The speeches in the Lords by the CDSs yesterday - link

Folks, these are the cuts of the former CDS's speeches. Read in detail what they're saying and you see how bad it really is for us. I'm going to multipart this so we get the words out. The link to the whole speech is here

Lord Boyce: My Lords, I too welcome this debate. It allows me to pay tribute to all our armed services for the outstanding work they are doing, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but also all around the world. They are rightly admired in all quarters for how they go about their business, whether it is war fighting, peace keeping or defence diplomacy, and this country derives huge hidden benefits from that in all sorts of ways. In particular—this can be inferred from the speech of the Minister in the debate on the humble Address—when this Government have been sitting at various international top tables, they have been especially pleased to bask in the glow of the fine reputation of our Armed Forces as they have engaged over the past 10 years in levels of activity that far exceed defence planning assumptions. But I am afraid that the merciless trading on the good will and professionalism of our soldiers, sailors and airmen has not been matched by anything remotely approaching the same level of commitment by the Government in cash or in kind.

We see this best when observing the deflation of the defence budget as a percentage of gross domestic product versus inflation in activity against the assumptions of our defence policy, and inflation in the cost of defence equipment, which is running at something in the order of 8 to 12 per cent. And the so-called year-on-year increases that the Government continue to boast about have first to be measured against the initial under-funding of the defence aspirations set out in the Strategic Defence Review. It is an absolute fact that none of the year-on-year increases has closed that initial gap, let alone provided for the concomitant rise needed to match the soaring levels of activity which are taking a matching toll on man and machine.

As for the derisory Comprehensive Spending Review settlement that defence was given in July, let us examine the detail of that 1.5 per cent budget increase that the Government were so pleased to announce. First, the Minister will no doubt be extremely reluctant to remind us that the replacement strategic deterrent will have to be absorbed into that 1.5 per cent. This really does display a cynical observance of the promise made by the then Prime Minister that the cost of the Trident replacement would,

“not be at the expense of the conventional capabilities that our armed forces need”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/6/06; col. 23.]

I said in this House at the time of the debate on the nuclear deterrent replacement that:

“We will have to examine the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review with great care to see whether the Prime Minister has kept his word”.—[Official Report, 24/1/07; col. 1163.]

I leave your Lordships to draw your own conclusions. But further to this, can the Minister confirm that the ring-fenced defence modernisation fund and the operational welfare package benefits that the Secretary of State for Defence was trumpeting about in last week’s Sunday Telegraph are also to come out of that 1.5 per cent? I submit that they are, and the fact is that the smoke and mirrors work of the Government, and in particular the Treasury, actually means that the core defence programme has had no effective budget rise at all. If one could cut to the truth, which is a really challenging task, we would find that it is in fact negative, especially if one extracts the £550 million to be spent on slum accommodation that should have replaced years ago.

This negative budget is why, if you go to the Ministry of Defence today, you will find blood on the floor as the system slashes the defence programme to meet what is a desperate funding situation. You will find—I know this—measures being examined to cut the future equipment programme, as well as reducing the present front line and its support. I fear in particular for the Royal Navy, where already the destroyer/frigate force level has haemorrhaged to 25 from the required 32 set out in the Strategic Defence Review of nine years ago. It seems that further reductions are likely, and these on a fleet that is still damaged by the savage moratorium on fleet support that was instigated by this Government a couple of years ago and from which, although lifted earlier this year, it will take at least a decade to recover, if at all.

Incidentally, I hope that the Minister can assure us that the Ministry of Defence is still not clinging to the strategically illiterate opinion that network enabled capability allows for a reduction in basic force numbers. Such a theory, of which Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was such an unfortunate and dangerous exponent, has been comprehensively trashed by experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Network enabled capability and force reduction certainly do not apply in the maritime domain where I remain to be convinced that the Ministry of Defence has woken up to the fact that a ship cannot be in two places at the same time, and that the importance of presence, which is so fundamental to conflict prevention, demands more and not fewer hulls.

On that—if the Minister does not already know, she will find out—this Government have ordered only eight warships since 1997, of which only four were destroyers and frigates. In the same period, 57 ships have been disposed of, of which 13 were destroyers and frigates, the workhorses of the fleet. Some of those disposed of were in fact younger than the ships they replaced. I believe that the destroyer/frigate level is far too low to meet the challenges of the long term. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what is going to happen to Nos. 7 and 8 Type 45 destroyers, and whether the Future Surface Combatant will be brought into service to fill the place of the Type 23s as they start to age out in the next decade?

