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Before the Secretary of State leaps to his feet and says that Brigadier Lorimer did not say that, let me point out that it is very interesting that he is said to have said it. It is also very interesting that his
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predecessor, Brigadier Butler—grandson of the great Rab Butler, incidentally—said on the “Today” programme that he did not have the resources he needed to carry out the tasks that he was required to perform in Afghanistan. I remember it well. The Secretary of State will immediately leap to his feet and deny it, but it was on the “Today” programme and the extract is available on paper. Now we have the Chief of the General Staff, no less, saying that the Army is close to breaking point and that he needs more equipment. Yet the politicians sit on the Front Bench and laugh. They say “These generals did not say that”, or “These generals are wrong. They have plenty of capabilities. They can do what they like.” I suspect that I would rather listen to Brigadier Lorimer, Brigadier Butler and General Sir Richard Dannatt than listen to them.

Mr. Blunt: What my hon. Friend and I know—I know it from my experience as a special adviser at the Ministry of Defence—is that the business about the request is, in a sense, a fallacy behind which the Secretary of State can conveniently hide. The request will almost certainly come from the working level, but it will then have to be staffed all the way through the MOD chain of command, and part of the discussion on it will take place between officials of the MOD and the Treasury. The art of the possible will then be considered, and a request will be staffed through the chiefs of staff committee to the Secretary of State for Defence. But it will not necessarily be the same request as that which came from the working level. I hope that my hon. Friend will urge the Secretary of State for Defence to make sure that he understands very clearly what is happening at the working level as well as what he is presented with by his most senior officials.

Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend, who was a special adviser at the MOD, makes his point extremely well. He is right that it might well be the case that what the boys on the ground are demanding has been watered down by Treasury or MOD officials by the time it reaches the ears of the Secretary of State.

Those of us who are in regular contact with soldiers know what they want to happen. We can listen to what the generals are saying, albeit in coded language. We know what they are after, and we know that they are not getting it from the Government. It is disgraceful to ask our boys to do difficult tasks in dangerous parts of the world and not to give them the equipment they need.

The current lack of morale in our services comes about not simply because of lack of numbers or lack of equipment—although there has been a significant number of deficiencies in equipment over the years. That lack of morale stems from something much more subtle and interesting, which could be put right much more quickly than either of the two reasons I have mentioned: the way that the families of servicemen are looked after back at home.

There is a significant problem with the Defence Estates: two thirds of all of our servicemen live in housing of a lower standard than we would expect for our constituents who live in council housing. There is also a significant problem with wages—with pay and conditions of all kinds. While I welcome the bounty that the Secretary of State recently announced for
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those serving in theatres of war it does not go nearly far enough, particularly for those serving in theatres of war or difficult circumstances elsewhere for short periods, such as my constituents based at RAF Lyneham.

I have discovered some interesting statistics: the fully trained private soldier is currently paid £14,322, the fully trained bricklayer is paid £18,512 and the fully trained police constable is paid £22,770. It is interesting to think back to 1979 when the Conservative Government came into power: the first thing we did was have a fundamental review of the pay and conditions and living conditions of our armed services personnel. If the Secretary of State wants to tackle the problems and cut the leakage that we face in terms of recruitment and retention, and if he wants to be certain that he can deliver in the future, he must not only look at the total number of soldiers, sailors and airmen that we have on our front lines and consider what has gone wrong in terms of equipment, but he must give fundamental thought to the conditions of the families left behind when servicemen go away to serve in difficult conditions.

It will not surprise the Secretary of State to learn that one piece of equipment that I particularly wish to raise with him is the Hercules aircraft, which is of course based at RAF Lyneham in my constituency. We have been campaigning for a considerable length of time to have foam suppressant fitted to the wing tanks of the Hercules, and it has been fitted to two planes. I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that we should not do that to too many planes—there are 50 of them in total—as that might not be cost-effective. However, I understand that there are at least five planes currently operating in Afghanistan and a number of others are in Iraq, and the foam suppressant should be fitted to those planes. I appeal to the Secretary of State—as I have done on countless occasions in this Chamber—to hurry up the process of fitting foam suppressant to the wing tanks of the Hercules fleet.

