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Lord Mottistone: What a shame!

Lord Ashbourne: The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, says, "What a shame". It was a shame. Twenty years is a big slice out of one's life. It was not until I lurched into the jungle of the City that I stumbled into a church very shortly after leaving the Navy and the penny dropped. I support the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, and congratulate him on raising this rather unusual but very important ethical dimension for the services. I have said enough.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I point out to him that the King's Troop, which is mentioned in the letter that he quoted, still exists. It is dead worried, but it still exists.

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7.43 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I certainly found the noble Lord's comment about a wobbly stool of interest. I also noted his support for the comments made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, about ethos. I hope to make reference to that in my speech.

I shall try not to detain the House too long. I am conscious of the great expertise of noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I wish to make a number of comments as regards the future arrangements for European security and to reflect my interest in the Royal Air Force.

There are varying degrees of enthusiasm for the second pillar for the development of the common foreign and security policy in Europe. The most enthusiastic countries seem to be those which are unlikely to be able at this time to make meaningful contribution to European security and defence. Their record may suggest that they have not made much of a contribution in the exercise of international authority nor that they are capable of doing so in the service of the alliance of which they are a part.

For many years, and until a few weeks ago, I was heavily involved in the Council of Europe and Western European Union parliamentary assemblies. Both of them are ill-reported but they serve essential roles. The Council of Europe proved to be the agency and mechanism by which the transformation of Europe politically was achieved. The Western European Union is the only European defence organisation. It is a modest organisation and perhaps too easily satisfied and content to be ill-regarded or ill-rewarded. But it is certainly to be hoped that it does not disappear rapidly in order to facilitate the transfer of defence responsibility to Brussels at this stage. I am not suggesting that the second pillar is undesirable, because it is desirable. It must have adequate defence capacity if Europe is to make a proper contribution to any pretence of independence from the umbrella of the United States.

Over the years I have found that the existence of the WEU, while essential, was often infuriating. I was reminded of that just after the Gulf War when we received at the assembly an excessively triumphalist report. It was odiously triumphalist. It attracted a long list of speakers. I believe that I was the last speaker. I could not refrain from pointing out that many member states had sent more parliamentarians to speak in the debate than personnel to contribute to the victory they were odiously triumphalist about. Indeed, my caution was justified when one considered what happened in north and south Iraq immediately after the conflict and the critical situation which still exists as a result of the maintenance of the Saddam Hussein regime.

We were equally dissatisfied--I believe that this applied to the Conservative as well as the Labour Members of the delegation--when we considered the blockade in seeking to enforce the arms embargo in former Yugoslavia. The Royal Navy was zealously and effectively conducting the embargo at sea, while British parliamentarians saw for themselves wholesale breaches of the embargo on land. Members from both sides of our delegation raised this matter with the chairman of

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the Council of Ministers, who was the then Italian Foreign Secretary. He agreed that there was wholesale evasion and that the Council of Ministers possessed a great deal of information about it but told us that it would remain confidential. It was a pity that the British Government at that time allowed it to be confidential. Our sailors, effecting the blockade at sea, must have rejoiced at that!

Then came the question of the need to provide military personnel in support of the peacekeeping role in former Yugoslavia. When we looked at the contributions offered by the member states we found that a majority were prepared to make contributions of stretcher bearers and traffic policemen but not to send combat personnel. But they were happy for Britain and France to fulfil that role. We did not feel that that was acceptable.

It meant that barbarism and horror continued for far longer than was necessary. The worst problem and conflict in Europe for half a century went on longer than it need have done. That horror may now have stopped but it did not come to at least a temporary conclusion until a greater resolution was shown and the United States was involved. One of the reasons why it stopped was the use of air power.

In his remarks the noble Lord, Lord Ironside, made reference to the precision with which weapons can now be used. Those noble Lords who attended the last presentation of the Royal Air Force in the Grand Committee Room around March of this year were able to see for themselves that significant development. We saw film of precise targets being clinically destroyed without collateral damage or casualties. It is a very significant development indeed. It is one which those of us who recognise the horror of war might welcome. If one can teach politicians lessons without killing people, it is a very desirable development.

Four years ago I was asked to prepare a report for the WEU Assembly on the capabilities of western European air forces. I embarked on that report--I did the work myself--and when it was completed I felt that my principal recommendation should be that there should be a follow-up report which should commence in not less than two years. The reason for that recommendation was that I discovered far more inadequacies than I had expected. As I do not want to speak for too long, I shall mention only a few.

There was a marked lack of combat and strike all-weather capacity; a marked lack of marine patrol aircraft; and there were inadequacies in intelligence gathering in reconnaissance and in air-to-air refuelling. There was an astonishing inadequacy in capacity to fulfil the logistic role because most member states would rely on other people's civil aircraft, yet that is not an intelligent approach if one is to move forces into hostile environments or rugged terrain. There was certainly cause for concern about the number of flying hours allowed to air crew in most member states. Some aircraft were obsolete. That is not surprising because if aircraft do not fly they will last rather longer. But it did not provide much reassurance about the capacity of western Europe's air forces which were content--or

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rather, their governments were content--to rest for ever under the United States umbrella. That is why I suggested that there should be a follow-up report.