On further specifics, such as the equipment for our people in theatre in Afghanistan and Iraq, no doubt the Minister will trot out the line that all they require has been met, as the Secretary of State attempted to imply in another part of his piece in the Sunday Telegraph. However, let us remind ourselves that to achieve this, some £2.2 billion has had to be spent on urgent operational requirements, demonstrating the impoverishment of the defence programme. But what the Prime Minister, the Treasury and Defence Ministers need to realise is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, we are seriously endangering our people because of the lack of money being given to equip, train and support properly those in the second line preparing to rotate to the front line, not least because such units have been robbed—I use the word advisedly because it is a technical expression for cannibalising, known as “store robbing”—of the equipment they need to train on so as to arrive in theatre properly prepared; and they have been robbed of that equipment because it has been used to furnish those already in the front line. The additional danger into which this puts our Armed Forces is entirely down to a shortage of cash, a shortage that could easily be remedied if the Government was so minded.

Let me turn for a moment to the future. I worry that, with the inadequate budget that the Armed Forces have, there will be a not unnatural focus on shoring up what is required to fight today’s war. The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, to whom I am also grateful for having initiated the debate today, has already mentioned this. We are at serious risk of undermining what we may require to fight tomorrow’s war, and we can be fairly sure it will not be the same war as we are engaged in today in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope that there is recognition of the need to think beyond a hand-to-mouth policy, which is where we are today.

Let me, for example, dwell on the sea. It remains the way by which the world conducts most of its trade; it is the only undisputed access to areas of strategic interest that can be guaranteed; and it remains crucial to the United Kingdom’s economic vitality and ability to protect our interests. Early crisis management cannot depend on host nation support and over-flying rights, and maritime forces are likely to be the principal way to apply decisive influence and force in any early stages of a crisis. However, I suspect that with the overall shortage of money for defence, there is a danger of the Navy being raided to pay for today’s land-centric operations. I ask the Minister to reassure the House that this fear is not justified.

The message is clear: the Government, especially the Treasury, still have a completely peacetime mentality. For all the Government’s platitudes about commitment and caring for our Armed Forces, the visible sign of this is conspicuous by its absence when we see a budget that so inadequately resources our Armed Forces’ levels of activity. Certainly commitment is starkly absent when we see the appointment of Ministers who are not devoted solely to their task, as shown by the double-hatting of the Secretary of State and the previous Minister for Defence Equipment and Support.

I make absolutely no apology for raising this subject again; it is very serious. It is seen as an insult by our sailors, soldiers and airmen on the front line—I know because I often have reason to speak to them—and it is certainly a demonstration of the disinterest and, some might say, contempt that the Prime Minister and his Government have for our Armed Forces. It shows an appalling lack of judgment at a time when our people are being killed and maimed. It is not for nothing that the Chief of the General Staff has said that his people feel undervalued. They really do deserve far better from the Government.
Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this debate and on a powerful and telling speech. She mentioned the military covenant whose words I would like to quote. It states:

“Soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices—including the ultimate sacrifice—in the service of the Nation. In putting the needs of the Nation and the Army before their own, they forego some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces. In return, British soldiers must always be able to expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals, and that they (and their families) will be sustained and rewarded by commensurate terms and conditions of service … This mutual obligation forms the Military Covenant between the Nation, the Army and each individual soldier; an unbreakable common bond of identity, loyalty and responsibility”.

The same covenant must apply to all three services in equal measure. Do Her Majesty’s Government accept that, too?

Every day individual servicemen and women on operations overseas are making personal sacrifices—and some the ultimate sacrifice—in the service of the nation. Since 2003, some 257 have been killed in action. Larger numbers have been wounded, some most horrifically, but thanks to their medical treatment they live—albeit severely disabled in many cases. Others who have no physical disabilities are traumatised by their experiences and may never be well again. Almost all are young, in the first few years of their adult life; some not even out of their teens. No one can claim that today’s service men and women are not fulfilling their part of the covenant, as also did the 16,000 who have died since World War II on operations and whose names are recorded on the Armed Forces Memorial in Staffordshire.