That same appeal applies, of course, in respect of the heavy armour that our troops have requested and the heavy Land Rovers, and I think that it also applies in respect of accommodation. Too many of our troops in Afghanistan are living in tents. I understand that MI6 staff are the only people who have hard tops; perhaps that is changing as we speak, but until recently all our troops were living under canvas in some very hazardous conditions in Afghanistan. We need to get the provision of such equipment right.

I hold quite different opinions about our activities in Afghanistan and Iraq: I am wholly opposed to what we are doing in Iraq but rather in favour of what we are doing in Afghanistan. But whatever one thinks about Afghanistan and Iraq, and about our foreign policy stance elsewhere in the world, we have to get the fundamentals with regard to our defence right. At present we are getting them wrong.

There are too few soldiers and they have the wrong equipment. The conditions in which our troops’ families live at home are not such that they engender the highest morale on the ground. It is vital that we have an urgent review not just of the money being paid, but of issues such as the way in which our troops are handled. If this current Government will not initiate such a review, I call on my Conservative Front-Bench
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colleagues to do so, so that, the moment that we come to power three years from now, my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who will then be Secretary of State for Defence, can put such changes in place and restore the morale of our armed forces on day one of a Conservative Government.

5.55 pm

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): It is a pleasure to participate in this debate. The Queen’s Speech is supposed to mark a new parliamentary year and set out the Government’s position; in other words, it is an indication of the party in power’s vision of where this country is going. However, having listened to the Foreign Secretary’s contribution, we are all very puzzled as to where this country is going. We would have learned more about the UK’s policy on Kazakhstan by watching the new film starring “Borat” than by listening to the Foreign Secretary.

I begin, as others have done, by paying tribute to our armed forces and their activities around the world. We have commitments across the globe—from Northern Ireland, to Cyprus, Africa, the Falklands, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Germany and Sierra Leone, as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan. I therefore find it somewhat ironic that the Chancellor and the Prime Minister are telling the troops, “You are doing a good job—well done.” What they really want is to hear that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are doing a good job. Instead, there are cuts in manpower, equipment and funding. Since 1997, the Army has been reduced by 9,000, the Royal Navy by 10,000, and the RAF by 16,000. As has been said time and again in the House today, we are now experiencing overstretch. Soldiers in Afghanistan do not want a pat on the back; they want the Government to do their job. Our soldiers are rightly respected the world over, but it is increasingly hard for them to do their job when they are constrained by the size of the force and the nature of the equipment that they receive.

The Government’s failure to support our armed forces is having an impact, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) said. There is a recruitment crisis and there are problems with retention. As has been mentioned, the number of Territorial Army reserves has reduced from the 1998 level of 56,000 to 36,000 today. Some 13,000 reservists have actually resigned because of the consequences of current policy.

If that were not enough, people are also demoralised by the procurement process. We have the most complicated procurement process possible, and there are delays in getting equipment to the front line. Let us consider the SA80 rifle. It cost £92 million to modify 200,000 SA80 rifles, which works out at £460 per weapon. However, they only cost £400 each. There are other such examples right across the military spectrum, one of which is the Apache helicopter. This very important aircraft is doing a fantastic job in Afghanistan, and we wanted to buy it. But rather than purchasing it off the shelf, we decided to build a factory in this country and to construct them here. The price went up from $12 million to $40 million per helicopter.

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Aircraft carriers, on which we have just had a brief discussion, are an issue that is at the very heart of the problem. Let us get the right kit for our military, rather than deciding what is best for a particular constituency in an effort to save particular jobs. Of course it is appropriate and useful to protect jobs in a given constituency, but the bottom line must be the kit that is being used by our soldiers, sailors and airmen on the front line. If they are not getting it—if there are delays—it is they who are affected. There are other key issues that have not been discussed, such as—as was pointed out—the joint strike fighter. Key decisions are going to be made in America in the next couple of months. Perhaps the Defence Secretary can bring us up to date on what is happening with that project, which is very much in the balance.

I turn now to two major areas of interest that have been covered in depth, the first of which is Iraq. The mid-term elections in America have prompted a new way of thinking, and I hope that the United Kingdom will be able to participate in consideration of the direction that we take with Iraq. The United Nations mandate for the multinational force runs out in December and has to be renewed. That provides us with a chance properly to consider where this country is going on that issue.

