HL Deb 11 December 2003 vol 655 cc876-92

3.32 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. The Statement is as follows:

"I should like to make a Statement about the Defence White Paper and a report entitled Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the Future.

"It has been five years since the Strategic Defence Review was published by my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who steps down at the end of this year as NATO Secretary-General. I am sure the House will join me in paying tribute to his determined contribution to modernising the alliance at a time of unprecedented challenges.

"The Strategic Defence Review concluded that we needed to move our Armed Forces into an expeditionary era and build greater flexibility to face increasingly diverse threats in both war fighting and peace support operations. Its conclusions have served us well in those five years, although it could not have anticipated the appalling events of 11th September 2001, nor their strategic impact. That is why we published a new chapter last year.

"The ability of our Armed Forces to conduct the full spectrum of operations has been well demonstrated since 1998. We have conducted operations-often concurrently-across three continents: in Kosovo, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Afghanistan and in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Our Armed Forces have been successfully engaged in combat operations in Iraq this year and are still heavily engaged in large-scale post-conflict activities.

"The Ministry of Defence is today publishing its full report into operations in Iraq, Operations in Iraq: Lessons for the Future. The House will recall that an initial report was published in July, which provided an authoritative account of the campaign and reflected on the early conclusions that we could draw from the combat operations.

"Since then, a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the operation has been undertaken within the Ministry of Defence. Evidence has been taken from those involved in the operation at all levels, assessing the effectiveness of the equipment we used and identifying from this work the lessons we can draw from the campaign.

"The operation was a significant military success, achieving almost all of its military objectives within only four weeks. Those are not my words, but the conclusion of the National Audit Office report into the operation, whose publication today I also welcome. Our people performed magnificently, the equipment was highly effective, the logistic support most impressive, and the revolution in strategy and doctrine that we set out in 1998 has again been vindicated.

"But, if we want to maintain the battle-winning capabilities of our Armed Forces, we must learn from the difficulties as well as the successes. There is no benefit in a lessons process that is bland or uncritical. I have encouraged an honest, unflinching report that rightly focuses on the future and outlines the areas where we want to continue to improve. Some changes have already been implemented. Other lessons have no quick solution, but will form the basis of work in the Ministry of Defence over the coming months.

"But it is important to emphasise that we have been successful in recent military operations because we have always looked ahead at the capabilities we need for future challenges. It is appropriate therefore that the detailed analysis of the Iraq operation is published on the same day as the White Paper. The title captures what it is about-Delivering Security in a Changing World. The document sets out how we expect to adapt to keep ahead of the challenges. It sets out a policy baseline against which we will make decisions to provide the Armed Forces with the structures and capabilities they require to carry out the operations they can expect to undertake in the future.

"The shadow of the Cold War, which has shaped our Armed Forces for two generations, may have receded, and the threat of a large-scale conventional military attack on Europe may seem remote as a result, but new threats are emerging. We must respond to today's strategic environment and prepare for tomorrow's. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the threat posed by international terrorism, coupled with the consequences of failed or failing states, presents us with very real and immediate challenges.

"Our experience of the recent pattern of military operations demonstrates the increasing frequency of the United Kingdom's involvement in small and medium-scale operations. The need for multiple, concurrent small to medium-sized operations will therefore be the most significant factor in force planning. Counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation operations in particular will require rapidly deployable forces able to respond swiftly to intelligence and achieve precise effects in a range of environments across the world.

"Regional tensions and potential conflicts are likely to create a sustained high demand for enduring peace support commitments, such as the extended deployments that we have seen in the Balkans. But we must also retain the capacity to reconfigure our forces at longer notice to undertake the less frequent, but more demanding large-scale operations of the type we saw in Iraq earlier this year.

"Expeditionary operations on this scale can effectively be conducted only if US forces are engaged. Where the UK chooses to be involved, we would want to be in a position to influence political and military decision-making. This will involve sharing the military risk, and require an ability for our Armed Forces to play an effective role alongside that of the United States. We were able to do this in Iraq by, for example, procuring additional communications equipment for our aircraft. More generally, the key to inter-operability with the US, for our European allies as well as for the United Kingdom, is likely to rest in the successful operation of NATO's new Allied Command for Transformation.