How are the Government and the nation responding? How well are they keeping faith with their responsibilities to so many service personnel and dependants in this contract? Keeping faith is not just a matter of financial reward for a job well done. It must go deeper to uphold this unique contract. The Royal British Legion recently launched a well researched campaign drawing attention to government failings in meeting the covenant. There is more to add.

No amount of repetition of respect and admiration for the Armed Forces will outweigh the impact of government inactions or perceived disinterest in the activity and feelings of service personnel. Do the Armed Forces not merit even one line in the gracious Speech when they are deployed on operations far from home? Where is the support in that? It hollers blinkered disinterest.

How can the Armed Forces feel that the Government are four-square behind them with both the Secretary of State and the Minister for defence equipment and support only part-time holders of their important positions? A part-time Minister signals a part-time interest in the forces, a part-time responsibility for representing their interests in Cabinet and failure to get adequate funding in the CSR settlement; a part-time Minister, with key responsibilities for their equipment needs, being answerable to two Secretaries of State. Surely a son of the manse knows his Bible: “No man can serve two masters”. Does all this not undervalue the Armed Forces?

I welcomed the Written Statement, 10 days ago, by the Secretary of State for Defence. This promises a Command Paper on what has been done to support service personnel, their families and veterans, and the Government’s vision for further support. But this work is not going to be published before spring 2008. Is that the best that a near-invisible Secretary of State can do, tied up as he must be with the problems of Scottish devolution and talk of independence? Can the Minister assure the House that there are funds earmarked in the defence budget to meet the cost of the further support that seems to be anticipated by the Statement? Or is this vision of further improvements just spin, no more than a virtual mirage on a far-off shore?

Ministers have repeatedly acknowledged that we are committed—and have been for some time—way beyond defence planning assumptions. Admitting it, but then doing too little to correct the situation, or only belatedly, is another example of a failure to fulfil their part of the military covenant. In wars of choice, is it not highly immoral to commit forces that are underprovided and inadequately equipped for their tasks? A Government must limit their global aspirations to what they have provided the services, or they fail to honour the military covenant.

The noble Lord, Lord Drayson, made a belated apology to your Lordships for failings in MoD treatment of Gulf War I veterans. He said:

“I accept on behalf of the Ministry of Defence that this issue has not been handled well from the beginning. The department was slow to recognise the emerging ill health issues and to put measures in place to address them”.—[Official Report, 11/10/07; col. 341.]

But the Minister for Veterans still refuses to accept the Pensions Appeal Tribunal determination that Gulf War Illness is a valid label to merit compensation for sick veterans from the first Gulf conflict who do not have an established pathology.

Gulf veterans who have had their claims refused should be contacted by the MoD and told that they can appeal if they have not already done so. This would be the least that the MoD can do to make good on its admitted failings and to bring this long-running issue to a satisfactory closure.

I was encouraged to learn that the Hull Teaching Primary Care Trust has written to its healthcare professionals to say that, in addition to fast-tracking treatment for veterans in receipt of a war disability pension, other veterans should be given the same access as the war pensioners if their doctors suspect that their condition may be associated with their military service. Can the Minister confirm that fast-track treatment is a nationwide arrangement—throughout the United Kingdom—for all veterans? Indeed, does fast-track treatment mean giving priority to treatment?

A number of your Lordships challenged one of the critical changes introduced into the new Armed Forces Compensation Scheme 2005. As the noble Baroness, Lady Park, mentioned, the scheme requires the claimant to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that the injury, illness or death was caused mainly by service. Under the former war pensions scheme, in place since 1942, the onus was on the Secretary of State to prove that conditions were not caused by service, and the service person was given the benefit of the doubt. This change disadvantages serving personnel and veterans in poor health, who may be ill prepared to argue their case in any dispute over the cause of their injuries. What an inappropriate time, when we have casualties almost daily, to impose such a change designed, it seems, to save money on compensation.

I have not completed my list of concerns, but I hope that I have said enough to challenge the Government to mend their ways. There is a world of difference in dealing with service personnel as though they were comparable with non-combatants when so many are now serving in operational environments. It is an abrogation of the Government’s responsibilities under the covenant. Let them resolve instead to sustain it wholeheartedly, and not just by grudging, belated responses to media and other pressures that embarrass them.