I never supported the war in Iraq and I never made the link between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. I also fully condemn the complacent attitude to planning for the peace. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) objected to the war, so she decided not to participate, from the perspective of the Department for International Development, in the post-war planning. She has a lot to answer for, in that we did not take advantage of the small window of opportunity in Basra to win over the local population. Things are getting out of control there. We have a civil war taking place, with more than 3,000 deaths every month.

We have heard many arguments about how we should proceed. The Americans are talking about three options—go long, which means stay in Iraq for a long time; go hard, which means put in more troops; or go home. That is how basic the argument is in the United States. However, we could consider another solution and I suspect that we will come to it in the end, one way or another. We can carry on as we are, heading towards civil war—I do not wish to detract from the work the British and American troops are doing, because removing them would cause chaos. The only solution is to partition the country into three separate areas.

Look at the costs. Britain alone has spent £4,500 million in Iraq since 2003. What have we got to show for that? There is very little electricity, hardly any petrol for cars, no development of communities and no jobs. The atmosphere is very scary. Add that to the billions of dollars that the Americans have spent and we could have built housing estates, hospitals and roads. We need some method of asking the Iraqis whether they would like to have a partitioned country with a federal system to take advantage of the oil that they are sitting on. That is a solution that could lead to peace.

Mark Pritchard: My hon. Friend is right to say that the destiny of Iraq should be decided by the Iraqi people. Is he as astonished as I am that the Foreign
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Secretary said only a few days ago that she would not consider the partition option?

Mr. Ellwood: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We need more debates in the House so that we may pursue the issues further.

We either continue in denial while the country tears itself apart or we recognise the differences that exist. When a country has gone through what Iraq has gone through, it reaches a tipping point at which ethnic groups can no longer live or work together. We need seriously to consider some form of compassionate regrouping—as opposed to calling it ethnic cleansing. We should seriously consider offering individuals $200,000 to go and live somewhere else, instead of hiding in fear in the middle of Baghdad. The seeds of democracy that were sown by President Bush are dying and we need to review the situation.

I had the opportunity of visiting Afghanistan again three weeks ago and I was pleased to note that communities are developing in the north and roads are being built. Unfortunately, the limited peace has exposed a huge amount of corruption in the Karzai Government, which needs to be corrected. It stems not from President Karzai himself, who is clearly working hard, but from the failure of the G8 countries to fulfil their commitments. The Attorney-General, for example, is very concerned that the Italians have failed to sort out the judicial system, so prosecutors are receiving backhanders all the time. The Germans have also failed to fulfil their commitments on the police in Afghanistan, and Britain, I am sad to say, is failing to produce a strategy to deal with narcotics. The London accord has been signed, but there is no scrutiny and no body that can check whether the G8 commitments have been fulfilled.

I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Defence is in his place, because I wish to address the question of Warriors. I thank him for his correspondence on the issue, but Brigadier-General Fraser did say that he had requested more Warriors in Helmand province. He has told his Canadian troops to upgrade from their Bisons, which are large armoured vehicles, to Leopard 2s, which are main battle tanks. That shows the seriousness of the threat in Helmand province. We should consider that carefully. Whatever the score is with Brigadier John Lorimer—he probably did not expect to be mentioned so many times in this debate—there is certainly a need for a greater armoured capacity in the province. I have spoken to senior commanders there, so I know that they would very much like that.

Des Browne: I have written to the hon. Gentleman about Warriors, which he has asked about in this House more than once. For the edification of other Members, I placed a copy of that letter in the Library, because it is important that my response to him is shared with the whole House. I do not doubt that he had that conversation with Brigadier-General Fraser or that he reports it properly, but he should not advise the House that that means that a request was made to the MOD or British commanders for that specific capability. That is one reason why I put the correspondence in the Library. Conflating the NATO
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and British chains of command muddies the waters. I do accept, however, that he had the conversation that he says he had with Brigadier-General Fraser.

Mr. Ellwood: I am grateful for that intervention, but the Defence Secretary highlights the need for some cohesion between the British and NATO chains of command. That needs to be addressed because things are difficult there. In our previous exchanges on this issue, I have worried that he somehow challenges my support for what the British are doing.

