HL Deb 24 March 2004 vol 659 cc704-45

Lord King of Bridgwater rose to call attention to defence policy, including the additional challenges posed by terrorism; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in preparing for this debate, I took account of the events that occurred since we knew that we would have this debate. I remind your Lordships: Madrid, the atrocity; the assassination of a Government Minister in Herat in Afghanistan; the intensive fighting in Waziristan; the outbreak of attempted ethnic cleansing, perhaps, again in Kosovo; the assassination of Sheikh Yassin; the civil riots and petrol bombing in Basra; and the seemingly continuous backdrop of murder of American soldiers and Iraqi police in Baghdad and surrounding areas.

I welcome the Minister, understanding that he has had an extremely difficult journey and very much appreciating the efforts that he will have made. It is not my peroration but merely my introduction that he has missed.

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

My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity to apologise to all Members of the House for not being in my place at 3.15 p.m. I think that the House knows that I was fulfilling a longstanding engagement with the Royal Navy on the west coast of Scotland. It would have been quite wrong for me not to have gone there. The plane back was delayed. If it had not been, I would have been in my place at 3.15 p.m. I of course apologise to the House, and especially to the noble Lord, Lord King, for not having been in my place.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, I entirely appreciate—as will the House—the Minister's reasons and the important engagement, which is not one that allows for much flexible timing. You are very much at the mercy of your conveyors, as you might say, when you arrive in Faslane. I hope that the Minister had an interesting trip.

I instance that background to describe what events have taken place. I want to talk about the background to them. I have previously referred to what I think is a dangerous world. The Cold War ended in an almost headlong rush. One of its worst legacies was from one of the last events of the Cold War: the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the rise of what might now be recognised as the militarisation of militant, extremist Islam.

Afghanistan became the perfect training ground for a movement that was in any case showing considerable pressures, strains and activity because of events in other parts of the world. Many young men travelled to Afghanistan, joined the Mujaheddin and were supported by the United States and us with weaponry and by the Saudis and others with substantial funds. They learnt to fight; they learnt how to conduct warfare against a sophisticated, major modern adversary; and they learnt the fullest compendium of terrorist capability.

They were successful and we cheered them for it and admired them. I remember, at the beginning of the Gulf War, the arrival of the last of the coalition, the Mujaheddin, the Taliban from Afghanistan, who came to help the Kuwaitis in recognition of the Saudi and Kuwaiti contribution to their fight in Afghanistan, to help to clear Saddam Hussein from his illegal invasion of Kuwait. But, of course, having come from this perfect training ground with the gratitude of the Taliban, it did not end there. The Taliban was able to offer massive training facilities. Its instructors were hardened, trained professionals from the Afghan war and there were opportunities for those skills to be deployed in Bosnia and the fight to support the Muslims there; in Chechnya and the Muslim resistance and search for independence; in Kosovo; in the everlasting challenge of Palestine; and now in Iraq.

Out of that has come a recruiting and training system of quite enormous dimension. I do not think anyone knows how many thousands passed through those training camps. Every fresh activity seems to provoke a further grievance. How many willing recruits will the assassination of Sheikh Yassin produce for the training camps that Al'Qaeda may be able to establish?

I instance this because it could easily be thought that some of the problems we face at the present time are a few rather dangerous sparks of a fire that will be easily extinguished. Any fair analysis will recognise that we face a major conflagration that has been stoked for some time and is a major threat to the world.

I wrote a foreword on behalf of the Intelligence and Security Committee six years ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, will recall. We expressed then increasing concern over Islamic terrorist threats. Five years ago in my foreword I said: Last year we spoke of the scale of terrorist attacks around the world, which averaged 60 a week, and of increasing concern over Islamic terrorist threats. This year saw the attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam which killed 220 people"— slightly more than were killed in Madrid— and wounded 5,000"— significantly more than in Madrid— and which confirmed the scale of the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and other Islamic groups". If one observes the examinations and investigations taking place in Washington at the present time on Capitol Hill, one hears the question being asked as—your Lordships may fairly ask—about why we did not have greater consciousness at the time these events were taking place. I omitted from that list of events the earlier attempt on the World Trade Centre some 10 years ago and the subsequent and serious attack on the USS "Cole". So American experience of such attacks is over a long period.

We must recognise that we face an enormous challenge and that it will be a long haul. It will be an even longer haul if we make no progress in the main conflict areas. The ones that I have immediately in mind are Palestine and Chechnya. So my first priority for a defence policy has nothing to do with our Armed Forces but presents a major challenge to the diplomatic skills of the world and ourselves to make some proper progress on those long-standing and troublesome issues.

If we are to have a successful defence policy, our second priority must be to sustain public morale at home. I am critical of the statements made by some with current responsibility who refer to the terrorist threat and say that it is not a matter of "if" but "when". That is not a particularly helpful message. It is not certain that it will be "when". Of course the risk is enormous; of course the threat is very great; but we have substantial capabilities in our intelligence and security services which have served us very well in the past. Our hope must be that, with the maximum public contribution, vigilance and willingness to accept some difficult changes in the way in which we go about our lives, we can determine to ensure that it is not a matter of "when".

Incidentally, I was talking earlier today to Sir Michael Quinlan, the ultimate guru on nuclear policy, who told me that in the late 1950s that was said about nuclear war; that it was not "if' but "when".

If we are to sustain the morale of our people they must understand that we will do our best; that we do have capabilities; and that it is the determination of the Government, and the leadership that I am sure they wish to give, to ensure that it does not happen here. We should tell the people the truth, make every reasonable preparation we can to prevent it happening, and give the leadership that people deserve.

The truth is that we have no choice but to stand. We do not face an enemy with whom we are able to negotiate. Against extremist, fanatical militants of this kind we have no choice but to stand. At the same time, we must distinguish them from those who have legitimate grievances, with whom we should certainly seek to engage. So that is the background against which I approach the defence policy.

At this most dangerous time it is absolutely vital to sustain our defence expenditure, which is under unacceptable strain. The reality is that, as we do not know at any one minute what is going to happen—as we did not know until a week ago that we were going to send another battalion to Kosovo; as we did not know that we were going to send another 100 SAS to help in the exercise in Waziristan to tackle Al'Qaeda and to assist the Pakistan army—it is absolutely vital that we maintain our capabilities in this field.

As to resources, I listened to the Chancellor in his Budget speech. I still do not know what he was saying. Against the Aunt Sally that he put up that he might freeze defence expenditure and cut it in real terms, he said: At a time when our armed forces are now serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as in Northern Ireland and elsewhere … such a course would be irresponsible … I reject it … I can tell the House that I propose real terms increases in defence spending".—[Official Report, Commons, 17/3/04; col. 333.] The House of Commons and everyone else thought that that meant there was to be new money and a significant new increase in expenditure. The briefing afterwards stated that there was to be no new money. If that is the economic situation, tell the truth. Do not try to embroider it for the sake of a Budget speech that sounds good at the time but proves to be a great letdown to those in the Armed Forces.

The reality is that we shall have to look at our defence policy. One of the phrases that I lived with in my time, which others know well, is that it is not "how many" but "how capable". That sounds jolly good, but if there is ethnic cleansing in Kosovo it cannot be dealt with by a UAV and a stand-off missile; if problems explode again in Afghanistan, you will not deal with them without boots on the ground and people who can play their part. I am afraid that that means not only capabilities but people as well.

I should say to the Minister that he is able to make announcements about what the Armed Forces—the Army, the Navy and the Air Force—and the Ministry of Defence will do largely because of what others have prepared for him before. He and his colleagues are the trustees of our present capability. But that has been bequeathed to him by others. Of the equipment that he was able to praise and produce in the Iraqi campaign, a great deal of it was ordered during my time and earlier. The Eurofighter was ordered way before I became Secretary of State—so you can tell how long ago it was—and we do not have it in service yet. So a lead time is necessary for providing such items of equipment.

There is also a lead time for providing that most effective requirement to which Ministers throughout the generations have stood at the Dispatch Box and paid tribute—the wonderful calibre and quality of our Armed Forces. They are admired around the world, led as they are by the captains, the majors, the colonels, the sergeants, and the sergeant-majors, who were trained 10 or 15 years ago. They have been trained and retrained; they have been retained; they have made their career in the services and have given the leadership, around which the recruitment of those who have a much shorter span within the Armed Forces make their contribution as well. So the judgment on the Minister will be made not on how well we do next week or next year, but on whether he hands on those capabilities to his successor and the successor after that.

I was deeply distressed to read the Select Committee report on what happened in Operation TELIC. There is no doubt that the Government took a risk and did not give adequate notice to the forces and the logistics staff for the preparation. What happened to some of the forces who went out there was a disgrace—the shortage of ammunition, the shortage of personal body protection, the inadequacy of uniforms and the lack of desert boots. Those were problems that all Governments have, but it was crucially, above all, because it was left too late. The Select Committee was absolutely right—there was no need to leave it late because diplomatic measures, with overt preparation for military force, was the most likely way in which to avoid a conflict.

Our forces are dangerously stretched at present. The TA and reservists, above all, perhaps, are under quite exceptional pressure. Unless we ensure that the resources are there and can maintain the morale, the training and the capability of our forces, we are on borrowed time. And there is nothing worse than being on borrowed time in such a dangerous world. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.52 p.m.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for introducing this debate and setting the scene for the very wide issues that we face. I should also like to comment on the earlier remark about there being only one speaker from the Labour Benches; my noble friend the Chief Whip said that the Minister would answer every point and we would all support him. I do not want it to be thought in any way that I do not support the Government. As a colleague said to me, "Brenda, you're playing left-wing, right-wing and centre-forward today for the party".

This is a very difficult and wide issue and I am pleased that we are debating it today. No doubt we will continue to debate it, because, as the noble Lord, Lord King, said, this is not a five-minute wonder. It is with us; it is about life today. I should like to concentrate on the Armed Forces, accepting that perhaps today, more than ever, the integrated working of not only the Armed Forces but our security services generally is essential.

I predicate everything I say against the background that our Armed Forces like to work. They like to do what they are trained for, and if that means being posted into an operational field more than once, sometimes several times, over a two-year cycle, they will face that. But it is a question of what comes with it and what we as a nation give them to carry out that role and to recognise the impact on their lives and families as well.

In the debate on the White Paper of 11 December last year, Delivering Security in a Changing World, Nicholas Soames, leading for the Opposition in the other place, said that he generally agreed with the thrust of the paper. I think that most people would, although there would be great differences on the detail. Chapter 5 of the White Paper deals with personnel. It announced that in April this year, the Government would publish a personnel plan. Essay 5, which accompanied the White Paper—I do not always follow the terminology—talked about the increasing competition and cost of personnel because of the Armed Forces having to compete with other parts of our community. That is essential. Will that personnel paper be published, as a policy, in April, on time? It has to be integral with the overall defence policy.

The National Audit Office report and the report of the Select Committee on Defence referred to by the noble Lord have criticisms but they also recognise what has been achieved. The reports are very positive. The House of Commons Defence Committee report refers to the impact of Operation FRESCO. The firefighters' dispute came out of nowhere—who would have thought it would have had an impact on how our Armed Forces, all 19,000 of them, would be expected to cover in that industrial situation at the same time as preparing to go to war in Iraq? That was an enormous challenge that had a side effect we must consider.

