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Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that when my wife was in St. Thomas' Hospital two years ago, she had to clean out a bath that was covered in blood?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I was not aware of that. The noble Lord illustrates a problem that the NHS has faced for a considerable number of years. In tackling the issues of cleanliness in hospital wards, we must ensure that the cleaning services are appropriate. Equally, it is important that ward sisters, who play such a crucial leadership role, have sufficient control to ensure that the cleaning services are acceptable and that they lead by example in terms of personal cleanliness and in ensuring that doctors, nurses and other staff wash their hands and do all the things that are necessary.


2.59 p.m.

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Amos: My Lords, yes.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very brief reply. Can she tell the House when, after the formation of the DfID, the MoD and the DfID agreed their relevant contingency plans and the basis for charging?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, ongoing discussions are taking place between the DfID, the MoD and, indeed, other government departments on the best ways to respond to disaster and emergency situations. The financing of such plans forms a part of those continuing discussions.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I should like to congratulate the Minister on the efforts made by her department to commission South African helicopters to bring in immediate aid during the earliest stages of the crisis that has struck Mozambique. However, will the Minister, using her undoubted charm and intelligence, approach her right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence to see whether equipment for replacing bridges that have been breached by the floods and mending the main roads could now be considered to be a top priority? Does the

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Minister agree that air transport is an extremely expensive way of delivering food and other aid to the people of Mozambique?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness for her recognition of the efforts that have been made by the Department for International Development. Clearly, the tasks of rehabilitation and reconstruction in Mozambique will be critical. Plans have already been made to hold a donor co-ordination conference to discuss the reconstruction effort. The British Government are doing all they can to bring forward plans on how best Mozambique can be assisted in that reconstruction. Those plans will include discussions with other government departments.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in the view of the vast majority of fair-minded people, far from carping at the lack of co-operation between the two government departments, we should be congratulating both of my right honourable friends, Clare Short and Geoff Hoon, on the work that they have done? Does she further agree that it particularly ill becomes the Opposition Benches who, when in government, presided over the greatest cut in overseas aid resources that had ever taken place, which took us further and further away from meeting the as yet unattained obligation to the United Nations of donating 0.7 per cent of our GNP for development assistance?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. Not only should we congratulate my right honourable friends Clare Short and Geoff Hoon, but also our servicemen and women, all the volunteers who have given their time, effort and energy to work in Mozambique, the aid agencies and, indeed, the people of Mozambique themselves. They have had to deal with a situation which would be a challenge for any government. I further agree with my noble friend that this Government have demonstrated a strong commitment to international development. We have reversed the decline in the international development budget and we are committed to trying to ensure that the budget is increased to meet the 0.7 per cent target mentioned by my noble friend. Perhaps I may also add that I believe it is important for us to feel a sense of pride in the UK's response to the Mozambique flood disaster. Our response was immediate. In relation to this crisis, we remain the largest bilateral donor in Mozambique and we are committed to assisting in the country's reconstruction effort.

Lord Elton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, for a large part of the public, the response did not appear to be immediate but rather the culmination of a protracted difference between two government departments over which the Prime Minister should have taken early control? Furthermore, if, as her response to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, suggests,

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that was not the case, would not the best way to make the truth clear be to respond to the request to hold a public inquiry into exactly what happened?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we must differentiate between the facts and how we respond to those facts. Anyone who saw the pictures that were shown on our television screens over the past week would be concerned. Members of the public do not have all the information that we in this House and in another place have to hand when planning the way in which we should respond to an international disaster of the kind we have seen in Mozambique. No operational delay occurred as a result of the discussions between the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence. We were one of the first donors to go into Mozambique. We remain the largest bilateral donor. We assisted the World Food Programme with helicopters even before the UN had gone into Mozambique. Those are the facts and the points that should be remembered. I think it would help us all if the press--who themselves used up scarce resources by using helicopters--were to report more of what has been beneficial in terms of our assistance rather than to go on carping.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, even before this crisis, Mozambique was, quite rightly, a priority country for assistance, both in terms of development aid and debt relief. Will the Minister confirm that both development aid and debt relief are now being accelerated because of the recent crisis and that the Mozambiquans will in fact be better off once the crisis is over?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I shall make three points in response to the noble Earl's question on debt relief. First, in terms of our own relationship with Mozambique, we have cancelled all debts with that country; namely, the aid debt and the export credit guarantee debt. Secondly, we are working to persuade other bilateral donors to whom Mozambique is indebted to cancel those debts as well. Thirdly, we are working to encourage the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to do the same. As regards our own budget, we are committed to spending around £70 million in Mozambique over the next two years. In addition, we have given emergency funding and, of course, we shall be open to support Mozambique in the reconstruction and rehabilitation phase once discussions have taken place about priorities.