"Whatever the strategic planning and equipment, it is ultimately people who deliver success. Our people will need to possess exceptional skills to deal with the complexity of modern operations. We must continue to invest in their recruitment and training and reward them properly for the difficult tasks we ask them to undertake. The excellent contribution of our Reserve Forces in Iraq shows that they are an essential part of our defence capability and will continue to remain so.

"Resources must be directed at those capabilities that are best able to deliver the range of military effects required, while dispensing with those elements that are less flexible. It has historically been the fashion to measure military capability in terms of the weight of numbers of units or platforms-of ships, of tanks and of aircraft. That might have been appropriate for the attritional warfare of the past but, in today's environment, success will be achieved through an ability to act quickly, accurately and decisively, so as to deliver military effect at the right time.

"What are the critical elements in delivering this military effect? The answer is threefold: sensors, to gather information; an effective network, to consolidate, communicate and exploit that information; and strike assets, to deliver the decisive action. Technology will be a key driver for change and will present us with new opportunities-for example, the means by which to link "sensor to shooter" through network enabled capabilities. And by thinking about capability jointly rather than as a collection of separate platforms, the effects that can be delivered can far exceed the sum of the parts. This will provide significant opportunities when we consider the requirements for future force structures and will place a premium on flexible and adaptable network enabled capabilities.

"It follows that we no longer need to retain a redundancy of capability against the re-emergence of a direct, conventional strategic threat to the United Kingdom. Our priority must now be on providing the capabilities to meet a much wider range of expeditionary tasks, at a greater range from the UK, and at an ever-increasing tempo. The heaviest burden in these circumstances will fall on those key enablers and force multipliers that deliver more rapid deployment, better intelligence and target acquisition, with ever-greater accuracy.

"The structure of each of the services will also need to evolve to optimise joint operations and provide greater flexibility and capability to project power to counter the threats we face.

"Our emphasis in the maritime environment is increasingly on delivering effect from the sea on to the land, supporting forces ashore and on securing access to the theatre of operation. The new amphibious ships coming into service over the next two years, together with our existing aircraft carriers, offer a versatile capability for projecting land and air power ashore. The introduction of the two new aircraft carriers and the Joint Strike Fighter early in the next decade will offer a step change in our ability to project air power from the sea while the Type 45 destroyer will enhance protection of joint and maritime forces and assist force projection. Some of the older ships can contribute less well to the pattern of operations that we envisage, and some adjustments will therefore be necessary.

"In the case of the Army, experience shows that the current mix of heavy and light capabilities was relevant to the battles of the past rather than the battles of the future. We need to move to a more appropriately balanced structure of light, medium and heavy forces, and place a greater emphasis on enabling capabilities such as logistics, engineers and intelligence. The Future Rapid Effects System family of vehicles that we are currently developing will help meet the much needed requirement for medium-weight forces. Over time, this will inevitably reduce our requirement for heavy armoured fighting vehicles and heavy artillery.

"The work in this area is continuing, but we judge that we can start this rebalancing by reducing the size of our heavy armoured forces. We therefore intend to establish a new light brigade, reducing the number of armoured brigades from three to two. This will be achieved by re-roling 4 Armoured Brigade in Germany as a mechanised brigade and re-roling 19 Mechanised Brigade in Catterick as a light brigade. We will announce further plans for future Army force structures next year.

"We want to be able to project more air power from both the land and the sea, offering enhanced capabilities across the range of air operations. Stormshadow missiles will provide a long-range precise-strike capability, and the increasing availability of 'smart' bombs, such as Paveway IV, ensure a higher degree of accuracy in our offensive capability than ever before. Around 85 per cent of RAF munitions used in Iraq in 2003 were precision guided, compared to only 25 per cent in Kosovo as recently as 1999. Additionally, Typhoon and the Joint Strike Fighter will offer much greater flexibility and balance in the air component of the future, reducing the need for single-role fast jets. Multi-role capability will also allow us to deploy fewer aircraft than previously thought necessary. We are therefore considering what these developments mean for the number of combat aircraft we require.

"The rapid deployment of land and air combat power is, of course, dependent on having a sufficient strategic lift capability. The core of the airlift capability will continue to centre on the C130 fleet, and the A400M when it replaces older C130s from 2011. We are considering the options for retaining a small force of C17s after A400M enters service, to carry the largest air deployable items. We also have a fleet of six roll-on/roll-off vessels that proved their worth in moving our forces to the Gulf and are crucial to achieving a rapid build up for medium-scale operations.