The military covenant is not only between the forces and the Government of the day, it is between the forces and the nation. I have remarked before in debates how impressed I have been by the willingness in the United States to honour and reward service men and women and veterans. If they produce their service identity card, most retailers will willingly give them a discount on their purchases. Would that our national businesses would do the same for our Armed Forces. How better could they indicate their support for the military covenant? Will the Government take that idea forward?
Lord Bramall: My Lords, I am sure that our caring and concerned Ministers at the Ministry of Defence would subscribe to the view that our Armed Forces are behaving magnificently and gallantly, are doing their duty under difficult circumstances and deserve all support in terms of equipment and backing that this country could possibly give them. Indeed, I am sure that those Ministers are anxious to provide that support.

I, too, greatly regret the departure of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, who mastered how to make the complex MoD procurement system work to its best advantage and to the benefit of the Armed Forces. He forced things through and really made a difference to the equipment programme. His successor, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, with all her parliamentary experience behind her, still has a mammoth and urgent task ahead of her. Naturally we wish her well.

The trouble is that you do not have to look far to find out why it is that on occasions in the past—and, I fear, why it will be on more occasions in the future—support for the Armed Forces does not measure up to what is needed and deserved. First, over the past three years or so there has been no coherently joined-up foreign and defence policy in which military force could be deployed and operate with complete confidence about the real aim of the operation or about how the broad strategy and design for battle would develop in the future.

The Helmand area in southern Afghanistan has proved to be a truly excellent battle-training area. Every self-respecting soldier, from commanding officers down to the rank and file, is eager to go there to prove their prowess as a professional under pressure and to show how good their regiments are. I do not want to write down the value of that on the Army’s overall effectiveness and efficiency in the future, but it has been that aspect, along with their loyalty and sense of duty, that has motivated our soldiers and produced undoubted high morale on the ground rather more than any clear idea of where it is all leading in the longer term.

No military operation can be pursued with vigour, confidence and success over time without a clear-cut political aim, and it is up to the Government always to provide it. There are some signs that this is starting to happen, with the penny perhaps dropping at last that there may be ways of dealing with al-Qaeda and other forms of international terrorism—and indeed of producing more stability in the Middle East in which countries can co-exist with one another within a realistic and sustainable balance of power—other than simply a prolonged and open-ended battle of attrition against the Taliban or maintaining a permanent western military presence in Iraq, as the Americans seem to have in mind. I hope that we can look forward to a properly joined-up foreign and defence policy with more dynamic diplomacy backed, supported and strengthened, as it always must be, by military force, although not invariably led by that force—a policy that means resources and commitments can more easily be matched.

The second restraint impeding the Ministry of Defence—and this is now urgent—is the vast funding gap that exists and is likely to continue to exist between, on the one hand, the aspirations of the Government and the real needs of the services and, on the other, the resources that are planned to be available over the next three to five years. It is no good the Minister denying that such a gap exists; the whole ministry knows it to be so after the recent results of the spending review. Every defence correspondent worthy of his name knows it as well. The Minister will have heard the most powerful assessment by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, on the subject. There is no doubt that that gap is there.

The Government have expensive ambitions for a successor to Trident, all apparently to come out of the defence vote. They are committed to two fleet carriers, which, however satisfying and useful they will be for the Royal Navy to possess and man, will hardly pull their weight without funding not only for the aircraft to fly off them and give them an offensive capability but also for adequate numbers of smaller craft, both to give the carriers outpost protection under a war threat and to carry out the myriad other maritime tasks that fall to the Royal Navy in peace and war such as patrolling sensitive areas, protecting our trade routes and shipping and projecting power and commitment at short notice.

In all conflict situations worthy of the name, eventual control of the airspace is vital to the successful conduct of any battle on land or at sea. In fact that great military commander, Field Marshal Montgomery, added a 10th principle of war: “First, win the air battle”. That, particularly in prolonged conflict, often comes down to numbers as much as it does to new technology.

As for the land battle, Afghanistan is already revealing glaring weaknesses. Although the equipment is good—no one is accusing the Government of not procuring good equipment; I hope that the Minister realises that—the problem is invariably one of numbers and utility, the result of cuts in past programmes and shortages of spare parts, all sacrificed as a result of salami-slicing over the years. The chickens come home to roost when all this leads to inadequate flying hours when they are most needed. There are still not enough helicopter gunships or troop-carrying helicopters, and the Puma that tragically crashed yesterday was very old. The light tanks are the same as those that we used in the Falklands war 25 years ago. Some of the armoured personnel carriers date back as far as 50 years but are now more underpowered because of the extra protection that has to be grafted on to them. All the transport is quite simply wearing out as a result of the extremely harsh conditions and may need replacement.

