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John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab):
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the battlegroup formation in Europe will greatly enhance the capability of
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individual countries and the contribution that they can makeunlike the single large force that was originally anticipated?
John Reid: I agree with my hon. Friend. He knows that we provided one of those battle groups along with our French colleagues, with whom we work closely on everything, as hon. Members knowexcept the Olympics. We will also provide a maritime battle group force in two or three years. That has added a dimension of capability to the European Union that is better than some of the pipe-dream plans for an all-Europe army that would stand ready to move.
The EU increasingly needs the ability to act when NATO is not fully engaged, especially when the EU's broader capabilities and contribution in crisis prevention and management can be of added value. It is not always about large deployments. With flexibility and sustainability, we can achieve the required effects in other ways, discharging our responsibilities through, for example, critical enablers, support capabilities or defence diplomacy tasks.
John Reid: I am reluctant to do so because I am aware that I have tested the patience of the House a little. I know that everybody wants the best of both worldsto intervene on the speech and to complain that is it too longbut I shall give way once more and then attempt to finish quickly.
Mr. Gray: The Secretary of State has been generous in taking interventions. Will he give us one clear and simple example of any task that a European defence force could usefully fulfil, which NATO or a national army could not?
John Reid: Some tasks require multinational activity in which the United States may not want to be involved heavily or at all. There is currently a requirement for a presence in Bosnia, but the US might fail. It contributed towards the presence but Bosnia is not primarily a responsibility of the other end of the transatlantic alliance; it is primarily the responsibility of the European end. I tell the hon. Gentleman what I sometimes say to my French colleagues: it is possible to maximise the utility of NATO and the EU in a non-competitive way, provided that we shape slightly different roles for them. The EU offers an opportunity especially for bringing together prevention, rehabilitation and civil-military organisation on the ground. That is not as easily achieved by NATO. Indeed, some of our transatlantic partners in NATO may not be especially enthusiastic about getting involved in those matters.
For example, let us consider Darfur. Sometimes I think that the world, by which I mean non-politiciansordinary people who have as much insight and often greater sense than ushas watched events in the past 10 or 15 years and asked why somebody is not doing something. That was probably the case in Rwanda, is possibly the case in the Congo and definitely the case in Sudan.
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When people ask why someone is not doing something, we have a duty to respond. However, we cannot always be in the lead. For example, in Darfur, it is right that the African Union should lead. We cannot always go in with only military means. Sometimes we have to go in under other leadership, for example, the African Union, and give an array of assistance, which is necessary for security but is not purely defence. I believe that we can develop some of the EU's possibilities and potential and the European security and defence policy without threatening NATO.
Although the position is better than in late 2004, Darfur remains unstable and insecure and the numbers of internally displaced people are increasing. Their protection and that of those who remain in their villages is not yet assured. The African Union's monitoring mission in Darfur is to be expanded to more than 7,000 personnel. Through NATO and the EU, we are making a contribution to giving logistic support and moving in the troops that the African Union wants to put in.
I appear to have made a mistake if I implied that we were in a battle group with France. I do not think that I said thatI thought that I said that along with France we provided a battle group. I did not mean that we provided a battle group along with France. There are two battle groupsour battle group and the French battle group. I hope that I have clarified my phraseology.
This week's events ensure that we will pass on the torch of remembrance to our younger people. There are three lessons. First, there is the unimaginably terrible cost of war. I am not sure that anyone in the Chamber has been involved in a war. I have not, and I do not think, however graphically it was described to me, that I could understand what it means to take part in war. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), however, may have been on active service, even if he has not been to war. It is difficult for my generation, whose fathers, mothers, grandparents were involved in war, to understand it, but it is much more difficult for younger people. Veterans' week is partly meant to bring home to them the high cost of war.
Secondly, we must remember that difficult judgments about war can show us that the costs increase with appeasement. It is always difficult to make judgments, but one thing that we can learn from the 1930s and 1940s is that if we are not prepared to take a stand on certain issues early enough, those issues will not go away; and instead of thousands, tens of millions of people may die. Thirdly, we must learn the benefits of peace and partnership. Whatever our differences with our colleagues in Europe, it must be considered an unmitigated success that in the last 60 years, after centuries of war and loss of life on a grand scale, we have managed to maintain peace in western Europe through the European Union. That would not have been likely in every part of the present EU had that institution not existed.