"Where military action is required, it will be most effective when it comes in the form of partnerships, alliances and coalitions. For the United Kingdom, the key organisations through which we act will be NATO and the European Union.

"NATO remains the basis for the collective defence of its members, and continues to play an important role in crisis management. It is a transatlantic organisation through which the US engages with its allies in planning and conducting military operations. The EU's European security and defence policy is complementary and provides a means to act where NATO as a whole is not engaged. The forthcoming intergovernmental conference is an opportunity to strengthen European security and defence policy and European military capabilities. As a result, we will strengthen NATO, without any unnecessary duplication.

"The security and stability of Europe and the maintenance of the transatlantic relationship are of fundamental importance to our defence. More widely, our security and national prosperity depend on global stability, freedom and economic development. Our Armed Forces will continue to act as a force for good in the international community. We know that, ultimately, security cannot be delivered by military might alone, but involves changing attitudes and bringing security to those regions where there is a risk of instability. This is a challenge not just for those of us in defence but for all of us in government. The White Paper should be read in conjunction with the White Paper on UK international priorities that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary published last week.

"Everything that 1 have set out involves change. The White Paper, by dealing with the policy context, will ultimately determine the shape of our Armed Forces. Within that overall shape, we will need to develop the details of individuals systems and structures. However, before we can do that, we need to be certain that we have the right procurement and development projects. That is why the Ministry of Defence is undertaking a significant examination of our capabilities and overheads. This is not a new defence review, nor does it need to be, but it is a final check on our planning to ensure that we have the right capabilities needed for the challenges ahead- that we are spending our finite funds in the most effective way. I shall make further announcements on the results of this work next year.

"This is a changing world and we must adapt if our Armed Forces are to stay ahead of potential adversaries. We must exploit new and emerging technologies, and we must be prepared to take tough decisions to ensure that our Armed Forces are able to carry out the difficult tasks we ask of them. It is only through this process of continuous change and improvement that we can ensure that our Armed Forces are equipped and structured to meet the challenges of the future".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.49 p.m.

Lord Vivian

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for repeating this Statement today. We welcome the fundamental thrust of the White Paper, which foretells very considerable change for the conduct of the Armed Forces' business across the board. Let your Lordships not forget that the Strategic Defence Review was never properly costed or funded, and the same must not be allowed to happen this time. There are a number of issues which stem from it, but before I get into any detail, I would like a definite assurance that the Government will find time to hold a full debate on this important subject next month in this House.

In the time that I have had to study the White Paper, I am disappointed that I have not been able to find any reference to financial or budgetary matters-a concern that is uppermost in our minds. On these Benches, we generally agree with the assessment of the strategic environment and the difficulties that flow from it. We believe that we have come to a decisive moment in history, when a new and diverse constellation of threats has appeared that are not nearly as obvious as were their relatively certain predecessors. We assert that since the end of the Cold War the world has never been as dangerous or as unpredictable, nor the threats so serious.

An era of invulnerability is over; our adversary has changed. Terrorism is a technique. It is not an ideology or a political philosophy, let alone an enemy state. It is an exceptionally difficult threat to deal with. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them represent a major threat. We welcome the Government's decision to continue to examine the issue of missile defence. We must therefore be prepared for the unexpected, as well as dealing with conventional military tasks.

We have also learned, and continue learning, from the experience of our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are lessons on preparedness, jointness, precision, speed and agility, but there are clearly situations in which light forces might not be the best solution. We look forward to studying in more detail the MoD's Operation in Iraq: Lessons for the Future. We welcome the NAO report on operation TELIC, which makes the point that, while it is clear that British troops performed brilliantly, there were shortcomings in supply of chemical protection and other life-saving equipment. That cannot be allowed to happen again, and we look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

Measuring the capability by the number of units or platforms in their possession remains highly significant. The same unit or platform can never be in two places at the same time. Thus a combination of capabilities in numbers will continue to be of critical importance in any assessment of the potential effectiveness of our Armed Forces. Infantry and armour on the ground can be augmented by technical wizardry, but cannot be replaced by it. The peace in Basra today has been kept by some 10,000 soldiers on the ground. We underestimate at our peril the importance of the infantryman and the tank and all that they can do. We should not reduce our tank fleet until FRES comes into service.