As far as manpower is concerned, the present tactic of engaging and killing Taliban—to say nothing of civilians when superior firepower, including air support, is used—and driving them out only for them to return at a later date, will lead to no satisfactory and stable outcome. Unless there can be sufficient troops to hold and protect the ground that has been cleared, it will not be possible for vital aid development constructively to take place in a way that will enable us to win essential hearts and minds in the tribal areas. The recent “Panorama” programme made that perfectly clear. So far, local forces have shown themselves unable to achieve this stability by themselves.

If operations in southern Afghanistan are to be as successful as they could be, extra troops will be needed. To achieve that and many other objectives, as well as to correct overstretch—not only during operational tours but between them—and the enforced curtailment of training in recent years, the Army is clearly not large enough, probably to the tune of several thousand men. Such numbers are required to fill out and sustain the units of all arms, to prevent the unsatisfactory fragmentation of units and to bring them up to a proper war-fighting establishment. The Army will also need as soon as possible an all-purpose fighting vehicle, known as FRES, which will have strategic—that is, air portable—and tactical mobility, as well as proper protection against modern munitions. FRES’s original delivery date of 2005 has already been postponed well into the future.

All those things, as well as honouring the covenant in terms of badly needed housing, proper medical care and proper pay and conditions of service, cannot be provided by the money allocated in the spending review. There will not be enough to go round. Nor is it any good, as the noble Lord, Lord King, made clear, for Ministers continually to shelter behind claims of sustained growth. The figure of 1.5 per cent growth in real terms that is promised for the next three years, but which is more like 0.9 per cent in practice, starts from the lowest possible baseline after 15 years’ decline and represents 2.5 per cent of GDP. It is nowhere near enough, as the noble Lord, Lord King, said, to compete with inherent defence inflation. The previous period of sustained growth, which the Government like to use as a comparison, was for nine years, from 1979 to 1988. It started with the Callaghan Government and was consistently at 3 per cent in real terms, representing 5.5 per cent of GDP. I know what I am talking about because I was on the Chiefs of Staff Committee for seven of those nine years.

Big decisions—the Minister will no doubt say “tough and courageous decisions”, although some would call them “disastrous”—will have to be made to cut back the programme and squeeze it into the money available. That can happen in one of three ways. The first is salami-slicing—and we know all the dangers of that. The second is by cutting out a complete capability; if so, the House is entitled to know what capability the Government have in mind. Would they do it on a European basis and, if so, how? The third is by responding to public and political pressure and concentrating on short-term responsibilities at the expense of those of the longer term, which would have disastrous consequences in 10 to 15 years, if we assume that Governments can be persuaded to think that far ahead, as they must in the equipment cycle. If they do not, the Armed Forces will arrive, as did the BEF in 1940, in the most appalling and parlous state to fight.

The only way in which one of these three options, which would bring such disastrous consequences to the Armed Forces’ ability to carry out their role in the short or long term, or both, can be avoided is if the Government readjust their thinking and are prepared to initiate a surge in what this country spends on its most important responsibility, the support of its foreign policy. They should spend up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product. That would make a profound difference. It would have a sensible rationale in insurance terms and what the country ought to be able to afford. It would certainly prevent the current position from getting worse; it would enable all the most important parts of the defence programme to be properly funded; and it would control the Treasury’s insatiable appetite for ensuring that whatever sum is allocated to defence is not in practice made fully available to be spent at the time. It would also send a clear message, which does not exist at the moment, to those thinking of joining the services or staying on in them, that the Government are really serious about their responsibilities and will match resources to the Armed Forces’ real needs and commitments, which our foreign policy believes are in the national interest. If there is no surge at all, the situation will become infinitely worse.
Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for this important debate. First, I pay tribute to two soldiers from the SAS who were killed yesterday in Iraq. I am the colonel of the SAS, and I know that I speak on behalf of the whole House when I say that we sympathise. The two soldiers had very young children. I know, too, that Members of this House very much admire what we are doing in the SAS in Iraq and elsewhere, day after day.