The report referred to lost leave. I gather the situation is improving considerably, but it has an impact on retention. Recommendation 86 talks about the key effectiveness of our services based upon their training. If we do not have the resources available, whether it is time or physical support, that will affect training. If there is anything that helps the professionalism of our Armed Forces, it is the good training that personnel receive.

On the reliance on reserves, the problem over the years is that the reserves, and their employers in particular, probably thought that they would never be deployed. In some skill areas, such as medicine, as much as 10 per cent of the overall cover is provided by the reserves. That has presented problems, and it is covered in Recommendation 29 of the Defence Committee report. It certainly reflects what I heard, going around talking to Armed Forces personnel. They talked about people having lost their jobs when they come back, which confirms what I heard.

We need to recognise where we have made progress. Staging has gone—it was a legacy left by the Conservative Party when it left government. Although it was some time ago, because personnel such as majors—not the corporals and privates—have made the Armed Forces their career, they still ask questions about staging. It affects morale and it affects their pensions later on. So the fact that staging has gone is welcome.

The welfare package has in recent years improved enormously the support for the Armed Forces and their families when they are deployed. The treatment of partners, as announced in the Iraq conflict, should a service man or woman be killed in action, is very welcome. So there have been many improvements.

A survey of 11 fellow nations and partners—Australians, Americans, Canadians, and so on—showed that the overall conditions and package for our people compares very well with theirs. In addition, of course, the long-awaited outcome of the pensions review is still outstanding.

We have seen progress, but I believe that we are poised at a very important time for defence in this country. We talk about education, health and our communities, which are all very important issues. But defence and defence policy need to be up there with those issues as a priority for the Government in view of what we are facing as an individual nation and what others around the world face. If these terrorists believe in anything, it is that the world is a village. Borders do not matter to them and neither do nationalities.

It is terribly important that the resources for the defence budget are strictly monitored and watched over very closely to ensure that the money is spent properly—sometimes it is not. Those resources are crucial, and I will address my remarks to this matter in the closing minutes of my contribution to this important debate.

Resource account budgeting has proved difficult for the MoD in particular. Like anything new that is trialled, there are always hidden problems. I was pleased to read that an increase in real terms means that. If it is announced in a Statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am sure that it will be honoured. However, the problem is that we are talking about the next spending round which does not start for two years. We have a problem here and now. The rumoured £1.2 billion shortfall is not an insignificant sum. It is an enormous amount of money. If we are to make savings in the long-term defence budget, it cannot be cut in the first year, because one cuts the very things that are needed. These are people-related issues. Contracts are entered into and time is needed to deal with them. Keeping ships tied up and telling pilots that they cannot go on training because it is too expensive will not help us to contain and use our resources properly.

It is important that we ensure that, in the interim period of two years before we get the real increase—unless the Minister makes my day by telling me that we will get that increase in real terms from this year—we make it clear that we do not expect the £1.2 billion shortfall to take place. People are not interested in defence because of any macho reason. I am interested in defence because of the defence of this nation. I want to make sure that the compact that we have as a nation with our Armed Forces personnel is honoured fairly. I hope that the Government also think that.

When the Cold War came to an end, about 30 per cent of the defence budget was cut. Enormous numbers were slashed. That was some time ago, but the services are still feeling the effects of the skills black hole caused by those jobs going. The Armed Forces are still short in some key skill areas. These issues must be addressed in an overall defence policy.

4.2 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for introducing this debate. I will turn attention away from defence to terrorism. I declare an interest as a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority. I am speaking in this debate because my attention was drawn to a newspaper headline that I noticed at the station. It announced, "We are not prepared". It was, as usual, a scare story. It said that if there were a Madrid-type incident in this country, we would be in chaos for a long time.

A good deal is being done to prepare us for the consequences of such an incident. About three weeks ago in the Thames Valley, we ran an exercise called Operation Red Signal. It was a partnership operation between the police, the health service, the fire brigade, the military and all sorts of other people. It was not a job for a few office boys around a table. It involved a lot of real people, with two unconnected incidents happening simultaneously on a Sunday in the Thames Valley area. A good state of readiness to respond was shown. There was a rather grim attitude rather than an enthusiasm to respond, but we are moving towards being properly prepared for an event, even though it is impossible to know what it might be or where it might happen.

However, such exercises are very expensive. This one lasted only a day, but the police costs for my own authority were more than £500,000 and there were further costs for each of the 15 or 16 local authorities for the lire service and ambulances. Our authority went three times over the Government's suggested level of precept, so we had already stretched the Deputy Prime Minister's patience to the limit with what we asked of the council tax payers. There will be more exercises and more alarms, but we must spend the money. To some extent, that touches on what was said by the previous speaker. These are expensive but necessary things to do.

We have to set such exercises beside the Government's priorities to cut burglary, car crime, robbery and drugs misuse. We have a great shortage of experienced people, because most of our officers leave us to work for the Met. We are constantly recruiting officers and we have a young and very inexperienced force of people. They are not unenthusiastic, but they are inexperienced. Looked at from the point of view of those who lead the police force, the day-to-day work is very difficult. It is intensive and nerve-racking work, deciding what to do and when to do it, knowing that the blame in modern circumstances will fall on the front-line police officers, who will be asked why they did not foresee the problem. I am afraid that incidents are now seen as media events rather than tragedies. There are also the inevitable after-the-event opinions of journalists who criticise everything from the safety of not having to plan, foresee or do anything.

There is a second element involving delicacy of judgment—not to make a pre-emptive move. If people are to be prosecuted—and many noble Lords have referred to this matter in this House—evidence is required in order to make arrests. There will be problems if someone is jumped on too soon, without sufficient evidence. However, the webs involved in international terrorism are extremely complex and secretive, as the noble Lord, Lord King, said. I challenge my own Benches to consider how much civil liberty needs to be conceded in this fight. Do we take risks in circumscribing the liberties of a very small number of people when, on the other hand, there is the possibility of the death or injury of a very large number of people? Officers have to make such judgments. The primary function of the police force is to protect the public, but it can be a very uncomfortable trade-off.

For example, along with other police forces, we recently received reliable intelligence of the possibility of an attack on an aircraft approaching or leaving Heathrow. Huge numbers of police, some military and other people were involved in what had to be an intrusive operation to thwart this threat. Such operations may involve intrusion into people's lives and liberties, but the alternative could be a major almost unspeakable tragedy. Similarly, we must view stop-and-search as a necessary weapon in such a struggle which has to be balanced against treating ethnic minorities or asylum seekers with dignity and respect. This debate is not helped by people who use arguments about stop-and-search that are ill founded and ill researched as fairly cheap political propaganda.

I am not expecting an off-the-cuff answer on this matter, but the railway systems in the capital are extraordinarily vulnerable to attack. Will the Minister ensure that the police are equipped with sufficient good-quality equipment to x-ray packages that are found and those that are left in left-luggage offices? I believe that there is some equipment, but there is only a limited amount that has to be shipped around from station to station according to demand. We should supply equipment that is needed to deal with the terrorist threat.

I conclude by saying that the co-operation at local level is better than ever. People are working together. Those in local government and the police, ambulance and fire services have a unified command structure to deal with the problems. The area is very difficult but the agencies involved are working hard to ensure that, if required, they are prepared—not willing or enthusiastic but quite determined to deal with the problem. The chiefs of our public services are doing their best to keep up our defences and preparations much as the noble Lord, Lord King, asked. It is not easy in a world where newspapers seem to make a virtue of ghoulish headlines, but it is one where the people who are doing the work at ground level deserve tremendous support wherever they can get it, because they are doing a very vital job for our community.

4.11 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for introducing this important debate. I should like to concentrate, and narrow the focus of my remarks, on Eurofighter, or Typhoon as it is now named for the Royal Air Force. It will be a key contributor to our defence capability for many years ahead. Control and dominance from the air are widely agreed to be vital to success in military operations. However, there continues to be a great deal of adverse criticism about this major equipment programme: it is said to be outdated, delayed, too expensive, designed for the Cold War and not required for today's and tomorrow's front line.

Bearing in mind the comment of the noble Lord, Lord King, about long gestation periods, it will not surprise your Lordships to know that I was closely involved in the formative period of that vital air power requirement. As Chief of the Air Staff in 1987, along with my opposite numbers from Germany, Italy and Spain, I signed the revised operational requirement for the project. Before that, we had some hope that the French might be persuaded to join us, but that was not to be. We envisaged then that prototypes would be flying in the early 1990s and that the aircraft could enter service by mid-1995 in the air forces of all four countries. Regrettably, we are still nowhere near that level of achievement. It has been a highly unsatisfactory and frustrating story for the air forces and, of course, for the nations involved. I shall not attempt to apportion blame, some of which must lie with the manufacturers and more with the behaviour and procrastination of all the governments involved.

There have always been, in a major collaborative programme, periods of review and uncertainty as governments and new administrations satisfy themselves about committing very large sums of money to the next stage of development or manufacture. In spite of all our experience with such programmes, we have yet to be realistic enough about the political/bureaucratic problems. At times, frustrations are such that it is tempting to pull the plug on the whole programme, but except in the very first few years that is rarely very realistic either, any more than would have been an early decision to run the whole programme as a national one.

For those who criticise the delays and inefficiencies of this collaborative programme, I have a lot of sympathy; but for those who then go on to criticise the performance and operational need for the aircraft, as part of their argument for withdrawing from its procurement, I have no such sympathy at all. Cost is one criticism—and, yes, the programme is costly and imposes a major demand on the defence budget for a number of years, some of which is already past expenditure and so of no more than academic interest, and some is still to be committed.

Our Armed Forces are today being committed to a global expeditionary role, which in turn requires new capabilities, particularly if we are to operate alongside United States forces, as the Government have stressed that we must expect in their recent defence policy statements. I welcome that. We have only to recall the many years of air operations over the no-fly zones in Iraq or the intense rates of air effort at the start of any recent campaign, to appreciate that there is a real and critical role for air power in all warlike and conflict prevention scenarios.

While one would hope to be able to bank on the short, sharp shock, the more likely eventuality is that roulement and replacement of deployed forces will have to take place. For each squadron's worth of strength deployed overseas, another couple are required to allow for operational role training, recuperation, and the ongoing requirement to provide experienced instructors for the next generations of air crews.

Critics argue that Typhoon is far too sophisticated for today's type of operation. It was designed, admittedly, to fight in intensive combat against Soviet forces, and we no longer face such threatening capabilities, so it is claimed that it is no longer required. But critics do not think to distinguish between the performance of the airframe—the platform—and the weapons systems with which it may be equipped. In the late 1970s and the 1980s, a great deal of study was undertaken into the relative performance of an airframe and its weapons for the air superiority role. High manoeuvrability and agility of weapon and/or airframe are of course essential if one is to give one's air crew a reasonable chance in a one-on-one joust in air superiority battles against well equipped enemy fighters. It would be foolhardy, as well as immoral, to set out to equip one's own side with inferior performance overall to that of potential adversaries.

The outcome of all the operational evaluation work was clear: the airframe itself had to have high manoeuvrability. Hence the design and performance of the Typhoon airframe. But what seems to be overlooked completely in the argument is the enormous flexibility offered by this high agility in air power's other key requirements. Yes, there is air superiority—but in addition there is a platform with different or additional weapons and other pods that can provide for close air support, air offensive and reconnaissance roles.