However, one air force stood out--our own. Flying hours in Royal Air Force squadrons were far higher than those of our partner states. The RAF continued to bear astonishing commitments, despite contractions--and they were all the more astonishing given the size to which the air force has shrunk.

Last year it was time to start to prepare for that follow-up report, so I tabled a question to the chairman of the Council of Ministers. It took a while to get a response, which was that the information required was now confidential. I asked the new chairman of the Council of Ministers earlier this year at a meeting in Paris whether the council was prepared to give information in order to allow comparisons to be made with the 1994 report. The answer was no. I asked Mr. Cutileiro, the Secretary General of the WEU, whether the Secretary General's office could secure that information and the answer was that the only information that the WEU could obtain was that relating to the forces which had been directly allocated to the WEU. That is grossly unsatisfactory.

That means that rather than there being an attempt to contribute properly to European security, there was instead an attempt to hide behind inadequacy and to be content to rely on the United Kingdom and the Royal Air Force to bear the burdens. Indeed, burdens have to be borne because Europe has to have the capacity to respond when a response is needed.

I believe that the previous government were woefully weak and woefully inadequate in their response to that approach. I hope that our present Administration will take a more realistic view. If they are to conduct a defence review--I believe that it is right to do so--they must include in that review our relationship with our partners and the contribution that we can fairly ask them to make. One of the reasons that our partners want to see a common foreign and security policy is that many of them recognise that the European defence industry has to change. It has to match the enormous changes that have taken place in the United States with the Boeing and Lockheed mergers. We have to see a consolidation in European defence. They want their share of the loot and it is important that the United Kingdom, which has been bearing the burden for a very long time, does not lose out commercially.

As I have said, I do not want to speak for too long, and my final point relates to ethos. I was rather angry a few years ago when I suspected, as did other Members of the other place, that rather unfavourable comments about the Royal Air Force had been planted from the political offices of the Ministry of Defence. On several occasions, there emanated leaks which compared the Royal Air Force, to its disadvantage, with the Israeli Air Force, without any attempt being made to demonstrate that the Israeli Air Force operates within very much narrower terms of reference and flies in a rather more cordial climate than that to which the Royal Air Force must be accustomed. That seemed to me to be mischievous.

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Then came the Bomber Harris memorial event and then came the public comment following the anniversary of the Dresden air raid of early 1945. Each time there was severe public derision (almost) of the Royal Air Force and a belittling of the sacrifice which the RAF made in the Second World War. Given that this debate is being held just before Armistice Sunday, it is appropriate to make these points. We cannot expect the leaders of the services to adopt a political role. If their services need to be defended in a political and public context, it is for Ministers of the Crown, elected to bear that responsibility, to defend the services for which they have responsibility. However, we saw no response from Ministers of the Crown when the Air Force was held up to derision by ridiculous historic analysis. The Dresden air raid was awful, but at the time it took place--and it took place under political instruction--the concentration camp ovens were still operating, German children aged 13 were being equipped to shoot at the advancing allied forces and the dust had scarcely settled from the explosions of the V2 missiles in the south-east of England.

That is why the criticism of the role of Bomber Command in the Second World War, as was repeatedly allowed with a ministerial squeak from the last Administration, was an outrage. For about four years, Bomber Command was the only major offensive from the West in the Second World War. Had those operations not taken place, had not bomber crews flown night after night, the German aircraft industry would not have been producing fighter aircraft to respond to the allied operations and Bomber Command's sacrifice; it would have produced hundreds or thousands of bombers and the House will understand the targets that those aircraft would reach. Not only that--Bomber Command ensured that at least 1 million German soldiers and at least 100,000 German guns were retained in Germany. If Bomber Command had not flown, would the Normandy invasion have been certain of success?

That is history, but it is the sort of thing to which the noble and gallant Lord, Field-Marshal Lord Inge, was referring when he talked about ethos. Ethos is important. As I am sure that my right honourable and noble friends will recognise, ethos has to be maintained. It was scarcely maintained by the previous government when servicemen, such as RAF aircrew and those in the advanced engineering formations, spent vast proportions of their time leaving their families behind in married quarters--and the particular interest the previous government showed in married quarters was in how quickly they could flog them off and for how much. I hope that we shall not see the same approach from my right honourable and noble friends. I do not think that we will.

The review is necessary. It has to be realistic, but it has to grasp the history, reality and ethos in a way which the previous administration found impossible.

8 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for allowing this important debate to take place and to take forward the views of this House on the Strategic Defence Review (SDR). Like many others, my first

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military experience was through the Combined Cadet Force (CCF). The CCF, the ATC and the ACF have always been an important part of military recruiting. The figures show that 49 per cent. of all Army officers, 26 per cent. of all naval and air force officers, 20 per cent. of soldiers and 24 per cent. of airmen have received cadet training. Although no statistics are available, I believe that experienced cadets tend to be better recruits. It is important to catch young people at an early age, for once they have decided on a career and started on the road to their careers they are lost to the Armed Forces. That point was made at a meeting earlier this week with the Chief of the General Staff which some of us were fortunate to attend. At a time when the Army finds it difficult to recruit and to attract good quality recruits surely we must continue to nurture this pool of high calibre people. I should be interested to find out whether the ethnic minorities are properly represented in the cadet forces. If that is so, it may go a long way to solving the problem of underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the Armed Forces at a later date. Can the Minister inform the House whether the CCF, AFC and the ATC are covered by the SDR?