I find the Government’s attitude to the Armed Forces mystifying. We should give them credit for injecting some, if not enough, new money into defence, for Iraq and Afghanistan and for training. Undoubtedly—and we should not forget this—much of the equipment that has now been introduced is as good as any equipment anywhere in the world. However, it is unfortunate that too many people were killed and lives were lost through the late arrival of this equipment, which could have been made available if adequate funding had been found sooner, when the requirement was known about.

The fact is that the defence of our country has been underfunded for years. In the Cold War we got away with it, but took huge risks. To compound our difficulties, the Government of the day took a peace dividend that now seems unwisely large, but that was a long time ago. We now have services that have been underfunded for years and find themselves desperately stretched fighting two wars.

At the Lord Mayor’s banquet last week, the Prime Minister affirmed his commitment that he would, at all times, support and strengthen our Armed Forces, our defences and security. In my experience as Chief of the Defence Staff in Whitehall, he was the most unsympathetic Chancellor of the Exchequer as far as defence was concerned, and the only senior Cabinet Minister who avoided coming to the Ministry of Defence to be briefed by our staff on our problems. The only time that I remember him coming to the Ministry of Defence when I was there was when he came to talk about the future of the Rosyth dockyard, which was in his constituency. He must take much of the blame for the very serious situation we find the services in today.

However, I am delighted that he is now taking more interest. He has visited Iraq and Afghanistan on various occasions and has devoted more time to those in the Ministry of Defence. But can he really understand how serious the situation is if he appoints—as others have mentioned—a Secretary of State who is not fully committed to defence at such a time as this? I, like others, speak to servicemen and women who view that as a serious slight at a time when the intensity of operations is far higher than it has been for many years. I cannot understand how the Prime Minister could do such a thing.

It is well known that the defence budget is under huge pressure and it will be interesting to know from the Minister just which programmes will not survive—she will probably not be able to tell us today—which will be reduced and which scalings will be reviewed. We know that difficult decisions will have to be faced unless additional funding is made available. Lately, Ministers have been boasting about the extra money that has been produced for defence. I will not go over the ground that has been so well covered by the noble Lord, Lord King, and the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Boyce, but whatever has happened, it is woefully inadequate as far as running the services today is concerned. It is not a matter for self-congratulation.

There are many examples of equipment and shortages—some have been given. I am not going to give noble Lords a long list, but one example is a brigade being deployed to Afghanistan not having been trained on medium machine guns before it goes, because the medium machine guns all have to be out in Afghanistan. That is a serious matter and risks people’s lives. There is a shortage of three battalions worth of HF radios. I could go on, but I will not, because the point has already been made.

Recently, senior officers, including the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, have thought it necessary to speak out. It is regrettable when senior officers think it necessary to do that. I do not think that it is the British way or that it is constitutional, but it indicates how they are at the end of their tether. What the Government are expecting them to do and deliver is absolutely unreasonable with the resources that they have.

We find ourselves in a very dangerous world at the moment. Long gone are the days when we could remain safe in our own country, isolated from troubles elsewhere. If the Government are really serious about defence and security, as the Prime Minister clearly said last week—it is interesting that government support behind the Minister has just gone up by 50 per cent, which does not indicate that members of the Government in this House are taking it very seriously—funding must be increased or the Government will seriously damage one of the state’s greatest assets beyond quick repair.
Lord Inge: My Lords, like other noble Lords I thank the noble Baroness and congratulate her on securing this very important debate. She is very knowledgeable about the serious and dangerous challenges that face our Armed Forces, and I know that they have huge affection and respect for her. I only wish that Her Majesty’s Government shared that understanding and were prepared to take positive action to fund properly some of the problems that have been so clearly highlighted in our speeches.

Like other noble Lords I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Drayson. He not only mastered his brief here but began to understand what makes the Armed Forces tick. I am afraid that his sudden disappearance sent a terrible message to the Armed Forces.

It is common knowledge that as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review some very tough decisions will have to be made, which is mandarin-speak for further major cuts. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, I attended the Chief of the General Staff’s excellent briefing the other day. I talked about the problems of funding with a soldier there; he raised the subject, not me. He said, “Sometimes, I think that I would have been better off working for Northern Rock”.

Despite the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan dominating the media, you are left with the very clear impression that defence is not a major issue for the Government and that they do not really seem to understand the challenges which our Armed Forces are facing and the long-term damage, if they are not careful, that could be done to our Armed Forces. They seem more interested in managing the media than facing the problems which the Armed Forces are facing.