The operational lives of modern airframes are much greater than those from a couple of generations ago—and some of those did us well. I flew the Vulcan in every rank in my service from Squadron Leader to Marshal of the Royal Air Force. The Vulcan and I entered the Royal Air Force in about the same year. Nearly 40 years on, it was still in service as an air-to-air refuelling tanker. The B52, a strategic Cold War bomber at outset, is now rearmed with smart weapons and able to provide close air support for ground forces from far-flung airfields. The Canberra, the RAF's first jet bomber, is, 50 years on, an outstanding intelligence platform with its modern sensors. Those and other Cold War airframes are still flying operationally in today's conflicts. I expect the same longevity for Typhoon, with weapon changes and upgrades over the years of its service life.

At the end of the day, one of the best tests of any equipment is whether those who will have to rely on it for their lives like it and are happy to be operating with it. I have no doubt that there is a big thumbs-up from the air crew now that Typhoon is at long last in RAF hands and will soon reach the front line.

So long as our Armed Forces are to be sent on expeditionary operations far from home bases, they must enjoy the protection, both offensive and defensive, that only air power can provide. Typhoon has a critically important role to play in any future operations. Its initial cost will be well amortised over a long in-service life. I hope that the Government will continue to give it the fulsome support it deserves to help to meet the Government's defence objectives.

4.20 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, I begin by commiserating with the Minister for the circumstances that brought him here this afternoon. I look forward to his words at the end of the debate. I hope that he will have caught his breath by the time we finish.

This debate is important and timely. Like others here this afternoon, I want to say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord King, for inaugurating this exploration of a number of interlocking issues that need to be addressed together, which is precisely the advantage of an occasion such as this. We do our defence policy, in relation to terrorism or anything else, a grave disservice if we do not see it in its complexity.

For example, I am sure that many noble Lords are relieved by the promise held out in last week's Budget that defence spending is to be increased in real terms. But we need to know more about what this will mean in the long run. There are some large equipment spends coming up that have already been negotiated and of which knowledge is in the public domain. I refer, for example, to the new Eurofighter aircraft and the two new aircraft carriers that Portsmouth will be proud to have in the naval dockyard. But there is the lack of equipment for front-line troops in Iraq. This may be explained by the fact that it simply arrived at the wrong place, which may reveal a lack of investment in logistics.

There is also the fact, which comes across to amateurs such as me, that modern warfare is reported and debated by the media in a way and to such an extent that would have been impossible, and probably not allowed, even 10 years ago. That places a burden of accountability on the Government and Armed Forces that they have not hitherto known or experienced.

In recent years many quite dramatic thresholds have been crossed. For the navy world-wide, the suicide terrorist attack on the USS "Cole" in Aden in late 2000 opened a new era in force protection for sea-borne forces. That has led to the need to work out exactly how to identify and destroy at sea vessels full of explosives.

As the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Alan West, has made clear recently, the role of international policing currently undertaken by the Royal Navy includes curbing the work of modern-day pirates and uncovering the insidious links between terrorism, drugs and arms smuggling, as well as the smuggling of illegal immigrants. These facts are not known to the public. They can be known but many people seem to be unaware of this widening role. Eighty per cent of the world's trade and 95 per cent of Britain's trade moves by sea. Our country is more reliant on the sea than almost any other nation. A threat at sea has a direct impact on us.

In all the reorganisation that rightly goes on in our Armed Forces, it is important that we are aware of the need for high morale among our service personnel, as the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said earlier.

That brings me to the question of security. Security processes are now far tighter. As we know well, that affects civilians. We are getting used to living in a far less predictable and far more dangerous world than the one in which my generation grew up during the Cold War, which was stark and resented but was, in some strange ways, manageable; at least it was more manageable than the situation that we are in now. In the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, I am not sure whether I am allowed to admit to being the son of a former MI6 officer, but since he has died I am perhaps allowed to do so.

Our new climate of "controlled fear" places new burdens on many of our institutions and intelligence, as a concept, often has to carry additional burdens that may make us confuse it with fact. When the facts, as we experience them, do not match the intelligence that we may maintain we have received, it is assumed that something must be wrong with the system and heads must roll. That is not always a helpful way to operate. All knowledge is partial because it is incomplete. We cannot always know and express the whole picture. In being aware of what we come to know and in trying to communicate it, we are limited by our attitudes, which are formed by education, experience and country of origin, as witnessed by possible changes in policy towards the Iraq conflict and its aftermath in Spain.

That brings me to terrain that noble Lords might expect to be covered by someone speaking from these Benches. In the major speech given by the Prime Minister on 5 March, he referred to, the poison of religious extremism, and the need for the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan—I am glad that he mentioned both and not just Iraq—to be enabled to triumph over that kind of oppression. Since 9/11, religion has re-entered the world map with a new force that cannot be dismissed by the western, secularist agenda. If we follow that tack we shall be storing up a great deal of trouble for ourselves and the next generation.

As my friend the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has said in some recent public contexts, religious extremism needs to be countered with religious language, knowledge and understanding. He said that more work needs to be done in order to find the right kind of language, not only for dialogue with religious leaders and between them, but for really effective religious education in our schools. Religious education should be about more than exploring rites of passage and festivals, important as these are. It should be about much more basic questions, such as why people believe certain things and what makes them act in a particular way. The challenge that I, as a theologian and a bishop, have to live with is how those two relate to each other, if they do so at all. The word for actor in the original Greek is a hypocrite and all men and women of faith are challenged all the time as to whether they are actors, even when they are dressed in rochet and chimere in your Lordships' House.

I am aware of straying into other areas but, as one might say in the Navy, that is my part of ship. We need to know what the extra resources in the Budget are likely to produce and to learn lessons from logistical mistakes in the Iraq conflict, as well as elsewhere. Those of us, including me, who were doubtful about the wisdom of getting involved in that conflict, even on the worthy grounds of tempering US policy a little, need to realise that we have to start from where we are: post 9/11, post the initial part of conflict in Iraq and post the Madrid bombing.

For those who have studied the history of world civilisation in any depth, there are many lessons to be learnt, the most important of which is that there are always new forms of old dangers. Europe's 20th century collective memory is scarred by the two world wars. It is one of the reasons why we instinctively mistrust authority and historic institutions. We need a defence policy that is backed up by adequate defence resources in this new, wonderful, but at the same time, errant, world in which we find ourselves.

4.28 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

My Lords, as Sir Kevin Tebbit told the Defence Committee, British military forces are designed for serious military duties rather than simply peace-keeping". By dint of immense professionalism and courage they performed magnificently in Iraq, but I suspect it was a close thing. Operation Fresco, which tied down 19,000 troops to cover the firemen's strike, preventing them from training and rotating, undoubtedly adversely affected our operations in Iraq and, as the Defence Committee said, could have undermined the Armed Forces' ability to sustain combat operations". The Armed Forces are being more and more stretched to cover more and more tasks and a breaking point must come. It should not lie with them to make more cuts in an already overworked and under-resourced force, but with the Government who should refrain from adding to the demands placed upon them while still withholding the essential resources. Highly trained and highly motivated men and women should not be lightly discarded to save money; nor should the facilities needed such as training to make them effective.

The Chancellor, as the noble Lord, Lord King, has already reminded us, believes that we should support our Armed Forces to ensure and enhance our security.

He rejects the idea of freezing the defence budget and cutting it in real terms as irresponsible and contrary to the national interest and proposes a real-terms increase in defence spending. On the face of it, those are very reassuring words. Why then is it widely feared that severe cuts throughout the forces are having to be considered? I suggest that too many commitments have been blithely agreed, especially in Europe, and the Army is being used far more than ever before as a useful political weapon in operations that do not necessarily serve the nation's defence interests.

While I believe the Government and, still more, the media have misjudged our national character in giving so much oxygen to terrorism by making such a public drama of the potential terrorist threat, steps do need to be taken to free whatever military resources—including naval forces—are judged necessary to prepare our defences. We have, after all, plenty of experience, thanks to the IRA—I never thought to thank them for anything. The man in the street only wants to feel reasonably confident that measures are being quietly taken to ensure that there are proper plans and enough resources in terms of intelligence, policing, urban planning and military resources. An important step to be taken at once is to ensure that the Armed Forces are able to do their prime job of defending the realm. That means freedom to train and to rotate and to work in conditions that encourage men and women to stay in the forces.

Add our NATO commitment and the fact that only we and the French—and in due course, perhaps, the Poles—have professional standing armies, and we must surely begin to wonder how many more hats we can expect our Armed Forces to wear and still be able to defend this country, especially against a very sophisticated terrorist threat. Russia, too, has not gone away. There are still considerable stocks of weapons of mass destruction vulnerable to theft or illicit sale. Despite much investment since 1991 by the EU to dispose of 40 tonnes of chemical weapons, for instance, some 35 tonnes have still not been disposed of.

Since 2000, the MoD has worked as part of the new Global Conflict Prevention Pool with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID. It is described as a joint approach to reducing conflict. Necessarily, our military strategy is thus more tied than ever to political and humanitarian goals. That sounds splendid, but it makes planning very difficult and can only dilute the military ethos and lead to defence needs being subordinated to non-military aims and thus to losing sight of the main priority, the defence of the realm. Part of that defence is to know our enemy—how he thinks, how he feels. Reviving MECAS would be a useful start.

I beg the Government to recognise that the armed services will no longer be able to carry out their vital tasks if they are spread too thin. Not least, they must not constantly be required to do the impossible in interventions which may not be directly relevant to our defence. Pride in their professionalism is an essential component of their success; it can only be blunted by perpetual overstretch. These men have families. Marriages are constantly eroded by the unreasonable demands being put upon husbands and fathers. That is a serious social injustice.

Unfortunately, developments in the EU in the past four years and the many new tasks arising from the SDR doctrine of a defence strategy driven by foreign policy and humanitarian needs mean that our Army, as well as ensuring strategic national defence, both here and abroad, must be ready for global intervention, peacekeeping at several levels and special forces tasks as in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.

It must fight as part of NATO, as part of the EU, as part of the UN, as the partner of a sophisticated high-tech ally, the US, and as the framework nation leading a so-called EU force where the only other professional army at present is the French. It must be equally capable of a high-tech war requiring interoperable skills and sophisticated command and control procedures with the need for rapid deployment to a rescue operation such as Sierra Leone or the recent deployment to Kosovo. The training for those two tasks is very different, as are the weapons and skills used. Asymmetric warfare and its new challenges will also call for very sophisticated training and flexibility. What chance have our Armed Forces of continuing to perform miracles if they are denied the resources and there are too many tasks?

At present, we are committed to five EU strategies. The first is the EU working with NATO. The second is the EU on its own, doing peacekeeping and the Petersberg tasks. The third is the EU conducting, under the new Solana strategy, early, rapid and robust intervention in other countries on a global basis before situations deteriorate or before terrorism or proliferation threatens. The EU expects to be able to conduct, and it says so in its strategy, several such operations simultaneously—with whose troops? State failure and regional conflict may be judged under the strategy to require preventive intervention by force of arms.

Fourthly, the EU and the UN have signed a formal protocol to co-operate on crisis management where they are to train and exercise together with interoperable troops and a common command and control structure. Fifthly, the EU and the African Union have agreed on the development by the African Union of a Peace Support Operation Facility. That turns out to be an African military force, to be funded by EU development money and monitored by DfID and other development officials. This African conflict prevention force would intervene in unstable situations, where necessary with the EU supplying logistics, communications support—both things that we are short of—transportation costs and per diem payment for the troops.

