief comments and questions for clarification. Peers who speak at length do so at the expense of other noble Lords.

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