Des Browne indicated dissent.

Mr. Ellwood: I understand. We have a huge commitment in Helmand, and I would like to see other NATO countries involved. Of the 37 countries that are involved, one third have only 60 soldiers or fewer in the region. That is nothing compared with the huge might offered by the British.

I move to the issue of narcotics in Afghanistan. That is critical because it is a British G8 responsibility, and it is getting out of control. The drugs trade in Afghanistan has increased by 59 per cent. overall and by 168 per cent. in Helmand province, but the product could be turned into something commercially useful, such as codeine or morphine. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said in his opening remarks, we have an opportunity here. Let us run pilot schemes in Helmand province to see if we can work with the farmers and prevent terrorists from benefiting from that product. We could put a tax on it that would help President Karzai and the central Administration. That would also wean the Afghans from their dependency on the drug culture.

When I was in Afghanistan three weeks ago the Afghan Government passed a law allowing for the commercial production of poppies for codeine and morphine for medicinal purposes. There was a similar project in Turkey in the 1970s that successfully moved the country away from a culture of growing heroin. We could do the same thing.

The Foreign Secretary’s contribution to this part of the debate on the Queen’s Speech did not contain anything about improvements to the procurement process, the commitment of our armed forces or their equipment, the new aircraft carriers, the reform of the UN, or the new direction of the EU. Much has been excluded and we are left wanting.

6.8 pm

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): Much of the debate has centred on the major issues of the day—Iraq, Afghanistan, and the middle east. It has been a privilege and pleasure for me, as a relatively new Member of Parliament, to listen to the passionate and articulate speeches of hon. Members from both sides of the House.

I want to address a less high-profile area of our foreign policy that is often overlooked, despite its importance. At this stage, I suspect that Government Front Benchers will enjoy a short respite, but I emphasise that it will be short, because when I sit down the onslaught against the Government will doubtless continue.

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We need a long-term strategic approach to ensure that Britain continues to punch above its weight—to use the famous phrase of the former Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd—with foreign policy. Our status as a world power and a leading member of the UN will diminish unless we look more towards the future. It is vital that we take a more proactive approach in dealing with the newly emerging world powers. When thinking of the future, we must not rely exclusively on our existing allies. We need to expand our relationships beyond established, traditional links such as those with the United States, the European Union and Japan. In short, Britain must ensure that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office actively cultivates good working relationships with the superpowers of the future.

India and China are already recognised as the next superpowers. India has the world’s second largest population and is a nuclear power. It has the fourth largest economy in the world, and that economy is growing fast. Of course, India has historic and valued ties with the United Kingdom, but we must not take those links for granted. We must nurture and develop those bonds even further, not least because our competitors are certainly working hard to develop closer links in our place. China has always been classed as a military power because of its military might, but as a result of the startling growth of its economy, its sphere of influence is growing to truly global proportions. China’s markets continue to expand, and it is forecast that, by the end of 2006, its economy will have grown by more than 10 per cent. for the fourth year in a row.

The whole world is trying to cultivate closer links with India and China, and that means that competition is fierce. Although we must continue to strengthen our ties with those two countries, we must also identify and cultivate the major global powers that will emerge after them. Brazil, for example, has the world’s fifth largest population and ninth largest economy, and has a diverse industrial base. Equally important is the fact that it borders every south American country except Ecuador and Chile, and so exerts considerable influence on all affairs on the south American continent.

Indonesia and South Africa are both developing as economic powerhouses. They are important countries in their own regions, and have a great deal of influence on neighbouring nations. Indonesia’s massive population of 223 million people should not be underestimated, and the same can be said of its economy, which is the 15th largest in the world. Moreover, it is the only east Asian member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, and its natural energy reserves mean that it is well placed to play a strong economic role in the region in the years ahead. South Africa is a major economic and military power and it has the potential to be a powerful force for good on the African continent. Our attention must also focus on Mexico, South Korea, Argentina and Thailand, all of which have growing economies and show all the signs of exerting greater influence on the world stage in future.

As Lord Howell said, earlier this week, during the foreign affairs debate in another place:

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