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Lord Vivian: My Lords, the gracious Speech gave great importance to our national security. The recent announcement made by Her Majesty's Government that they are not contemplating any further cuts to ships, regiments and aircraft has been warmly welcomed by all the armed services. It will allow a period of stability for consolidation and reorganisation which is essential after all the changes that have been implemented so recently.
The threats and risks that face our country are very real nor have they faded away as some would wish us to believe, as noble Lords have just heard in an excellent speech by my noble friend Lady Park. However, the threats to the United Kingdom that have to be faced require a strong and well trained Navy, Army and Air Force equipped with the latest weapons systems and with an Army of around 130,000, an additional 10,000 troops on the present ceiling of 120,000. That would allow current Army regimental establishments to be increased ensuring that there are sufficient numbers available to carry out their tasks and operational commitments. From this increase infantry battalions could be given back their fourth rifle company thus allowing battalions to carry out operational tasks without resorting to having to borrow a company from another battalion which creates turmoil in the lending battalion when it is earmarked for an operational tour. It would also assist the Foot Guards with their public duty commitments in London and prevent non-Foot Guard battalions from having to do public duties which, in its turn, takes those battalions away from their primary roles.
Our defence against any threat to the United Kingdom must be strongly based on our commitment to NATO, as stated in the gracious Speech. Our earmarking of troops from the central multinational division and from our amphibious forces to the Western European Union is important. We have been informed that the United Kingdom is playing a full part in the Western European
This brings me to one of the aspects of the defence costs study--namely; that of the defence intelligence staff--which was not due to report until the end of July and received little attention in the defence debate in the other place last month. It concerns reductions in the DIS. Perhaps I should declare an interest here as I worked in that organisation in the early 1980s.
With the depleted armed services that our country relies on there is an even greater need to have more time to analyse, assess and identify any potential aggressor to this country. This measurement of time cannot just be in years but is more likely to be in decades if we are to construct the necessary weapons systems for our defence. The DIS is a frontline unit and I ask my noble friend to take note of this. It is vital to the country's interests in peacetime. Strategic and tactical intelligence are critical to the service chiefs and without accurate, reliable and timely intelligence the wrong planning may be implemented and disasters may well follow. Can my noble friend give an assurance that the service chiefs and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have no objection to the proposed changes that have been recommended by this separate defence costs study report?
Field training for the Army, even with the introduction of simulation, is still a key part of its training, and the availability of areas on which the armed services can train is essential if their skills are to be kept at the highest level. A low standard of training may bring us defeat in battle, and I feel that I should draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that some of the Army standards are not as high as they used to be. In particular, I would point to all arms training and higher formation training, little of which has been carried out in the past three or four years with the full complement of troops. For instance, during the recent First Brigade exercise on Salisbury Plain one of the three infantry battalions of the brigade was in Bosnia, another in Northern Ireland, and one of the tank squadrons of the Armoured Regiment was similarly absent.
Even battle group training at BATUS in Canada has been denied its integral infantry companies due to overstretch caused by the additional burdens of Bosnia and Kuwait. For instance, in 1993 only five of the 12 required infantry companies were available, and armoured regiments exercised without infantry. I hope that the figures for this year will prove to be better, because if battle groups do not train as a complete all-arms group with all their infantry, tank squadrons, artillery, engineers and supporting forces their skills and drills will only deteriorate.
I have corresponded with my noble friend on the difficult matter of field training areas in Germany. He wrote me a most helpful letter on 30th September. He informed me that no military training could be permitted in the east of Germany until the Russians had completed their withdrawal last August. Can my noble friend now inform the House what negotiations have taken place, which areas in the east of Germany have been selected, and whether the Letzlingen Heide training area is one of them? It is quite clear that the Hohne/Bergen dry training area is too small for realistic battle group training.
Turning to military training areas in the United Kingdom, it is clear that greater use will be required of the existing areas and that some of them may have to be enlarged. In this respect I am aware that improvements are being made to Salisbury Plain for more use by tracked vehicles and greater use of Otterburn for the artillery. What use is being made of Castle Martin, and does the German Army really need that area when it now owns large training areas in the east of Germany? Should we not fly our troops back for tank firing on the Castle Martin ranges, thereby saving the £4 million spent annually on the Hohne/Bergen ranges in Germany?
