HL Deb 10 February 1998 vol 585 cc996-8

2.53 p.m.

Lord Chalfont asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they expect to complete the strategic defence review.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert)

My Lords, the strategic defence review is now looking at possible missions for our forces, military tasks, future force structures and capabilities, procurement and a wide range of efficiency-related issues. Once all work on the review has been considered by Ministers, we will publish a White Paper setting out our overall conclusions. I envisage that the White Paper will be published in the first part of this year.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Can he assure the House that the defence review is still determined by foreign policy and defence requirements and not by pressures for further cuts in the defence budget? In that context, will he take an early opportunity to discuss these matters with officers and men and women of the Armed Forces, where he will find considerable concern and anxiety about their future?

Lord Gilbert:

My Lords, I am happy to confirm that the review is and will remain foreign policy-led. The noble Lord is right in saying that we are discussing. and will continue to discuss, these matters with members of the Armed Forces. It is particularly important that we maintain well equipped and well motivated forces and that is part of the strategic defence review. I am happy to be able to tell the noble Lord that later this week I shall be visiting British service personnel in Kuwait and Bahrain. I shall also be visiting Qatar, when I hope to be able to brief our friends in those countries about our efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the Gulf crisis.

The Earl of Carlisle

My Lords, if the strategic defence review recommends measures which will entail greater expenditure, will the Minister appeal to the Treasury for an increased defence Vote? If that is not forthcoming will Ministers in the Ministry of Defence resign their offices of state?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, it is a little premature for us to be considering resignation. We are not without hope of obtaining certain enhancements to our capabilities as a result of the review.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, does the Minister agree that with defence commitments as they are and as they are likely to continue, with the Armed Forces so manifestly overstretched and undermanned, and with previous defence studies going back for at least nine years prying into every nook and cranny of defence value for money, there can be no logical case for reducing further the resources allotted to defence?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I note what the noble and gallant Lord says. He speaks with great wisdom on these matters, but, even after his tenure as Chief of the Defence Staff, we believe that there is still waste and that we can gain efficiency enhancements. We hope to be able to obtain additional resources for the defence Vote out of those savings.

Lord Howell of Guildford

My Lords, can the Minister confirm whether the Eurofighter is included in the strategic defence review? It is an expenditure of about £15 billion, which is possibly the largest portion of defence expenditure. It is a lot to exclude. Looking at our foreign policy as a whole and the review as part of that, can the Minister also confirm that the budgets and figures will take account of expenditure in other parts of our international policy, including a small part of the budget taken up by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomatic wing?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the Eurofighter is an expensive project. It will be the biggest single drain on our resources in the years ahead. We have made it clear that we are committed to buying 232 of these planes in conjunction with three of our leading allies in Europe. I am pleased to say that the programme is making a great deal of progress.

As regards other elements of expenditure, I draw the noble Lord's attention to the initiative of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence on defence diplomacy. As the noble Lord indicated, it costs a great deal, but we believe that it will bring considerable bonuses in enhanced security.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, the Minister must be aware that one of the major features of our survival during the last war was that we had the largest merchant navy in the world. It was able to suffer tremendous losses while continuing to supply the logistics. During the past 25 years it has disappeared from the oceans. Can the Minister tell us whether the White Paper will deal with the delivery of logistics? We have no merchant navy. We were called to action in the Falklands and managed to get away with it, but we could not do so again because we have no ships.

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, I must invite my noble friend to await the outcome of the review, but I can assure him that questions of our strategic lift capabilities figure highly in our thoughts at this moment.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, may I express my sympathy with the Minister for his inability for months to answer any Question that has been asked because of the imminence of the strategic defence review? Will he draw to the attention of his honourable friends in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and particularly in the Treasury, the lowering of morale among our Armed Forces because of the delay in the review and their fears for the future, which seem to be justified?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, of course I do not accept for one moment the quite preposterous postulate put forward by the noble Lord that the morale of our Armed Forces is very low. I am quite sure that I shall very shortly be able to bring back detailed refutation from the Gulf on that point.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, in view of some alarming reports that the Government are considering forming a tri-service logistics monolith, will the Minister assure the House that the logistic command of our forces will continue to be exercised separately by each of the services? Does he agree that the doctrine and practice of support for the Royal Air Force, which is very mobile, differs from that for the Army and that both are different from that for the Royal Navy?

Lord Gilbert

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right that the requirements of the three services differ considerably in areas of logistics, supply and maintainability. However, he will recognise, from his vast experience in these matters, that there are still many savings which can be made in those areas.