We welcome the intention to enhance the strategic enablers of communication, logistics and intelligence. Furthermore, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, pointed out, it is important that we do not concentrate our efforts to too great an extent on one emerging threat, in a knee-jerk reaction, forgetting that there are other threats that have not gone away and for which we should still be prepared. We believe such principles to be of the first importance.

We welcome the acknowledgement of the absolute need to continue robust and collective military training at all levels. We consider it vital to underpin the new doctrines with the single-service ethos and fighting spirit, as well as moving to improve arrangements for families and harmony, and rebalancing key support elements towards the brigade from the divisional levels.

The backdrop of the White Paper seems to be a crisis in the Government's defence budget. We on this side of the House, together with many retired and serving military officers, have the greatest reservations about the Government's ability to sustain their current ambitions and equipment programmes. We believe that the defence budget is deeply in the red. Is it not a fact that the equipment budget is overspent in excess of £1 billion per year, and the personnel budget by £600 million this year? What programmes and activities does the Secretary of State expect to cut or defer to balance the books? Is it true that he has ordered cuts of £1 billion a year for four years? It is alleged that much of the so-called new money from last year's spending review-£3.5 billion-has already been earmarked for the new weapons programmes.

The reality is that the MoD will have to defer or cancel elements of major equipment programmes to balance the books to fund new equipment. We are concerned that a whole raft of decisions will start to leak out later, and we look to the Minister reporting back to the House in detail what is eventually proposed. For instance, is it true that programmes earmarked for cuts include Eurofighter, Nimrod, nuclear submarines, Type 42 frigates and some heavy armour?

I have a number of questions to ask the Minister. If he is unable to answer them, perhaps he would be kind enough to write to me. First, the new battlefield technologies will have to be paid for. Where is the funding for that going to come from? Secondly, I am sure that the Minister is aware that the defence research budget has been cut by 10 per cent, which is some £45 million. How can the Government be serious about digitised battlespace and continue with defence research cuts?

Thirdly, while paying the warmest tribute to the achievement of our TA and reserve forces in Iraq and elsewhere, we welcome the chapter on developing the reserves and the urgent need acknowledged in the White Paper to improve support for reservists and their families and employers. Will the Minister give the House some idea of the future manning levels of the TA and other reserves?

Fourthly, will the Minister comment on the future of the Northern Ireland troop deployment? Lastly, can he confirm that a covert defence review is now taking place?

In conclusion, we remain deeply concerned about the financial crisis in the MoD and the consequences that are flowing from it at this time of severe overstretch. We look forward to the MoD announcing its future intentions, thus removing many uncertainties for our servicemen, women and families. The Armed Forces are not afraid to cope with change, and they have always been highly adaptable and flexible. As is customary, I pay great tribute to our Armed Forces, for their bravery, loyalty and courage, for their dedication to duty and for their willingness to serve the country. I also praise their families, who steadfastly support their husbands. However, as I have said before, it is our duty to ensure that the Government do nothing to compromise the excellent success of our Armed Forces, which could put them at risk and result in operational failure.

3.58 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, I start with one minute left of the time allocated to these Benches, so I crave the leave of the House if I go on slightly longer than that. I also want to thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, which should be read in conjunction with the Foreign Office White Paper and the National Audit Office report, which has come out in the past couple of days. If noble Lords have not seen that report, it is well worth picking up from the Printed Paper Office.

A vast amount of information is included in those documents, and in the short time available I have not been able to pick out a great deal. However, I start with page 36 of the National Audit Office report, which refers to repeated, identification of logistics lessons on previous operations". Operation TELIC fell short in the area of poor asset tracking, poor logistic communications, stock shortages, priority deadlines not met and lack of control over coupling bridges. In other words, in all areas that were assessed, it fell short, which seems very unfortunate.

Although the White Paper is short of any guidelines on cost, and, indeed, is completely shorn of any estimates even, the issues raised in it indicate that we are moving to a different form of warfare focusing on high technology. Noble Lords on these Benches welcome that move in certain areas. It is obvious that some of the technologies, especially Smart bombs and the technology involved in communications, transport and air support saved lives not only of our own soldiers but, just as importantly, of civilians on the ground. However, we are particularly concerned that attention is focused on those areas at the expense of peacekeeping. Although the documents refer to war operations, peacekeeping is a far more difficult, costly and long-term operation.