The country will not have an Army of the appropriate standard unless it is given the right areas to train on. The Army is highly conscious of the need for conservation, and in some areas, because of restrictions on the public, flora and fauna abound more on military training areas than elsewhere. The MoD is a good landlord and surely it would be easier to enlarge existing training areas if necessary than to try and find new ones.
The defence debate in another place last month laid great emphasis on the replacement for the Hercules aircraft. I do not intend to cover any of that ground again. However, it is essential that a decision is made on the number of Apache attack helicopters, EH101 and Chinook helicopters, which are all urgently required.
The defence costs study introduced the concept of a permanent joint headquarters. Although on paper I can see the logic of that proposal, in reality is it really so necessary? Can it be afforded? The Royal Navy conducted the Falklands campaign from Northwood with excellence; the Royal Air Force, from High Wycombe, conducted the Gulf campaign with equal excellence; and the Army is now conducting the Bosnian operation from Wilton with the same excellence. The adaptation of Northwood, with all the additional necessary construction and communications equipment, will be exceptionally expensive. It may well be that there is a need for a permanent joint headquarters, but it needs further examination. And do the service chiefs agree to those new headquarters? Are Her Majesty's Government sure that the number of crises during the past 10 years or so justify an expensive and separate new organisation?
I do not intend to cover the topic of Northern Ireland in detail as it was fully debated in your Lordships' Chamber last month. However, like many of your Lordships, I too should like to sound a word of warning. The terrorists in Northern Ireland continue with their intelligence collecting activities. There is no agreement
The gracious Speech referred to the United Nations. For the past few years, and I suspect for many years to come, this country has been making military contributions to the UN. Our Armed Forces have now been reduced so much that it will be difficult to agree to provide support for the UN in response to every request, especially as we are already committed in Cyprus and Bosnia. It would be particularly wasteful to have standby forces available only for UN deployment. Other countries should take on more of these burdens, but that is not feasible until they have been trained in UN duties.
A private study is about to be undertaken with a view to determining how the military and humanitarian organisations can have a better understanding of each other. One of the conclusions from that study may be to recommend the formation of a United Nations training school for instructors in the United Kingdom to enable other countries to send their instructors to be trained in the UK before returning to train troops in their own countries. The United Kingdom is held in the greatest respect by other countries for its knowledge of UN matters. The country would once again be seen to be taking the lead in helping the United Nations, which ultimately should assist us in that we would not be called upon so frequently to provide military forces to support UN operations.
I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the future defence medical services. In February 1993 the future requirements for secondary medical care in the Armed Forces were announced. A review was carried out based on a fundamental reassessment of the potential for conflict in the world and the consequent changes in defence policy and the new structure and size of the Armed Forces. It concluded that there was a need for about 1,200 beds to be found in three military hospitals, with three or four military district hospital units inside National Health Service hospitals, and with the National Health Service sharing the Army facilities at the Catterick military hospital.
About 18 months later the defence costs study announced that there was now a requirement for only some 700 to 800 beds in the United Kingdom rather than the 1,200 previously postulated. It further announced that the planned four military district hospital units would remain but in future there would be only one service hospital--Haslar at Portsmouth--with a requirement for only 375 beds. With only one service hospital it will be impossible to retain and train the 1,500 doctors and dentists and the 7,000 nurses and supporting staff, even though it has been agreed that those numbers should be reduced by 20 per cent. If that situation is allowed to happen the unique specialty of operational military medicine will not be forthcoming as service hospitals in the United Kingdom represent the only peacetime environment in which the various command, clinical, administrative and logistic skills can
In conclusion, our Armed Forces are the finest in the world and we all owe them a great debt of gratitude for preserving our freedom. It is our duty to ensure that they have sufficient resources for training and are given all the support they need to enable them to execute their tasks in the highly professional and successful manner to which our country has become so accustomed.
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