Finally, it is vital that our Armed Forces should be able to draw upon good intelligence. It is good news that the idea of a central European security agency is not to go further. Bilateral relations work and are trusted, in varying degrees, for the exchange of intelligence and another Europol would not be useful. I hope the Government will also resist any movement towards broadening access to intelligence in this country. We are facing a ruthless enemy which is not a national entity easily identified but a kind of amorphous jellyfish. That enemy must be kept guessing. We must never forget that whatever is said in public, in Parliament or elsewhere in a free and open society, will be heard too by our enemy.

4.37 p.m.

Lord Bramall

My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord King, for this debate at this crucial time, when our military commitments and challenges are manifestly so many and the pressure of stretch and finance on the Armed Forces still so great.

In the memory of many of the British public, the Armed Forces of the Crown have done everything that could be expected of them over a wide spectrum of operations. As a result, the country may well have become complacent and come to assume that they will always be successful in any task given them irrespective of those pressures to which they are continually subjected. This may prove a dangerous assumption. There is not much wrong with their organisation and speed of response for war fighting, peacekeeping or anti-terrorist operations. Indeed, the confidence and capability which comes from the first is invaluable in dealing with the second and also with the third, which of course depends as much on international police co-operation, on greatly improved intelligence, on highly selected land and air operations involving special forces and, as the noble Lord, Lord King, said, on solving the key diplomatic issues. But it is important to recall how marginal the circumstances have often been which have allowed the Armed Forces to be so successful.

Over the past quarter of a century, we have had for instance, the Falklands campaign, when I was Chief of the General Staff, which was embarked upon only just in time because many of the ships vital to that operation would have been dispensed with because of financial pressures and the consequent political decisions. In the first Gulf War, a great deal of cannibalisation of equipment and units from the three divisions in the then much stronger British Army of the Rhine was needed before one effective armoured division could be put into the field. The ground war then lasted only 100 hours so casualties were minimal and the logistic machine was not really tested.

In Bosnia our intervention was mostly of the peacekeeping variety with only an element of peace enforcement, while in Kosovo the commitment of our ground forces was dependent on Yugoslav compliance induced by 70 days of high level air bombardment, much of it provided by the Americans. One year ago in Iraq, the British joint forces were able to operate effectively in their own way in their own time without pressure on them to get to Baghdad quickly. Their area—Basra being much more homogeneous than Baghdad—was somewhat easier and the casualties therefore thankfully light, and the duration of the operation was again really too short to test any inherent weaknesses in equipment and the logistic chain, although some obvious ones did become apparent.

Against the background of it "just being all right on the night", there are four areas that give great cause for concern because they would increasingly affect performance. The first is manning where the quite unacceptable and unsustainable overstretch has led to disappointing retention and continued undermanning, cancelling much of the improvements on recruiting. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, that soldiers like to be actively employed, but there is nothing unusual for soldiers in combat units to have nine months' separation from their families in every year, and for operational tour intervals to be no more than a few months instead of the two years thought to be essential for proper leave, vital retraining and domestic harmony, and promised year after year by Ministers as being an aim that will be achieved "just round the corner".

Moreover, few combat units can now operate effectively in battle without some injection from other units and other cap badges and without reinforcement from the Territorial Army. This, of course, applies particularly to the medical services. It may be possible to reorganise combat units and the regimental system so that they are a bit more economical in organisation and movement costs, but whatever happens in Northern Ireland—that is by no means clear—whatever pressures there are on finance and whatever improvements in technology may be said to be in the pipeline, there must be no fewer units or less manpower allowed for in future plans. Otherwise, it will not be possible to provide a proper roulement for all the various commitments, both those manifestly current and those as yet unforeseen but no less likely if the Government are to continue a hectic policy of intervention operations, some of which are, of course, essential. Having enough boots on the ground and being ready to relieve those on the ground to maintain and sustain the commitment must be a high priority, and the noble Lord, Lord King, made the point so graphically.

I mentioned the TA which, despite a financial squeeze on training days, has proved its quality as the best reserve we have, and its ability to integrate with and reinforce regulars in emergency operations. Moreover, its partial mobilisation worked well. The fact may have to be faced, however, that for the immediate future this volunteer force may have partly "shot its bolt"—volunteers feeling that they have done their stuff and finding that on their return their jobs have been put at risk. That must be watched very carefully because, vital as the volunteers remain—not least because of the terrorist threat to this country—an undermanned Regular Army may not be able to rely on them to quite the same extent for operations overseas. If that flows into the medical services, medical cover could be in real trouble.

That brings me on to the third concern—the medical services. The centre of excellence on which the regeneration of the defence medical centres was based, and was boasted about, is now a bit of a nightmare. At Birmingham there is neither the space nor as yet any indication that the money will be provided to produce the facilities and the right esprit de corps, both so essential if this centre is to be the beacon of quality and example which will encourage middle peace doctors and surgeons to stay on in the services. Certainly a great deal more money will have to be spent on the centre if it is not to fail. If it fails, we shall not have any regular medical services to speak of. Therefore, I should like an assurance from the Minister that the necessary money will be provided.

Shortages in vital equipment and weaknesses in the logistic chain still exist, particularly in the signals field and ground to air communications for which in Iraq the British Armed Forces were almost entirely dependent on those provided by the US Marine Corps. Other shortages, of course, have been given rather more prominence in the press.

To conclude, I believe that the public should be made aware of all this because unless the Ministry of Defence tackles these things with a high degree of urgency instead of, for political reasons, playing them down or even denying that they exist, there is a real risk that the next time the Armed Forces are ordered to take part in medium or large scale intervention operations, it will end in the sort of military disaster that we have avoided for the past quarter of a century. When I say, "tackling", it will, of course, mean getting the Prime Minister's backing to obtain the necessary funding from the Treasury on which all these improvements may ultimately depend. Much play is again being made about a marginal growth in the defence budget, but, as we have heard, this is probably not new money, and in any case is almost certainly offset by the money that the Treasury is now demanding back as a result of a new accounting system forced on to the MoD to its disadvantage.

During the previous defence debate I gave the Minister every opportunity to deny my point that in practice there would be less and not more in cash flow terms for vote holders in the coming years to end the serious shortcomings. Noble Lords may think it was significant that he decided not to do so. After all they have done, and continue to do, at the drop of a hat to support this country's foreign policy, I believe that the Armed Forces deserve better. I just hope that the British people will remember this.

4.47 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I, too, wish to thank my noble friend for initiating today's debate. I very much welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, as the new chairman of the All-Party Defence Group in your Lordships' House. I am sure that she will be a great success.

With other Members of your Lordships' All-Party Defence Group, I visited the Defence Logistics Organisation near Bath a year before the exercise in Oman. At that time the organisation appeared ready—or it told us that it was—for the problems that obviously lay ahead. The aim of the exercise was obviously to expose any flaws in the organisation. As we were told following the exercise, there had indeed been problems with certain equipment. So when the war in Iraq started, had the initial difficulties and mistakes been rectified? It appears—other noble Lords who have spoken have mentioned this—that in many instances they had not.

Reports from those actually fighting make disturbing reading. We have certainly seen a lot about this in the press, and I do not think that it has been exaggerated. I can only pray that in any future conflicts, men and women can rely on those behind them not to let them down.

The Defence Logistics Organisation is vast, employing some 28,000 people. Each of the divisions within that organisation is charged with a distinct task. I shall not elaborate on that. Is its strategic goal to reduce output costs by 20 per cent before the end of 2006 realistic if it is to provide a truly first-class service to the front line which is its objective and which is necessary for it to do? To have set up the DLO combining the three services must have been the right decision at the time. It was set up only in 2000, so it is not very long ago. One realises that the initial difficulties must have been considerable. Were the initial savings of £2.8 billion necessary and were they a factor in the lack of certain equipment in Iraq?

Restructuring now undertaken shows that lessons have indeed been learnt, and I hope that they will be truly learnt. The approach now taken seems realistic. Yesterday evening, the group was lucky enough to be addressed by Sir Alan West, who was encouragingly upbeat and optimistic about the future of Iraq, which he had recently visited. Like many of us he wondered why so few of the press presented a similar view.

My worries are genuine, and many noble Lords feel the same way; many of the public feel the same way. I sincerely hope that when the Minister replies, he can honestly—I mean honestly—reassure us on the various concerns expressed.

4.51 p.m.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, noble Lords consulting the list may wonder why I am batting before two noble and gallant Lords. The Minister may come to understand three wicked words—"Just in time"—to which I shall refer, and I am afraid that the problem is due to the slight disruption of time. I am one of those multi-role combat Peers, and I shall have another duty in your Lordships' Chamber before the close of the debate. That is why I am very grateful to the speakers who have allowed me to make a few short comments in support of my noble friend Lord King. He has enormous experience of defence, of course, not least against terrorism. He was a fine boss when I was last in the employ of the government in Northern Ireland. He has enormous experience; we heard of a great deal of it today.

As my noble friend Lady Sharples said, we are extremely lucky to have the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, as the chairman of the House of Lords defence group. It is 31 years since I made my first visit with it. Over the years, I must have made upwards of 50 separate journeys, some far, some near, but on each and every journey one message was hammered home to me: it was the men and women of the defence forces that made them the best in the world. Indeed, that was brought home very shrewdly by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall.

I am one of the last conscripts in the British Army. I think that there are four conscripts speaking today. My noble friend Lord Selsdon asked me this morning what my record and regiment were. He may have something to say on the subject; I must cut my remarks fairly short. In three months, May, June and July 1957, a well known sergeant in the Coldstream Guards known as "Kiwi"—after the boot polish, not the creature—insisted on the very highest standards. He turned youths of 17 and 18 such as myself into soldiers. I have never forgotten that. We find noble and gallant Lords, senior officers and every kind of distinguished man and woman serving in the defence forces. What someone such as myself considers important first of all, whether we are talking about men or women, is that they be soldiers—they should not start dreaming about being a leader or moving up; they must do their job. That is the strength of the British defence forces.

Since the 1950s and even the 1960s, the British defence forces have become all-volunteer. As has been stressed by my noble friend Lady Park and, above all, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Braman, overstretch now meshes dreadfully with domestic life. The men and women in the defence forces are not like African or Mexican warriors, leading a celibate and delicate life until 35 or 40, whereupon they retire to domestic life. Our volunteers want to lead normal lives. I worry a little when I hear gentle tales suggesting that there are occasionally some difficulties in filling all the vacancies on the non-commissioned officers' course in Brecon for the future leaders in infantry tactics.

Indeed, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, stressed the appalling problem of overstretch. We always hear—undoubtedly we shall hear it again tonight; I point out to my noble friend Lord King that we have heard it from noble Lords of all persuasions—that the average gap between tours of duty is two years. Of course it is not. First, we have to deal with cross-posting, filling up other regiments. Special duties in special areas may cover many roles. Also, there is the length of training for those separate and quite often new tasks. All that reduces the two-year gap. It is nothing like that. My noble friend Lady Sharples referred to the First Sea Lord. He pointed out that, even in the Royal Navy, overstretch and retention is becoming a little problem.

It is clear that the defence forces cannot perform their full duties without marvellous help from the reserves. I have some figures from 2003. My noble friend Lord Luke and the noble Lord, Lord Brett, came with us to Cyprus. One tenth of the British battalion on the blue line in Nicosia were reservists. In Kosovo two years ago when the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, came with me, 37 of 115 of the personnel at the headquarters of the multinational brigade were reservists. Of course, that is just the headquarters; the figure was 8 per cent for the total. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Braman, pointed out that the proportion in the Defence Medical Services is much higher. Without the reserves it would be in far greater difficulties, and the difficulties are bad enough as it is.