Unfortunately, although money can be allocated to providing high-technology solutions, the peacekeeping operation will require manpower and reserves. Manning levels are of particular concern as we are so dependent at the moment on our regular soldiers. I refer to the short break they have between operations. Indeed, on Radio 4 this morning the Minister of State said that the period between operations is now down to 10 months, as opposed to the hoped for 24 months. That arises because we are relying very heavily on the reserve forces. The report examines the state of the reserve forces and ways in which they can best be supported. However, that raises the concern that these reserve forces may be being counted on to turn up again and again. I know from friends and from comments in press reports that the reserve forces members of Operation TELIC would think very seriously before they undertook such an operation again. That could have a significant effect on manpower levels given that 7,500 territorials and reservists took part in Operation TELIC.

The other issue of real concern is that of the Territorial Army. The White Paper mentions the specific skills of certain members of the Territorial Army. Reducing the size of the Territorial Army always appears to be an easy, cost-cutting solution but it has an impact as, when you reduce the size of a unit, you often get rid of the most valuable people with the very expertise gained in civilian life-such expertise is highlighted in the document-that you most want to retain. Doctors are of particular concern in that regard, as has been pointed out in numerous debates.

As manning is an issue of such concern at the moment, has the MoD reconsidered the freeze on recruitment? One does not have to go back many years to the time when many noble Lords spoke of the need to increase the number of people in the Armed Forces. Despite the success of such recruitment, we now have a hiatus because of that subsequent freeze which could lead to a big dip in numbers further down the line when we might need a large number of troops.

I could discuss many other areas but I do not think that I should infringe further the time that is allocated to me. However, I wish to raise one further issue. Operations in Iraq, Lessons for the Future, refers to weapons of mass destruction. It appears that the only weapons of mass destruction that the report discusses, apart from the intention to produce them, are, strains of biological organisms concealed in a scientist's home, one of which could be used to produce biological weapons". As I understand it, that was a vial of precursor chemical that was left over from before the previous Gulf War. That has to be a matter of real concern as weapons of mass destruction constituted the reason for going to war in Iraq in the first place. I ask about cost as it is specifically mentioned in the document. What has the cost been so far to the British Government of looking for weapons of mass destruction? Obviously, those are very wide costs, but if the Minister cannot give me the relevant figures today, perhaps he can give me an indication of what our component of the Iraq survey group has cost so far.

4.5 p.m.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords very much indeed for their contributions, in which they expressed general support for the tone and content of the White Paper. However, they of course reserved their positions, as they are absolutely entitled to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, has great experience in these fields-much more than I shall ever have. I thank him for the comments that he made about our Armed Forces, which I know that noble Lords on all sides of the House echo warmly. The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, asked a straight question about a debate. A debate is being discussed through the usual channels. I hope to be in a position to initiate a debate in January. I choose my words carefully. The noble Lord knows how the system works, as I do. However, I think that he will find that response fairly encouraging.

The noble Lord made some general points about the White Paper, many of them with great force. He referred to the comment made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, that we should ensure that we are ready for everything and should not focus just on one situation in which military force may be required. That fits in with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, regarding being ready for the unexpected. The whole intention of the White Paper's policy is to encourage flexibility to ensure that we are ready for the unexpected, as that is what we can expect. In the extremely dangerous world in which we live we do not know where and when our Armed Forces will be needed next. The White Paper says what it does for precisely that reason.

The noble Lords, Lord Vivian and Lord Redesdale, discussed lessons to be learnt. Of course, there are lessons to be learnt from the Iraq campaign. It would be absolutely astonishing if that were not the case. We should learn those lessons. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, mentioned the NAO report. He is right to point out that there has been some criticism of how things have worked out. We are already looking hard at the points that the NAO makes. However, it is only fair to say that, on balance, the NAO report comments extremely favourably on the way in which the war was won, the way in which our Armed Forces performed and how the equipment-some of which was roundly criticised before the war-performed extremely successfully during the conflict.

Both noble Lords invited me to answer certain questions either now or in writing. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, that the defence budget will provide the new equipment to bring in the network-enabled capability. However, we must understand that if we are to introduce that very valuable form of procurement, it may not always be possible to introduce other measures that we should like to introduce, either at the time that we want to introduce them or at all. Indeed, that is a fact of life, as it has been in defence for many, many years.