The Government pay great tribute to the bravery and professionalism of our Armed Forces but they seem to hide behind that praise and the Prime Minister and the Government are not prepared to recognise what those challenges mean in terms of funding, not least for the future equipment programme, in order that the three fighting services—and they are fighting services—are properly equipped to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Nor are they prepared to provide the funding to meet what we now call the covenant. That was starkly illustrated by the Royal British Legion’s campaign about the nation’s responsibility to honour the covenant under the banner headline, “We count on him. Can they count on us”? It is extraordinary that the Royal British Legion felt that it was necessary to mount that campaign.

As other noble Lords have said, the defence planning assumptions made in 1997 bear little reality to the intensity of operations and war fighting that our Armed Forces are now engaged in. Indeed, our track record of predicting what would happen in the future was never particularly good. That means that you have to be prepared for the unexpected. We were not really prepared for Northern Ireland or the Falkland Islands; we underestimated the challenge of the Balkans; we did not predict the first Iraq war and are having to learn the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lesson that I draw from this is that you have to be prepared for the unexpected not only as regards equipment, but much more importantly, making sure that you have adequate manpower to cope with high-intensity conflicts and low-intensity operations. You have to be able to sustain those operations over much longer periods than we ever planned for. Such capabilities do not come cheap. It is a sad fact that the defence budget has been underfunded over many years. In 1982–83, it was 5.1 per cent of GDP. In 1991–92, it was 4.1 per cent of GDP. At the present level, it is 2.5 per cent, and it has stayed around that level.

In a short debate such as this it is not possible to make specific recommendations, but in a brief look at some of the capabilities of the three Armed Forces, I will highlight one recommendation for each service.

The cost for the Royal Navy of having two carriers has meant significant cuts in the surface fleet, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, said. In this uncertain world, does it really make sense to have a Royal Navy that cannot meet a wide range of unexpected operational commitments? Certainly we could not do the Falkland Islands now as we did then. I also strongly support the independent deterrent, but the fact that that must come out of the defence budget must raise huge questions. While talking about the Royal Navy, I pay huge tribute to the Royal Marines, who have conducted themselves so gallantly and effectively in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are a first-rate fighting force.

It is also clear that the Army is too small by a number of thousands of men. When I talk about the Army, I am talking about not only the Regular Army but the Territorial Army. It is difficult to recommend where that additional manpower is most needed. I caution the Conservative Party about saying that there is an immediate need to resurrect the three battalions that were removed as a result of the reorganisation and restructuring of the infantry. We need to see some of the established ones made much more robust. I would be interested to know what percentage of GDP they plan to allocate to defence.

Lord Inge: My Lords, I cannot answer the noble Lord specifically. It is a fact that a number of battalions are under strength and that without the Territorial Army they would be in very serious trouble.

The RAF strategic transport fleet needs replacement, and there is a shortage of helicopters. It is hard to envisage any operations in the future when there will not be significant demands on the helicopter fleets of the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Army.

Most importantly, the three fighting services are about people. They are a priceless asset. If they do not feel valued, if they do not feel that their families are getting a fair deal or that they are being properly looked after, if they do not feel that they are being adequately trained and equipped and if they feel that Her Majesty’s Government do not really care, morale will suffer. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, mentioned that. It is particularly so when the forces are heavily committed on operations. I am not saying that morale is bad. I have been to Afghanistan, and when you go round you see that morale is high, but morale can go very quickly, and they need to feel that the Government are really behind them. If morale does go, it takes a lot of money and time to restore it.

In conclusion, I will say something about the important relationship between the Armed Forces, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. That relationship is more important than they might realise. As many noble Lords have mentioned, the fact that at this time the Secretary of State has a second job is extraordinary. He is known to some in the military as “Two jobs Des”. It is a very bad message to send to the Armed Forces. The relationship is hugely important and should not be underestimated. Where there is trust, that relationship works really well. It is interesting to talk about trust, given the Prime Minister’s writing about heroes. These are the very people that we are talking about. Trust is a powerful asset. When it runs deep, it strengthens any relationship. When there is no trust or, even worse, when trust is broken, co-operation becomes much more difficult to sustain. The Prime Minister needs to think very hard about that.

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