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There are therefore lessons which we need to pass on. Above all, this week's events highlight the esteem in which we hold our armed forces and their importance. We maintain our position in the world and we act, I hope, through the discharge of our responsibilities as a force for good. Ultimately, that is because of the courage and hard work of the armed forces and the civilians who support them.
In conclusion, we owe a great deal to the armed forces serving today in many parts of the world, those who served so faithfully during the struggle against tyranny by defeating the most poisonous regime ever to emerge from Europethe Nazi regime in the second world warand those who have served their country and suffered hardship since then. Without them, none of us would be here today to defend and participate in democracy on behalf of a free people in a free country. That, above all, is the legacy and the testimony of those who have served in our armed forces.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): It is quite a long time since the Secretary of State generously thanked me for offering to withdraw today's business if necessary in the light of this morning's circumstances. Like him, I am pleased that we have been able to hold this debate, as it is important that democracy shows that it is resilient against terrorism and that the terrorists are never allowed to achieve their evil purpose. It is therefore important that we debate this issue today. I apologise to the House because, for personal reasons, I cannot be here for the winding-up speeches.
Our debate takes place in difficult and, indeed, dark circumstances. This morning's incidents obviously have ramifications for our security and our defence. I am sure that there will be a time when questions need to be asked and perhaps lessons will need to be learned, but that time is not now. This is a time when our thoughts and prayers must be with the bereaved and the injured, and our gratitude, admiration and total support must be with our dedicated emergency services in the difficult work that they are carrying out on our behalf today. I pay tribute to them.
Like the Secretary of State, I pay tribute this week in particular to our veterans. It has been a real honour to be with them on a number of occasions and to be able to thank them for what they did for us. It is important that we never forget that and the sacrifices that so many of them made.
I pay a heartfelt tribute to our armed forces. We ask an enormous amount of them in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, the Falkland Islands, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and other places. I have seen them at work in those locations in my previous role as shadow Foreign Secretary and I can say only that their professionalism and courage are second to nonewe owe them a great debt of gratitude, too. However, those widespread postings underline the changing nature of today's security threat compared with the more predictable threat of the cold war. The consequent demands on our armed forces have been far greater than expected, and they will continue to be so. As the Secretary of State pointed out, we will continue to have a world role. I
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agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman said about our responsibilities in the world, but if we are to ask our armed forces to undertake those responsibilities on our behalf, we owe it to them more than ever to ensure that they are properly funded, properly trained and properly equipped.
"the operations on which the United Kingdom's Armed Forces are committed have consistently exceeded this planned level of activity in the past three years. The Department considers that it is likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future."
Conservative Members have in recent years repeatedly emphasised that fact, which has important consequences for our armed forces' structure, their training, their equipment and their overall readiness.
The Secretary of State provided a more philosophical dissertation today, but it is important that we examine the NAO report with some care. In my view it made grim reading, exposing serious or critical weaknesses in the ability of large sections of the armed forces to meet their readiness targets. It finds that 36 per cent. of forces had serious weaknesses in their readiness levels and describes 2 per cent. as criticalalthough I understand that that problem has now been addressed.
The capabilities of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are being degraded as money is diverted to the Army for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In just one year the Royal Navy has seen a sixfold increase in cannibalising, whereby spare parts are plundered from one ship to keep another at sea, and for five of the past six years the armed forces have been operating at levels far above those thought to be sustainable.
That raises serious questions, which I hope the Minister of State will answer when he winds up the debate. For a start, what land contribution are we currently able to make and what units are potentially available? How many units, whether on operations or not, can be properly equipped following a process of what the report calls cannibalisation?
"The readiness of the fleet began to decline in 2002 . . . and is forecast to keep falling during the Reduced Support Period, recovering, in a best case, from 200607 and in a worst case only after 2010."
How on earth does that meet the short-term availability needed for the taskforce requirements of the Government's expeditionary strategy and the long-term versatility of the fleet that is supposed to be at the heart of current defence doctrine?
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