We need to consider carefully the resources dedicated to science and technology and research. Exciting plans exist to use the funds that are available for research and development. Noble Lords will be aware of the Towers of Excellence research initiative between the MoD, defence contractors and academia to consider certain crucial research and development plans.

I ought to say that the DSTL, the government-owned science laboratory, has a very high reputation for its outstanding work. The House will know that the old DERA was split in two, and QinetiQ effectively became a private company although the MoD still has a large shareholding in it. I praise the DSTL, which remains in the MoD, very warmly today for the important part that it played in the Iraqi conflict. Much has been made of the so-called computer games that went on at Fort Halstead, but they assisted us to win the battle for Basra in a way that would not have been possible without them. The methods used involved the modern technology and network-enabled capability that we have spoken of in the White Paper.

We all hope for the day when it is possible for the large number of British troops who do such an amazing job in Northern Ireland to come home and conduct normal Army life. However, we are not in that position yet. When we are, they will be very warmly received back into all the functions about which we have talked today.

We ought to keep financial difficulties in some kind of perspective. I do not want to say a great deal about them today, save to remind the House of something that I have reminded it of many times-that the spending review of last year represented the largest sustained increase in defence spending plans for 20 years. It added more than £3 billion to defence spending over the three years. Having said that, Defence Secretaries over the years have had to deal with fluctuating financial pressures and to live with their budgets. That happens with all departments of state, and it happens in the Ministry of Defence, too. There has been the complication of managing the impact of operating the resource accounting and budgeting for the first time.

However, I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Vivian, should be too depressed about the position. We have a large equipment programme. We spend a large part of taxpayers' money on our Armed Forces. I know that the view of this House is that that amount of money is well spent.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked me to say something about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He perhaps referred to Dr David Kay's statement of 2nd October. I would like to share with the noble Lord and the House examples of programmes that had been clearly concealed from the United Nations. They included a clandestine network of laboratories and safe houses within the Iraqi intelligence service suitable for chemical and biological weapons research, biological organisms concealed in a scientist's home, research and development on biological warfare-applicable agents and, of course and importantly, UAV and missile-development work that went far beyond the 150-kilometre maximum range permitted by the United Nations, including efforts to procure missile technologies from North Korea with a range of 1,300 kilometres.

The House will pay some attention to the fact that that has been found by the ISG. Those who suggest that Saddam had no WMD programme in Iraq are plainly wrong. However, I do not want to be driven into that field today. The Statement is about the White Paper. We hope that it shows the way forward for the Armed Forces in the years ahead and, as I said, I am very grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in favour of it.

4.14 p.m.

Lord Boyce

My Lords, one main theme of the White Paper promotes the idea that modern technology, such as network-enabled capability, may allow some reduction in the front line. I understand the thrust and convenience of such a line of thinking entirely. Will the Minister provide some reassurance that reductions in our front line will not happen until the technology is in place, or at least that reductions would be managed very sensibly? If he cannot and the front line is raided, how will the ensuing hiatus be managed? Will our Armed Forces be put under still further pressure on the basis of some jam in the distant future?

I also notice that the Statement is long on the high-intensity end of the business, as is quite right and proper, but that is where all the high technology most pertains. However, the Statement is short on the routine day-to-day activities. It talks of a demand for enduring peace support commitments, or multiple small-scale concurrent operations. That is what makes up the significant proportion of our daily business, where the fact that we are actually a force for good comes home.

That is what occupies the vast majority of our Armed Forces' time and keeps them well stretched. How will they sustain such commitments if there are force reductions? For example, our destroyer frigate force is now fully engaged on peacetime tasks. We cannot make our people work harder or, as was already mentioned, endeavour to be in two places at the same time. Shall we see some sort of cut in commitments?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and gallant Lord for his contribution. The House will know the important part that he played during the recent war in Iraq. He speaks with a huge amount of expertise, and I believe that that was his first contribution to such a Statement. Of course we have to be extremely careful in making sure that, when we consider how force structure should be in future, we do not rush to reductions in force numbers to be able to pay for the new types of equipment that we need to bring in. The noble and gallant Lord understands-he said so just now-and supports the notion that we might have to change the sort of equipment that we use to fight modern wars.