I am sure that the Minister looks after equipment and what I think he calls procurement. Priorities are obviously the name of the game, and I am sure that he, his entire department and his sector will be very professional. However, I hope that the first priority every single day, week and month for him, his department and the Secretary of State would be what I call the kit—the body armour and NBC kit needed by soldiers and defence forces. We might have had slightly distorted reports in the press, but there can surely be no excuse for problems over body armour. The second priority is ammunition. We have had reports—ever so discreetly—that units were occasionally short of ammunition. Then there is the question of food, drink and all the tents, as was referred to by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall.

After I left the British Army, I was trained to be an accountant, so I am very well aware of what Americans call inventory and we call stock. My noble friend Lord King referred to the Select Committee on Defence in another place. The Minister would be knocked from here to heaven and back if it found warehouses full of obsolete kit from the 1950s and 1970s, so he is squeezed delicately. He does a decent job, and I congratulate him, the Ministry of Defence and all those who made Operation TELIC such a success. Many things went right, perhaps by luck, but I suggest that there was some good judgment.

I have a little motto: "Every little helps". That is a rather naughty jingle, but it is very true. Every improvement in kit, weaponry, perhaps avionics—that was spoken about by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley—and families and welfare keeps the men and women of our defence forces in the place where they should be, which is being the best. The right kit must arrive on time, the forces must be trained to use it and, above all, the Minister must take on board the question of overstretch. Indeed, it was stressed to us last night that Operation FRESCO pushed one section of the Armed Forces to a very critical level of margin, given the manpower and duties that were expanding all over the world.

I hope that the Minister can take that on board. I am very grateful to my noble friend for initiating the debate and to other noble Lords. I for one want to thank every man and woman in the forces today, tomorrow and every day. They do not have such a comfortable life as we do, on our soft leather Benches; they work and work for us all.

5 p.m.

Lord Boyce

My Lords, let me add to others before me my own welcome to the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord King, in refocusing the attention of this House on defence. Given that, as we speak this afternoon, there are some 33,000-plus soldiers, sailors and airmen scattered around the world on various operational duties—duties that are all arduous and many dangerous, but all being conducted with exemplary professionalism—defence is certainly a subject that deserves a higher profile than it ordinarily gets, especially as the tempo of military activity is hardly slowing, as our deployment to Kosovo showed last week.

We have a defence policy which encourages that high tempo, with the Armed Forces being enjoined to develop their force planning such that it is able to cope with multiple concurrent small to medium sized operations—including contributing to countering terrorism—on a global basis. I do not have a particular problem with that. But agility, mobility, responsiveness with high levels of readiness, and the ability to shift information fast and act on it with minimal delay, will be key features needed to enable that policy. We are also encouraged to believe that the future equipment programme is being shaped to accommodate those capabilities, or improve them if they already exist, especially in the development of technologies using network techniques.

But, we need to assess carefully how the change to the new way of doing business will be managed. We absolutely must be wary of getting rid of old systems until the new ones are adopted in good working order—especially if the aspirational specification has been diluted, or brought in incrementally for reasons of economy. We must remember that however clever the new technology, it does not allow a unit to be in two places at the same time. We will want to keep in mind that much of the future hi-tech that is given so much hype is not suited for what goes on operationally for the vast majority of the time—that is to say, mundane, albeit important, low intensity peace keeping tasks which do not require super hi-tech capabilities to conduct.

I shall give a couple of examples which, needless to say, have a maritime flavour. I am sure that the Royal Navy will be delighted to have further evidence that it has such a champion in the shape of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, following his intervention. The future carrier should be an archetype of our new technology—a system with global reach that will have a potent, self-contained and sustainable offensive capability, providing presence, deterrence and coercion independent of host nation support. It will be a positive exemplar of true joint flexibility across the air and maritime elements. But that will be in danger of not happening if the concept starts to be nibbled away at for affordability reasons. We also need to ensure that our legacy systems, both hulls and aircraft, are kept in good operational order to cover any gap created by project drift which, I fear, is not an unlikely scenario. There are, of course, analogies to my carrier example in land and air systems, which time does not allow me to describe.

My other example concerns being in two places at a time. The destroyer/frigate force provides a striking example of effective war fighting elements—the Type 45 destroyer will be a world class warship—which are amenable and at the high intensity end of the war fighting spectrum, to the attraction of network enabled capability. But the highly mobile and flexible destroyer or frigate is also the most versatile of all platforms and can be seen employed across the full range of operations. They are engaged in 18 of our 21 military tasks, from high intensity war fighting to peace support, humanitarian operations, maritime interdiction, policing and supporting Britain's overseas trade and diplomatic interests. That force provides a means of flexible, political and military response to developing crises, remaining ready for operations in international waters for extended periods with no requirement for a logistic footprint ashore.

In low intensity tasks that "presence" provides a serious, effects-based contribution and it is one for which numbers are required. I am afraid that the new defence policy mantra of "numbers are not important", alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord King, is very glib in the context of peacekeeping operations, unless the Government intend to drive our people even harder or dramatically reduce the number of our commitments.

That brings me to the most important of the attributes called for by our defence policy—the resilience, good will and morale of our Armed Forces. I believe that those are in serious jeopardy. Our commitments today exceed the currently laid down defence planning assumptions and they have done so since 2001. The stretch caused by that—for example, with 30 per cent of the trained Army deployed on or committed to operations—is demanding, to say the least.

However, despite that, our solders, sailors and airmen have totally committed themselves to whatever has been demanded of them, with huge success; and they deserve recognition and reward. But I fear that they may think that we are going in the opposite direction. There is the £1 billion to £1.5 billion that it is said the Treasury wishes to claw back from the settlement that defence received in 2002, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean. For this year and next year, with much of the budget already committed to the procurement programmes, uncommitted money can be found only from the front line. So raids on training, quality of life improvements and so on have already started. I should be grateful if the Minister would reassure the House that no such raids are taking place, notwithstanding the impression currently held by those in the field.

If that is true, the message being sent to our hard worked Armed Forces hardly bears thinking about. Furthermore, if that raiding of money flows into future years with certain capabilities being cut, thus denying the Armed Forces what they have been told they will receive in order to be up with the best in the 21st century, the effect on their confidence in those who sit at the top of defence will not be helpful.

In short, it does not require much imagination to conjure up the impact that the combination of short-term pain and medium-term disillusionment will have on those cornerstone attributes that I mentioned—resilience, good will and morale. In summary, I am concerned that our defence policy does not give sufficient attention to the low intensity and ordinary tasks which occupy our forces for 90 per cent of their time. I fear that what is expected of our soldiers, sailors and airmen who have to implement this policy of rising tempo will not be matched by sufficient recognition, in terms of resource, of what the Armed Forces do for this country and the Secretary of State's comment in our House Magazine last week that, They deserve nothing less", in the context of the services being properly resourced, could sound hollow to those at the coal face where our people could be left wondering, "Less than what?".

5.8 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord King for giving us the chance to have a debate on defence. It is a debate in which we have no fewer than four former Chiefs of the Defence Staff—one from the Royal Navy, two from the Army and one from the Royal Air Force. That is indeed a major contribution to the debate. There is a particular point for the Minister to deal with when he replies; it was made first by my noble friend Lord King, and echoed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble and gallant Lord who has just spoken. It is the matter of defence expenditure. I recognise that the Minister will not be able to answer all of the points that have been raised in a debate such as this. But it is crucial that he gives a clear indication of the expenditure that will be available for defence in the coming two years. Is there to be the increase which was implied in the Chancellor's Budget Statement? We simply cannot play around with words.

It is disappointing that only one Member from the Labour Benches is speaking today. Although the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, is not now in her place, she is extremely welcome in taking an active interest in defence matters. However, I do not believe the Chief Whip's comment that there are no more Labour speakers in the debate today because everyone is so satisfied. That cannot be true. The subject is much too important for that explanation. I hope that more Members on the Labour Benches will take a real interest in defence.

On expenditure, the role of Trident has not been mentioned. It takes a significant proportion of the defence budget and there are those who might say, "That is a relic of the Cold War and part of the defence which is not relevant today". I beg to differ. With certain developments taking place in certain parts of the world, it is right and proper that we should maintain the Trident capability. It has probably as fine a deterrent capability as any and it is one that we know will work.

I want to talk primarily about terrorism. A factor not always taken on board is that the difference between a war on terrorism and a conventional war is that in terrorism one is not fighting against a nation state. The enemy is much more amorphous. That is one of the reasons the United Nations has had such difficulties. Indeed, most of our international arrangements and obligations and the framework of international law are based on the concept of exchanges and wars between nation states. We are now fighting something which in no way is a nation state.

Primarily, we are fighting militant Islamic fundamentalists. My noble friend was right to point out what a long time they have been a threat. Osama bin Laden founded MAK—the Arab volunteer force to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan—in February 1980. It became Al'Qaeda, which means "The Base", in 1988. As my noble friend pointed out, it is 10 years—February 1993—since the first Al'Qaeda attack on the World Trade Centre. Bin Laden published his infamous and chilling declaration of war on the West in September 1996. That was a long time ago. Until 9/11 we had a period of phoney war, but during all that time Al'Qaeda was inexorably gaining strength and preparing. After all, 9/11, whatever else one thinks about, was an astonishing achievement in purely logistical terms.

How are we to fight terrorism? Clearly, it has to be a combined operation with the military forces. Secondly, we want to try to remove the causes of terrorism. The greatest cause is the Palestine problem. We have to drain the reservoir of hatred which nourishes this form of terrorism. Like most noble Lords, I too believe that the two-state solution is the only practical one we can contemplate. The chances of that happening—one gets more depressed rather than encouraged—must largely depend on the United States' influence on Israel. However, Britain and France have more expertise on what makes the Middle East tick than any other part of the world.

In fighting terrorism, we must constantly weigh the loss or erosion of civil liberties against the measures that we need to take to protect our people and our way of life against the threat of a theocratic state which at best would be like Iran and at worst like Afghanistan under the Taliban.

I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, speaking from the Liberal Democrat Benches, specifically referred to the extent to which inevitably and with great reluctance we have to sacrifice or modify some of our civil liberties in order to fight the war against terrorism. There are those who say that if we forgo civil liberties in the war against terrorism, we are in effect losing that war. I do not accept that argument. I believe that we must make sacrifices at each level.

I want now briefly to turn to the need to introduce into this country a much better method of knowing who is who. I refer not to identity cards as such, but to the need for everyone to have a number linked biometrically to a central record. The card is merely a method of recording it. Arguments have been put forward against such a system on grounds of civil liberties. I do not believe that those arguments are sufficient to overcome the urgent need.

There appears to be a battle inside the Cabinet, with the Home Secretary in favour of the scheme, while the press suggest that groups of other Ministers are forming up against him. I believe that we need such a system and that we must also soon reform our passport system, which is most insecure. Noble Lords may have noticed that since the Madrid bombing, on arriving at Heathrow you queue up and someone actually looks at your passport and swipes it. That is new and it is astonishing that during the period of phoney war no such thing was done Some months ago, I had a conversation with representatives of the Passport Office and it convinced me that we have a most insecure passport system. All these proposals go together and I hope that the Government will pay serious attention to them. And in this House we can play our part by always wearing—as we are asked to do—our own passes. I see the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and a former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police are wearing their photo passes and we would all do well to follow their example.