Today, the British Armed Forces are much smaller than those in which I served in the 1970s. Defence spending now stands at 2.7 per cent. of GNP, which is the lowest level since the mid-1930s. The professionalism and dedication of the Armed Forces is now superb, if not better than in the 1970s, and British forces are presently held in as great if not greater esteem by the world. It is we who demand that our forces have great professionalism and dedication; it is we who demand greater performance from our forces than virtually any other country in the world. At present 28 per cent. of our forces are on tour, preparing for a tour or are recovering from a tour. That places great pressure particularly on the senior ranks and their retention. They are the backbone of our Armed Forces. Their families are equally important, as the noble Earl, Lord Carlisle, has already said.

We demand of our troops the ultimate: to give their lives in the line of duty if necessary. Therefore, one would expect the Government to treat the Armed Forces with respect and care, attempting always to maintain their high morale. So, why has the Treasury used the gimmick of fining our Armed Forces £168 million? I hope that the Minister will not try to persuade the House that that fine is due to the MoD's overspending of last year's budget and thus lay the blame on the previous government. If he does so, can he say whether other overspending government departments are to be fined? This fine appears to be more about Treasury spending priorities than anything else. One wonders whether the Government will be able to conduct the SDR, which is meant to be policy led, for it appears that the Treasury is in the driving seat and the SDR will be resource driven.

Further, can the Minister confirm that the Treasury will reimburse the MoD for the cost of the UK's peace implementation force in Bosnia from the Treasury contingency reserve in the current year? With a £168 million so-called fine and no reimbursement for Bosnia, the MoD will have lost nearly 2 per cent. of its budget this year. In addition, in his speech at the Royal

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United Services Institute for Defence Studies (RUSI) the Secretary of State for Defence stated that the Government were committed to finding a further 3 per cent. saving on defence spending. That could result in a 5 per cent. loss of the MoD budget, or greater if it is to be fined again.

The task of deciding upon the strength of the Armed Forces has historically proved to be most difficult. Many of the recent conflicts since the Second World War in which our troops have fought such as Korea, the Falklands, the Gulf War and Bosnia have been sudden and unforeseen. At a time of greater instability in the world than we have experienced for some time the Secretary of State's RUSI speech provided some comfort by restating the Government's manifesto promise to

    "retain a strong Defence against post-war security challenges".
The noble Lord, Lord Healey, once said:

    "Once we cut defence expenditure to the extent where our security is imperilled we have no houses, no hospitals, we have no schools. We have a heap of cinders".

The Secretary of State himself believes that our forces are severely overstretched. He also wrote in the Independent in July 1997 that,

    "slashing our defence spending ... would in my view completely remove our capacity to mount operations such as those in Bosnia".
He also believes that the previous Government's cuts have left serious holes in the capabilities of our Armed Forces. On top of this, the Labour chairman of the Defence Select Committee in another place has stated that,

    "any further cuts will endanger the defence of the realm".
How is it that the Government can fine the MoD £168 million this year and reduce its budget year on year on year?

I hope that the SDR will deal also with the possibility of allowing HIV high risk groups, such as homosexuals, into the forces and to serve in the front line. In an active combat situation and in the harsh environment of the front line, troops will have scratches, cuts and even battle wounds. One will be faced with the problem of dealing with injured comrades. Combat injuries can be very messy. In that difficult combat environment it is not difficult to envisage bodily fluid contamination. If one is in the front line, one has to tend to comrades' injuries. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to expect that someone may catch something like HIV, which is a deadly virus. It is not morally correct to expect our troops to face such a problem. One can expect them to die for their country. Does the Minister expect our troops to be placed in this position or will he reduce the risks by preventing HIV high risk groups from undertaking front line duties?

Recently, I was fortunate to be included in an all-party defence group visit to "HMS Montrose", a Type 23 frigate. Aboard ship we were able to see at first hand, among other things, mixed manning and to speak to those officers and sailors who had experienced this for some six years. In a situation in which men and women worked together in the cramped quarters of a ship, and also lived often for long periods in cramped dormitories, albeit segregated, the reaction was

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extremely positive. There appeared to be a very positive atmosphere aboard. We saw women perform tasks to a very high standard, in some cases probably equal to or better than men. However, we were also a little surprised to discover that a female member of a gun turret crew of three was forbidden to lift an eight stone shell on health and safety grounds. We also saw another woman struggling to perform other heavy duties. I ask the Minister whether the SDR will consider enforcing a gender-free fitness test in all the teeth Armed Forces, similar to that which I understand the Army intends to introduce in April 1998.

Finally, I ask the Minister whether the findings of the SDR are to be introduced in Parliament rather than, as is the wont of this Government, leaked through the media first.

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