Nothing in the proposals as they are today suggests that, for example, there will be any fewer in the Army than there are at present. Some of the scares that have been doing the rounds can be put to rest. Nothing at all here suggests that that will happen. However, that is not an argument against some sort of force structure to meet the new world in which we live.

The noble and gallant Lord was also right in his first point about reductions taking place as we bring in network-enabled capability. We have to handle, plan and manage that with considerable care and skill, and it will not be easy to do. As he knows as well as anyone in the House, finite resources are available for defence, and we have to use what resources we have to the very best of our ability. I shall do my best to reassure him, and go so far as to say that we are extraordinarily conscious of the fact that a huge amount of our country's reputation in the world has been gained by the peacekeeping that we sustain in many places. That is one reason why we are a force for good, if I can use that phrase yet again, and we will not sacrifice that easily.

Lord Jones

My Lords, does my noble friend guarantee the purchase by the department of the heavy-lift A400M aircraft? How many will there be? When might it first fly? Is the refuelling tanker project also guaranteed? Does he accept that, throughout the regions in our country, those projects represent many jobs of high status and high skills?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the number of A400M ordered by the United Kingdom is 25. They are in the process of construction. As I hope that I said when I repeated the Statement, 2011 is the year when we hope that the first one will come into service. The noble Lord can rest assured that we recognise that it is essential that such a tanker programme, whatever form it takes, is begun. As was made clear in an answer in another place today, that decision will not be reached and announced until as early in the new year as is possible.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, are the Government satisfied that there is no nuclear threat? If there is, is our Trident fleet still dedicated to NATO and will NATO be the responsible authority for dealing with any such threat? My second question is about human intelligence. I am glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, in her place, because she and I agree that the secret of what is known as the "war against terrorism" is human intelligence. We have woefully neglected that in the past. Does the Minister agree that that is an important part of our defence mechanism, leaving aside the hardware?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his questions. The Government's nuclear deterrence policy remains as it was set out in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review. My noble friend knows that we maintain the minimum level of nuclear weapons required to guarantee a credible deterrent against any potential aggressor. That is provided by our one nuclear weapon system, Trident. There is nothing in the White Paper to suggest that its relationship with NATO, about which he asked, is altered in the slightest. I hope that that gives him some reassurance.

Human intelligence has been discussed across government and widely outside, particularly since those awful events of September 2001 and the acts of terrorism around the world that have taken place since that time. The Ministry of Defence takes its role in that respect extremely seriously, as do the Government as a whole.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, I have been looking through the excellent document published today, Operations In Iraq, and reading what a wonderful job the services did in that country. On page 78, every unit of the Royal Naval Reserve is mentioned, which is highly commendable. However, when one turns to the Royal Air Force on pages 82 and 83, all the regular units and squadrons are mentioned, but of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, the document states merely that "personnel were also deployed". Having done so exceptionally well in Iraq, Cyprus and in this country, why have the individual units of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force not been mentioned in the same way as have those of the Royal Air Force?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I must be frank with the noble Lord. I do not know why, but I shall find out and let him know as soon as I possibly can. I thank him very much for his question.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, will the Minister reassure us on the future of the Black Watch, whose recent splendid and gallant achievements in Basra are so much admired by us all?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right in saying that its achievements in Basra are unsurpassed. We all praise it for that. No announcements of any kind are being made in relation to any part of the Armed Forces beyond what was said in the Statement about the armoured division, the mechanised division and the new light division. Therefore, the noble Baroness should not be too concerned. In making his Statement and answering questions of this kind in another place earlier today, the Secretary of State made it clear that he would be more than happy to meet anyone with a constituency interest in a particular part of the Armed Forces and to discuss the matter with them. The noble Baroness need not be too concerned.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, I did not hear the Minister respond to the question asked by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bryce, on whether there will be some reduction in commitment. Everybody knows that the army is grossly over-stretched and that the times between operational deployments are much shorter than they should be. We heard in the Statement that demands of the Armed Forces will be made at an ever-increasing tempo, but I recall no reference being made to manning. Will the Minister recognise that there is deep anxiety that the Government will continue to exploit the "can do" philosophy that characterises the Armed Forces to an extent that is unfair on them and militates against the security that they can provide?