Finally, the economic cost of countering terrorism is considerable and significant in national terms. We must all pay that cost. It is much lower than the cost of successful terrorist operations against us.

5.18 p.m.

Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord King, for initiating the debate. I have been asked by my noble and gallant friend Lord Inge, who is in the United States with the Butler inquiry, to say that he much regrets that he is unable to attend this important and timely debate. He wishes to be associated with what I am about to say.

Since I have been a Member of your Lordships' House, I have on numerous occasions heard many noble Lords rightly praise the performance of the Armed Forces. Whether it has been in Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan or Iraq, the services have risen to the demands of the occasion. Many people in this country and overseas now take their success for granted. Like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, I believe that to be very dangerous indeed.

The Iraq war took just three weeks and the British forces were spectacularly successful but we must clearly understand that we were fortunate. If the Iraqis had fought better and if we had had to fight in the towns and the war had been prolonged, in my professional judgment the Armed Forces could have found themselves in considerable difficulty. We are right to praise the services, but we need to recognise that all is not well and that a time may come when they could fail. We cannot continue to take their achievements for granted, nor can we continue to take the risks with them that we do. There is much to be worried about.

At present, because of financial restraints and continuing operational commitments, the services are not able to train to the necessary standards. Too many training exercises, particularly overseas, have had to be cancelled or curtailed for both the regular and the Reserve Forces. The services are being pulled in too many directions. Training is expensive but unless it happens we put servicemen and servicewomen in unnecessary danger.

A major reason for the success of the Gulf War was that the services had trained together in Oman on an exercise which, for financial reasons, many in Whitehall had tried to cancel. The shortcomings of our Challenger 2 tank were detected on an exercise in Oman rather than later in the Iraq war. We are now hazarding future operations as training opportunities are reduced and many members of the Armed Forces could be committed to operations less well prepared than they need to be.

Despite the Chancellor's reassurances, there remains considerable scepticism, indeed, cynicism, in the services as to what financial help their overstretched budget will receive. Too often in the recent past, budget increases which had been trumpeted have had so many conditions imposed upon them that they have made very little difference to the services. On two previous occasions I have asked the Minister in this House whether the rumours were true that over £1 billion in savings were to be made over the next four years. I should be grateful if my question could be answered tonight.

If large savings are to be made and new money will not be available, very difficult decisions must be made and not just funked. It is quite right for priorities to change, and we need to move on from some of the decisions taken by the Strategic Defence Review, which at that time were appropriate. Defence cannot stand still and, now that the threat has changed, we cannot afford to spend a penny more than we have to on equipment which is unlikely to be used in the foreseeable future.

Resources will need to be rebalanced and money directed to where it is most needed. That will be a very difficult exercise. Some will benefit and others will not, but unless this happens we could end up by being fairly ordinary everywhere. Equal misery for all three services is not the answer, but too often has been in the past.

I pay tribute to the reserves, whose contributions to operations over the past few years has been crucial. However, we have to be very careful in continually using them to the degree they have been used and are being used. They are not in existence just to get the regulars off the hook when shortfalls appear and for the Ministry of Defence to get personnel on the cheap. Some members of the Territorial Army relish their many deployments but others do not expect to commit so much time, neither do their employers expect that. It would be very sad if overuse led to many of the excellent young people who are reservists leaving the services. That seems to be a trend which may be emerging.

I was in the Army for 44 years. My experience and instinct tells me that we are already in very difficult times, perhaps as difficult as any time since World War II. The only time of similar concern that I can recall was the late 1970s when it became necessary for a new government to rescue defence from ever increasing decline. But today I judge the situation to be far more serious than it was then. The Armed Forces are already very much smaller than they were in the 1970s. The world is more unpredictable. Sudden danger is likely to be with us for many years. The noble Lord, Lord King, has clearly outlined what we are up against. How long will the services be involved in Iraq and Afghanistan? How often will soldiers be rushed back to places such as Kosovo?

Today the risks are very high. Soldiers are being killed in action and attacked daily in Iraq. I suggest that the Government have to do more than pay lip service to the loyalty of the Armed Forces. We need to recognise just how serious the situation is and take appropriate action.

5.26 p.m.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, I am grateful to my Light Infantry friend, the noble Lord, Lord King, for the speed at which he moved from one subject to another, fully informed, and to the Minister for having given priority to the Royal Navy.

I questioned earlier why no Back-Benchers on the Minister's side other than the chairman of our Defence Committee were to speak in the debate and was told that that was because the Minister had the competence to speak about any subject.

I should like him to know that he is among friends. We have here the Life Guards, the Coldstream Guards—I have them in the right order because I have been well briefed—the Scots Guards, the Welsh Guards, the King's African Rifles, the Royal Green Jackets, and a Hunter and Meteor pilot, who is not in his place. He is probably flying around somewhere else. We have too, naturally, a submariner, as noble Lords would expect and, on the Liberal Democrat Benches, apart from a policeman a brass bandsman—it is a pity that there are not more Liberal Democrats speaking in this debate—and, on their Front Bench, a member of the TA. On the RAF side, apart from a pilot, on my left we have a leading aircraft woman. We have a FANY masquerading as an SOE, and an SIS. He probably trained the father of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. Against all of that we have a knowledge which is quite intriguing. However, we do not have the Irish presence.

I was in the Navy and was brought up to address your Lordships on defence matters by recalling Lord "Jackie" Fisher and that the role of the British Army should be that of a projectile to be fired by the British Navy. The role of the Navy is to deliver our forces in the right place at the right time. Last Sunday I found myself in Munster, trying to help it in its challenge to become European City of Culture. As your Lordships will know, 92 per cent of that city was destroyed. They are very keen down there on the British Forces. I nipped down to the barracks to try to find out who was serving there because that information was not available on the Internet.

It was a windy day. I looked in, leaving the car outside so that they would not think I was a terrorist, and someone asked, "Who are you?" I handed over my House of Lords pass and within a moment someone said, "My Lord, would you like to join in today? It's Oates Sunday."

Many noble Lords may not know that, if you have been in the Navy, the only thing that you can remember is your service number—mine is PJ963040. I shall now ask my noble friend Lord Marlesford, who says that he believes in numbers, whether he happens to remember his service number. My noble friend Lord Lyell can remember his. It is the one number that we can remember better than any other, including our bank code, thus showing the discipline that we all underwent.

I did not dare admit that I did not know what Oates Sunday was. Only when I returned here and asked Black Rod and a Clerk did I find out that it is named after a man who gave his life for his friends, Captain Oates. As I was dealing with a cavalry regiment, I had thought that perhaps it related to feeding horses on a particular day, but I was told that "Oates Day" went with "Paddy's Day". Seeing the emerald green opposite, I recall that, although I am not a Catholic, I was on Catholic territory. A band was playing; the wind was blowing; the ladies' hats were flying; and men were holding down the tents. Looking at the background, one realised that one was in an Army community not just of husbands and wives but also of children. They were dressed in cub scout uniform, washing the wheels of cars for a small amount—in the green territory of Germany you are not allowed to wash your car with a hose, except in a washery, which recycles water.

I took the chance to ask those present what I might say today. I suppose that they will not mind my quoting them. The senior officer said, "Tell them that our men would fight in socks and jockstraps, if it were necessary". It is becoming increasingly necessary as we realise that the equipment and resources that we need to keep our men are no longer there. I shall not criticise; I shall read from Armed Forces personnel note SN/1A/2182 of 10 October 2003: Fundamental to our ability to field Armed Forces which are among the best in the world is the quality of the volunteers who make up those forces". It continues: The SDR defines overstretch as 'trying to do too much with too little manpower'". Manpower without personal equipment loses pride. My noble friend Lord Lyell referred to the absence of tenting, equipment, boots and personal facilities, despite long-term spending on carriers et cetera. When fighting terrorism we must equip our men with the best possible personal equipment. It is not a terribly expensive exercise.

In the days when our men were three to one, you should have heard the words spoken in the souk, the bazaars and mosques in the countries of the Middle East and others where I spent time. People there had a respect for these men. Moreover, those directly or indirectly associated with terrorist activities or suchlike advised their supporters and followers to steer clear of the British. They said that, should you confront the British, your life expectancy would be half what it would be if you confronted the Americans or others, but should you be honest and uninvolved in such nefarious activities, you will be protected and looked after as a friend.

I shall now raise some of my concerns. Why did we disband the Iraqi army? In the old days we took over other people's armies. At one time we did that in East Germany, disbanding the officer or political class and taking over. The Iraqi army did exactly what it was told. Looking around the world at present, we might try to bring the military of some of these countries into a group that might fight terrorism.

We now come to what I was told by philosophers were the three Ps—not public/private partnerships. The first is psychology: the knowledge of the psyche and the ability to get behind and understand the minds of those planning or proposing such activities. The second is philosophy. I used to think that philosophy was love of knowledge, but it is the love of wisdom, which one cannot have without knowledge and intelligence. The third is politics: understanding the reasons that people seek to do such things. Possibly, as has been said, international media attention may well promote an idea.

In our Armed Forces and among our own expatriates around the world, we have eyes, noses and ears, but we have failed so far to explain the cause and root of terrorism. We have failed to explain the religion behind it. It is not a religious war. When I have spoken to many in the Arab world, the Islamic world and other cultures, I have found that they, too, share the horror of the activities that take place. Even the Koran—I am sorry, I should not say "even"—says: He who kills shall surely himself be killed". We should concentrate on recruiting and equipping people to fight or to combat this particular evil, which has been around for many, many years. Noble Lords will remember the Mahdi and the Emir of Bokhara—throughout this world we have had problems. But, for the first time ever, we have by far the best personnel in military service in the world. If we were only to equip them properly and add to their numbers, I believe that we would have nothing to fear.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, like a number of noble Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his Herculean efforts to make it from one end of the country to the other to be with us today. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for introducing the debate. I commend him on introducing a debate without falling into the trap of talking about spending, which seems the subject closest to our hearts in such debates. I apologise for falling immediately into that trap myself.

I know that in his speech later in the debate the noble Lord, Lord Astor, will take an interesting position on spending. It has been the position of his Benches to talk about an increase in spending, a message that does not seem to have percolated down to another place, given that the noble Lord's right honourable friend in another place Oliver Letwin talked about cuts in the Ministry of Defence budget.

On that basis, we welcome the Chancellor's talk of increasing the money available to the Ministry of Defence. However, that must be taken with a pinch of salt, because no budget can rest solely on the claims made during the Budget speech and in interviews given afterwards. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, pointed out, there are significant areas of uncertainty over certain spending commitments. This will test whether the rise in the MoD's budget will be a significant increase above inflation, or whether there will be a rise at all.

In the present climate the Liberal Democrats would try to avoid cuts to the MoD budget. In responding to a Question on carriers recently, the Minister asked me a rhetorical question—it must have been rhetorical because I could not answer at that time—on our position. I shall send the Minister the Liberal Democrats' position on defence because he was so interested in it. As many noble Lords have said, it is very difficult to set a position on how one would deal with spending commitments. As has been pointed out, a massive procurement programme is under way at present. It appears to face real problems, especially in 2008–12. If there are problems of overrun and cost escalation, any figures put down on paper now could look farcical.

However, one area in which we believe that there could be cost savings is the Eurofighter/Typhoon. It would be our intention to cut back on the third tranche of the Eurofighter. Before the Minister attacks me on that point, I wish to ask him a question, as the Government appear to have their own considerations about Eurofighter. There has been talk of possible savings of £2 billion to £5 billion if a cutback took place. Perhaps the Minister could tell us the Government's position on the third tranche of Eurofighter. I agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, who is not in his place at present, that it is a fabulous aircraft. I have seen it doing unbelievable feats at air shows. However, one must ask whether a weapons system designed to meet Cold War capabilities, and whose only comparable aircraft in the air are American, is needed at present.

Have there been any further developments in the RAF air-to-air refuelling contract? There seem to be a number of question marks hanging over that. The procurement budget has the possibility of making all figures look interesting. Who will be the prime contractor for the new aircraft carriers that are on order? Although it is a joint contract between BAe and Furness, there is an indication that a new prime contractor, possibly IBM, could be taking over as lead contractor. That would be of' interest to the House.

One area of spending that will be interesting is whether the Government will consider cutting the number of troops on the ground to meet procurement budgets. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, mentioned the issue of troops on the ground. It is important at the moment, with so many commitments, and particularly in the past week the commitment in Kosovo, that we do not reduce the number of troops on the ground. Their professionalism and expertise will be incredibly important in the Balkans to stop that situation disintegrating.

Quality of life is always cut when looking at cost savings, a point mentioned by a number of noble Lords. It would be tempting to start talking about overstretch and commitment, but there is a real issue over quality of life and time spent away. In the past the issue was the quality of accommodation. The issue was brought home to me by a friend who has recently left the Armed Forces. He said, "It is easy to improve the quality of life for the Armed Forces—you quit". That obviously has cost implications in losing experienced personnel, the loss of those skills and the cost of those training skills.

Another area that has been raised this afternoon is logistics and asset tracking, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, pointed out. I was particularly concerned by television reports about equipment, especially ammunition. I remember training in infantry skills on my way to Sandhurst, in the TA. I was only in the REME—I do not know if that counts, according to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, as being the Army. I admit that I was never a very good infantry soldier. One of the things that was drilled into us at great length was winning the fire fight. The reports coming back from the Gulf of some soldiers going into action with only five rounds of ammunition make a mockery of one of the basic tenets of infantry doctrine. I very much hope—I know that this is an area of concern, as it was raised by the Select Committee and the NAO report—that the Government will look again at this area, especially the provision of ammunition.

I have left myself very little time to deal with the massive area of terrorism, an area with which my noble friend Lord Bradshaw and the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, dealt. The White Paper set out the formation of the Civil Contingency Reaction Force. The Minister said that this has reached its operational strength. Its operational strength envisages 500 troops per area. Considering the Madrid bombings, is 500 troops considered a sufficient number of troops per area? I believe that London is one area. Have they the equipment and training to meet the task set out for them? Many reports on our ability to deal with such disasters have suggested that we do not have the equipment, personnel, or training to deal with a large-scale disaster.

I did wish to look at terrorism. We must be careful about our terminology. The term "war on terror" and the term "axis of evil", which is now somewhat redundant, have caused a great deal of unrest and unhappiness in areas in the Middle East, which I travel to reasonably frequently. The effect should not be underestimated. Those people carrying out the bombings, especially suicide bombings, are those who are most easily influenced by the terminology that we use. If we start talking about a "war on terror", that delineates one side against another. This is a presidential election year, and the talk from the United States on terrorism will gear up. Many such comments feed in to the unhappiness that is felt by many people in Iraq. Our soldiers are doing a fantastic job in Iraq, but the recent attack on our soldiers, and the comments that were shouted at them, show that Iraq could well be a breeding ground for future unhappiness and those who would sign up to the cause of the terrorists.

This has been an important debate. Although we are critical of the Minister, he has tried extremely hard to meet many of the problems that are set out. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, that we thoroughly appreciate all the efforts made by the Armed Forces.

5.47 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater for initiating this important debate. I congratulate him on a powerful and thought-provoking speech. With such knowledgeable and experienced speakers, this debate was always going to be of the highest quality. I would also like to thank the Minister for making such an effort to come here tonight from Faslane. I hope that he enjoyed his visit there as much as I did.

I am sure that the House will join me in expressing our continuing admiration and appreciation of our service men and women serving in Iraq and elsewhere, particularly the reserves. This is an appropriate time to be debating the defence of the realm. It is imperative that at this time we do not become so fixated on the war on terror that we neglect the need to look after our Armed Forces. We must look after service men and women, whether regular or reservist; look after the families, because their support underpins the morale of our service men and women; and look after the procurement programmes and logistics, because without the right equipment we cannot expect to meet the security challenges of the years ahead.

This is a time when the Government must prove their competence to manage all these things, not just through their words, but through their actions. We on these Benches were consistent in our support for the Government and for our Armed Forces during the war in Iraq. However, it is our duty as Her Majesty's Opposition to probe and question government policy. My noble friend Baroness Park of Monmouth rightly said that our Armed Forces are spread too thin and are more and more stretched. This was reinforced in an excellent speech by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. They cannot be turned on and off at the whim of government. They must be given the time to recruit, train, and see their families, if we are to retain the most skilled and experienced servicemen, particularly when servicemen are being approached for security work in Iraq at the rate of £100,000 plus a year, tax free.

As my noble friend Lord Selsdon said, our Armed Forces must be given the best possible equipment. The operational demands placed on the Armed Forces have meant that hundreds of training exercises have been cancelled. If soldiers, sailors and airmen do not train enough, they stop being combat-ready. That stark truth was pointed out by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank. I agree also with the noble and gallant Lord's observations about the reserves.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, gave an excellent speech on personnel. I congratulate her on her election as chairman of the Lords All-Party Defence Group. She and my noble friend Lord Lyell have worked hard to draw up a full and interesting programme, and I hope that as many noble Lords as possible will support them and the group. My noble friends Lady Sharples and Lord Lyell mentioned the excellent speech given to the group last night by the First Sea Lord.

I agree wholeheartedly with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, that numbers are important. The hearts and minds of the local population cannot be secured with network-enabled weapons systems; it can be done only with troops on the ground. The situation in Basra would be much easier if more soldiers had been available in the days immediately after the occupation of that city.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about my party's resource intentions for the Armed Forces. That was covered in detail yesterday in the other place. I commend that debate to the noble Lord. We believe that our front-line Armed Forces must be a fundamental priority. They must receive sufficient resources adequately to fulfil their duties and their extensive commitments. When we announce our detailed spending plans later in the year, we will make clear how we intend to shift money from unnecessary and inefficient back office expenditure to the front line to maintain and enhance our defence capabilities.

There are still too many question marks over major equipment programmes. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, set out the uncertainties with Typhoon. There is also the support vehicle project. That important tri-service project for over 8,000 supply and recovery vehicles is already running a year late. It is therefore disappointing to learn from the Defence Procurement Agency's website that the preferred bidder is not expected until late 2004, a delay of a further nine months. When does the Minister expect the support vehicle to be in service?

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, mentioned future carriers. The Government know that they have our wholehearted support for that programme. They may therefore reasonably expect our support for firm decisions on moving the programme forward and on time. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth also hopes for an early announcement. Earlier this month, my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater was told by the Minister not to concern himself too much about air cover for the existing aircraft carriers, but the early withdrawal of the Sea Harrier FA2s represents the loss of our fleet's ability to defend itself or its associated land forces from any form of sophisticated air attack until the new carriers, together with the air defence versions of the future joint combat aircraft, come into operational service.

Our Armed Forces remain thinly spread, with urgent commitments to Kosovo and Afghanistan on top of our continuing commitment to Iraq. The Commons Defence Select Committee warned that, in Iraq, the Armed Forces were stretched very close to the maximum that they could sustain.

At home, terrorist attacks are described as inevitable. We on these Benches will not flinch in our determination to pursue the war against terror, wherever and whenever it must be fought, but A New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review and the defence White Paper made little mention of the threat of terrorism of the kind that we now face. Are we prepared? The public have been told almost nothing about the threat. They have received no training, and the emergency services have been given no extra manpower to deal with any incident. Can the Minister confirm that all 14 civil contingency reaction forces are now fully manned, fully equipped and fully trained? Have they all taken part in joint training exercises with the police, ambulance and fire authorities? Are the command and control structures in place and fully understood? Have civilian and military radios been tested together in the urban environments in which they may have to be used and without the use of mobile phones as a back-up? What happens if a terrorist attack takes place on the boundary between two or more police force areas? The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, with his wide experience, pointed out that much is being done, albeit at huge cost.

The success of the attacks against America in 2001 was due as much to a failure of imagination as of intelligence. There is no manual to tell us how to fight the war on terror. Our future success lies in our creativity in anticipating and deterring the actions of terrorists, coupled with a relentless desire to root them out wherever they may be.

What are the Government's plans for engaging the patriotism and religious ideals of the British Muslim community in the war against terror? What plans do Her Majesty's Government have for increasing the number of Muslim recruits to the Armed Forces?

My noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater initiated this excellent debate by showing what a dangerous world we live in. The future is uncertain, but we have faced uncertainties before. My noble friend Lord Marlesford said that we would have to make sacrifices. With decisive leadership, strong alliances and, as my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater said, the maximum public contribution, we can meet whatever is to come.

5.57 p.m.

Lord Bach

My Lords, the House has a fine tradition of well-considered and thought-provoking debates on defence. Today's debate is no exception. In my turn, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, on instigating the debate. Again, I apologise to the noble Lord—and through him to the House—for being late on parade. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, that the noble Lord's speech was forceful. There was a bit of the light infantry about the brilliant counterattack on defence spending that he launched from his side of the House towards the close of his speech. I will have more to say about that in due course, but, more seriously, I thought that his speech was thought-provoking and excellent.

Before I begin, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, on being appointed defence spokesman for his party in this House. He has a hard act to follow—the late Lord Vivian—but I know that he has great experience in the field. I look forward to working with and against him, in the way that we do.

Two weeks ago, a series of bombs was detonated on packed commuter trains in Madrid. It was the largest single terrorist atrocity witnessed on mainland Europe. The scale and sheer inhumanity of the attacks, calculated ruthlessly to cause the maximum loss of innocent life, brought home once again the immediacy of the threat posed by international terrorism. Our White Paper, which was the subject of what I thought was another good debate earlier this year, highlighted three key challenges that face us: international terrorism; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and the consequences of failed and failing states. The chilling consequences of the coming together of those three challenges will not be lost on noble Lords.

If we are to rise to meet those challenges, our Armed Forces must adapt accordingly. That is why the Strategic Defence Review, with its emphasis on expeditionary forces, sets us in the right direction. Following the events of 11 September 2001, A New Chapter to the Strategic Defence Review developed that further and introduced a number of measures designed to enhance the ability of the Armed Forces to support the civil authorities as they respond to major crises at home.

These included the development of a network of joint regional liaison officers, to which the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, referred, the introduction of communications equipment compatible with that of the police and, of course, the establishment of 14 civil contingency reaction forces. At the moment we have no plans to review that.

The White Paper builds on that foundation to present the case for even more flexible rapidly deployable forces that are structured and equipped to perform a wide range of tasks from peace enforcement to counter-terrorism operations. Of course, we must embrace new technology so that we can exploit the potential of our military capabilities to the full.