Lord Bach

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his point. I know that his view is held outside the House as well as inside it. There is no doubt at all that the Armed Forces have had to do a huge amount in the past year and before that too. I should make the position clear about tour intervals, which is one of the issues that comes under the general umbrella of "over-stretch". The figure of 10 months as an expression of tour averages for infantry battalions is correct, but the period to which it referred was from 1st August 2002 to 31st July 2003. That period represented a peak of activity, including not only Operation TELIC, the Iraq war, but Operation Fresco, which, as the noble and learned Lord will know, concerned the fire strikes that were taking place at the same time. A conscious decision was taken to shorten tour intervals to accommodate those operations. However, the average tour interval for the period from 1st January to 31st December 2002 was 22 months. That is not as good as the 24 months that is the aspiration for the gap between tours. The noble and learned Lord is right that the Armed Forces have been worked extremely hard during the past couple of years and have been involved in many different campaigns. We will take care to make sure that the tour gaps do not become too short and that the provisions for members of the Armed Forces and their families are better than they have been in the past. There have been some big improvements in recent years in the way in which the personnel of the Armed Forces are looked after and we will continue them. However, the noble and learned Lord has made a good point and I shall take it back.

Lord Desai

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement. It seems clear that more software than hardware will be used in future wars and that the hardware will be very different. What concerns me is the training of our Armed Forces. Will my noble friend assure me that the training will keep pace-indeed, more than keep pace-with the changing nature of warfare and of the equipment that soldiers have to handle?

Lord Bach

Yes, my Lords, I can give my noble friend that undertaking. Training is absolutely critical to the new type of network-enabled capability equipment that we are seeking to introduce. Training has never been more important. As my noble friend will know, the Ministry of Defence spends a lot of time working out how best to train our Armed Forces, both for what they do now and for what they are likely to have to do in the future.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, among the forces for good that the Minister mentioned, I am sure that he would include the special forces and the provincial reconstruction teams that we have in Afghanistan. They are some of our most able troops. However, can he explain why those are still so few in number compared with those in southern Iraq? Why do the Secretary-General of NATO and the Foreign Office have a campaign to increase the numbers coming from Europe within NATO?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the noble Earl will know I will not say anything about special forces. It would be quite inappropriate for me to do so. As for Afghanistan, I will take that point back and write to the noble Earl. It is important to remember the huge amount of work that British Armed Forces have done in Afghanistan and the crucial role they played in setting up ISAF, when that force was absolutely necessary. I shall take back his point and write to him.

Lord Freeman

My Lords, the Minister made some very complimentary remarks about the reserve forces which will be much appreciated by them. However, would he and his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence reflect possibly on the need to lengthen the minimum time interval between compulsory mobilisation of reservists? Otherwise, we may see overstretch coming not only from the regular forces but to our reservists as well.

Lord Bach

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question and his interest in the reserve forces. The reserve forces now play an absolutely critical role in the Armed Forces and everything that they do. The lesson from Operation TELIC-the 7,500 reservists who have already been mobilised for Iraq-is that they continue to play an absolutely key part in ongoing operations in Iraq. They also play the part of sometimes freeing up regulars, so that those regulars can perform the roles for which they have also been trained. We very much realise, perhaps more than ever before, the integral part that they play in our Armed Forces.

We also recognise that there have been some difficulties with financial assistance to the reserves and know that that requires attention. Reservists have also occasionally experienced difficulties with their employers as a consequence of being called up. The noble Lord's point was perhaps a linked one-that they should have longer before being compelled to take part. I shall look to see whether that is not already part of the studies we are doing on the lessons to be learned from the use of reserves in Iraq.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, the Statement says that the IGC is an opportunity to strengthen European capabilities. What exactly does that mean so far as British forces are concerned?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the capabilities which the British forces provide, particularly to NATO and of course under the ESDP, are of the highest order and compare very well. Our concern-it has also been a very big American concern over many years-is that some of our close friends and allies in Europe have not always been as willing to provide the capabilities needed for our common defence-as NATO makes clear they must be-as they might have been. I exclude from that the French, not in terms of friendship but in terms of any weakness in capability. We have tried in various ways over previous years to encourage those friends and allies perhaps to provide more and higher quality capabilities to our defence. I do not think that, at present, there are many lessons for the British to learn, because I think we have been generous in this field.

We want the countries of Europe to be able to provide the capabilities-sometimes small niche capabilities-that are of great value in facing the problems which we all face today: the unexpected violence that may occur at any time. I think that that is what the conference is trying to achieve.