In the January debate, I bemoaned our lack of a crystal ball in which we could see where and when we shall deploy in the future. But we have a wealth of experience which shows us that we should plan to be able to support three concurrent small and medium-scale operations, at least one of which is an enduring peace support operation. That is the pattern that has increasingly become the norm in recent years and we judge that it will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. In building that into our plans, as all noble Lords have said, we must ensure that our Armed Forces retain the ability to adapt at longer notice for less frequent but much more demanding large-scale operations. On top of that, we also have to continue to meet our standing tasks and commitments. We believe that the White Paper provides the policy baseline against which we will work. I do not claim that it will be easy to achieve that balance.

In response, we will plan to maintain a broad spectrum of capabilities to ensure that we are able to conduct limited national operations or be the lead or framework nation for coalition operations at small and medium scale. But we do not see there being a requirement to replicate the same range of capabilities at large scale, given that in the most demanding operations it is inconceivable, we think, that the United States would not be engaged either leading a coalition or as a part of NATO.

That is nothing new. It has always been the case in modern times that we have worked alongside our allies in the more demanding and complex of operations. Nor does it mean that we will be able to operate only in tandem with the United States. Indeed, the changes presaged by the White Paper will enhance our ability to conduct expeditionary operations, both nationally and as part of a coalition.

A wide range of issues has been raised in the debate. In the 15 minutes that I have left, I intend to address the main issues. If there are questions that I omit to answer. I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord King, with copies for all relevant Peers. I intend to cover briefly terrorism, personnel, Typhoon and procurement generally, the House of Commons Defence Committee and Operation TELIC. Although I am not sure that I shall succeed, I hope to satisfy the noble and gallant Lords, all of whom spoke about the Budget. I shall be frank and, I hope, helpful about the Budget, even if I do not satisfy them fully in terms of figures.

I turn first to terrorism. We accept as a government that there is no military solution to international terrorism. It is one strand of meeting the challenges. The Armed Forces play an important part in support of the Government's strategy for tackling the problem. As Members know, the Home Secretary and the Home Office are responsible for security and consequence management in which we, as government, have invested heavily. Of course, the Armed Forces are available to help civil authorities if they need to ask for help.

We have achieved a great deal—for example, the operations in Afghanistan and widespread international co-operation post-Afghanistan—in pursuing terrorist networks worldwide, international progress on aviation security and, not least, tackling terrorist financing, as well as other issues. We shall continue to play our part in doing that. As the noble Lord, Lord King, said, this is an enormous challenge, not just for the UK to have to fight, but for all of us. We need diplomatic and many other skills in order to combat it.

The nonsense of the "end of history", which I have mentioned to the House before, has been shown up so clearly by the events since the end of the Cold War. It falls to us to deal with it. I believe that the House will deal with it in a united way.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, mentioned the civil contingency exercise. Please forgive me if I rather duck that issue; it is a matter for the Home Office rather than for us. But his remarks have been heard and will be in Hansard. Like the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I, too, was impressed when, from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, the noble Lord posed the question about balance, for his own party and for all us. We must try to get the right balance between a terrorist threat and our protection and love of our civil liberties.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth mentioned merchant shipping. The Royal Navy deploys worldwide on a range of tasks. Like other navies, under international law it is obliged to render assistance to other mariners. If a Royal Navy ship encounters a clear case of piracy on the high seas, Royal Navy policy is to deal with such incidents and those responsible. Commanding officers of warships are issued with clear guidance on the action that they should take.

My noble friend Lady Dean asked about the service personnel plan; I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Dean on her new appointment. I am advised that that plan is still expected to go live in April as planned. It is an internal plan but none the less important for that. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, raised concern about medical services, which he has raised in this House on many occasions. He knows that mistakes have been made in this field in the past.

Historically, it has been under-funded. That was recognised in the Strategic Defence Review. We have since seen substantial additional funding. I shall look into the problems that he mentioned today to pass on to the relevant Minister as soon as I can.

As regards reserves, we provide detailed advice to reservists on their legal right to reclaim their civilian employment in the UK and how to seek reinstatement in line with the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985. Each reservist receives a copy of the guidance. In respect of retention in the Territorial Army, we are not sure yet of the impact that operations in Iraq have had. Work is in hand to identify the effects through the use of demobilisation surveys and the continuous attitude survey to be published shortly.

The Army is very busy. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, used the figure of 30 per cent of the Army being committed to operations in mid-March 2004. I compare that with 57 per cent committed and 54 per cent deployed in late April 2003. We are committed to achieving a balance of commitments and aim to commit personnel to operations for no longer than is necessary to achieve the military aim. We will withdraw our personnel from operations as soon as we can.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, made an impressive speech in which he commented on the practice of leaving out the issues of numbers in terms of platforms and manpower while we are quite rightly engaged in trying to use modern technology in order to achieve effects-based results. In our view, flexible forces and platform numbers are not mutually exclusive. We are ensuring that our forces are used in what we hope is a smarter manner appropriate to the particular threat that needs to be confronted. So we are trying to achieve a series of effects, some of which are manpower intensive. Indeed, the example given by the noble and gallant Lord of peace support operations is one. Others are more technologically intensive. Flexible and technologically advanced forces do not preclude troops on the ground. Rather, we envisage a mixture of hi-tech and troops on the ground to maximise the chosen effect. I hope that that is helpful to the noble and gallant Lord.

I shall deal next with the Typhoon programme. I was delighted by the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. The Government remain committed to Eurofighter Typhoon. We have a contractual commitment to purchase 55 Typhoons in the first of three planned production tranches, and there is a memorandum of understanding with our partner nations to cover a further 89 in tranche two and 88 in tranche three. As is well known, discussions with the four nation members and with industry regarding tranche two are ongoing. Given the obvious importance of the contract, our priority is to ensure that industry's proposals for the programme are soundly planned and based on appropriate levels of design maturity. In response to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, a commitment to tranche three is not expected before 2007.

Of course we believe that the role of Typhoon must be one of multiple capability, otherwise the criticisms that are made of it would have some weight. It must have a multi-role capability, which is what tranche two is supposed to do. We are doing our very best to bring forward a suitable package on that.

I shall say a brief word about procurement in general. Sometimes we set our minds on in-service dates all the way through a programme. It seems to me that on occasion that can be a mistake. The assessment phase of a programme, which leads to main gate, as it is known—in effect, the signing of the contract with the company that will procure the goods comprising the programme for us—sometimes comes too soon. The principles of Smart Acquisition refer to 15 per cent of the total cost being spent during the assessment phase. The danger of coming to the end of the assessment phase too soon is that the programme is not sufficiently de-risked and you pay a heavy price further on when those risks emerge again and you encounter delay. With delay, of course, comes extra cost. We hope to be brave in saying on occasion that assessment phases must carry on until we have de-risked a programme sufficiently to move forward to the important main gate stage, when we sign the contract.

I turn briefly to the points raised on support vehicles. A prime contract is due to be selected in spring 2004, and the approved in-service date is April 2006.

I was going to talk about Operation TELIC. However, I want to say something about the budget in my remaining four minutes so I shall pass that by, save to say that good things were said in the report about what Her Majesty's Government did in relation to the operation, along with criticisms. We are not, I hope, too arrogant not to take note of those criticisms and to make sure that mistakes are not repeated. However, as I said, good things were mentioned in the report, which concluded by saying that deploying such a large force to the Gulf in the time available was in itself a significant achievement.

I shall move straight to budget issues. All departments have to deal with fluctuating pressures and to live within the resources allocated to them by Parliament. The Ministry of Defence is no different. There is a range of reasons why this is a particular issue for us at the moment. Only one of those reasons is that recruitment has been more successful than we had envisaged. That is good news generally but it puts a greater burden on the budget. However, I should point out that this year, 2003–04, has been complicated by the implementation of full resource accounting and budgeting which has raised new issues, in particular over how quickly we might use resources released by reducing our asset base to fund other activities.

To manage the in-year pressures, we have had to scale back cash expenditure across the department, in particular in the Defence Logistics Organisation and the Defence Procurement Agency. There remains some uncertainty about the size of the challenge we face over the next two financial years. It is clear that during both next year and the year after we shall continue to face financial pressures. We are conducting an assessment of where reductions in planned expenditure can be made in each of those years so that we can continue to live within our means. It is likely that we will need to make adjustments to our spending plans so that we can continue, as I say, to live within our means, but as well as looking to reduce costs, a key aim of this work is to allow us choice and planning flexibility.

So I am not in a position to be able to tell noble and gallant Lords and the House generally what figures are being bandied about, but I think that I have been fairly frank with the House in going as far as I have. I was delighted at what the Chancellor had to say about defence in the Budget. His positive remark obviously referred to the spending round that will be decided in July, saying that there will be a real increase in defence spending in that round. The three-year period will begin in 2005–06, not in any later year. It will cover the period 2005–06, 2006–07 and 2007–08.

I believe that we can contrast our view on increased defence spending—and I repeat that the last settlement was the best one that defence had had for very many years—with that of the party opposite. I am afraid that it has talked for a long time, in this House and elsewhere, about the need to increase resources for defence. But then, probably much to the disappointment of Front-Bench spokesmen on this subject both in this House and in another place, they have been told that there will be a freeze on defence spending that would last for two years if the Conservatives were to come to power at the next general election. That freeze would mean a cut of £1.5 billion. I think that we are entitled to ask where it is that the Conservatives, with their acknowledged interest in and respect for the subject of defence, intend to find that money. I hope and do not doubt that in due course we shall be given an explanation. However, I think the policy set out so far by the party opposite is one that will have disappointed many people involved in the defence field, many ordinary citizens, and a great number of Conservative voters.

I have ended on a party political note, but what I value about debates in this House on these matters is that, while the Government come in for a fair bit of stick, we are able to talk generously and openly about the problems affecting our country's defence. I am sorry if it sounds glib in the repetition, but the one thing on which we are absolutely united is our acknowledgment of the amazing work being done by our Armed Forces. I had the privilege of seeing that at first hand today, and everyone seeing it at first hand recognises that we have the best Armed Forces in the world.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can I say that he put a wonderful spin on what my right honourable friend the Member for West Dorset was supposed to have said? I suggest that the Minister reads what was set out in the speech. He may then care to think again.

6.19 p.m.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for taking the trouble to sit right through the debate after what has obviously been a very busy day and probably a busy preceding night. He has replied as conscientiously as he could. I thought that he slightly lost it at the end because I heard the remarks of my right honourable friend. He read a prepared statement in which he said that further details of what we propose would be available, I think, later in the year. I have never doubted that a Conservative government will do what is necessary for defence. That was always my philosophy and was always reflected in the support that I received from any Chancellor and Chief Secretary with whom I had to deal.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. It has been a very sombre debate. We have had the benefit of the quite remarkable experience—which the other place is not able to contribute to a defence debate of this kind—of no less than four former Chiefs of Defence Staff, including the two most recent holders of that office, and, particularly importantly, of the chairman of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body.

I have tried to emphasise the importance of morale. For our homeland and our homeland security, we need morale in our homes and in our Armed Forces at the present time. The Government will have to nurture both through some very difficult times. I think the Minister understands that very well.

As to the present situation, I shall make only one comment. The Minister said that it was inconceivable that we would find ourselves in certain circumstances where the United States would not be with us. I merely warn him that it was my experience when I had any responsibility for defence that the inconceivable usually happened. We find ourselves now in places that no previous defence review anticipated we would be in; and in circumstances that no previous defence planner of some years ago anticipated would arise. So it is necessary for the Government not only to make sensible arrangements for what they think will happen, but to have something in the reserve for events that never occurred to them would arise but which inevitably will happen.

I am deeply grateful for the contributions that have been made. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

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