Business of the House: Debates this Day

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Bramall set down for today shall be limited to two-and-a-half hours and that in the name of the Lord Palmer to four hours.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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3.6 p.m.

Lord Bramall rose to call attention to the state of the nation's defences in the light of the Defence White Paper (Cm 4446); and to move for Papers.

The noble and gallant Lord said: My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble and noble and gallant friends for allowing me time for this debate on a Cross-Bench day. But I do think that it is a particularly appropriate moment to take stock and, if necessary, call the Government to account on this all-important subject because, after over 1,000 days in office, the Government can no longer excuse major shortcomings on mistakes made by others in the past, and because they have recently issued a White Paper couched in exceedingly self-congratulatory terms, which deserves serious consideration.

Although the White Paper may irritate some of us with its excessively flowery and cliche-riddled language--which does not always amount to much--and the not infrequent claims to have invented the wheel, when experience over many years tells us that much of it is deja vu but with rather more "spin" on it, this document does realistically describe many of the challenges, often unexpected, which could lie ahead; sets down some sensible priorities; and confirms the Government's justifiable pride in its Strategic Defence Review (SDR)--undoubtedly the best such review over the past 15 years--and their determination to implement it in support of a strong, internationalist and even, apparently at times, interventionist foreign policy. Generally speaking, as the White Paper claims and I have consistently said, the SDR provides a good basis for the future. I hope that the Minister, for whom I have the greatest respect, will never accuse me of not giving credit where it is due.

The present very real cause for concern, however, is that that implementation is manifestly falling behind those stated intentions. The British Army, backed by the other services, is still playing a major and open-ended part in, "holding the whole thing together" in Bosnia and Kosovo--in the latter case, some might say that it is providing one of the few redeeming features. There are other commitments, in particular in the Middle East and the Falklands and, of course, further commitments are still coming in. Furthermore, substantial force levels are maintained in Germany and in or training for Northern Ireland. All this means that the Armed Forces, and most particularly the Army, are stretched to the limit and, in places, well beyond it, with quite unacceptable repercussions on tour intervals (these are now a fraction of the 24 months that we have been promised year after year); on family separation (a major factor in poor retention) and on training in all three services. That has had a particular effect on high intensity operations. Without those operations, the professional standards on which the whole quality of our Armed Forces depend, will plummet.

All this is seriously exacerbated by a manning crisis, which, on present plans, there is little prospect of resolving until 2005 at the earliest. To make matters

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even worse--and this was manifestly confirmed, in the noble Baroness's absence abroad, by the appalling statistics on shortfall and wastage trotted out in the debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, of 2nd February--the medical services are in complete disarray. This scandalous situation not only questions our ability to provide adequate medical cover in any future operations worthy of the name, but, because of the acute shortage of military specialists and the inability of the NHS to make special arrangements for the secondary care of military personnel, long waiting lists have increased still further that undermanning and overstretch. Much of this, of course, the Government did inherit. But apart from announcing some high-sounding but none too specific intentions and tinkering with the management structure, they have so far done little to correct things and, by threatening to close the only core hospital left, they may be making things worse.

Moreover, just at the time when they are sensibly and pragmatically being asked to do more, the vital reserve forces have also, for no good military reason, been weakened both in manpower and in man training days--particularly in the infantry, which has provided 40 per cent of all the reservists in the Balkans where the all-important regimental system has been compromised; in the invariably badly-needed engineers and in the military police. All of these are of great value in manpower intensive peacekeeping and "hearts and minds" operations. Even the vital medical reserves, which for obvious reasons have, in theory, been increased, are not meeting their targets: because of pressure from the NHS, volunteer doctors and nurses are just not coming forward.

The noble Baroness does not have to take my word for any of this. She only has to read the detailed, well-researched reports from the all-party Select Committee on Defence in another place, particularly HC158 and 447. These are damning indictments, and l58 specifically gives examples of exercises cancelled, both because of commitments and for budgetary reasons, of resources that are insufficient to reverse the problem of overstretch and also of delays in the equipment programme, which, although generally a healthy one, still has certain weaknesses, such as the urgent need to replace the outdated Clansman communications system and provide an adequate strategic air lift.

Finally, on the debit side, there are a number of what one might loosely describe as "politically correct pressures" bearing down on individuals in the Armed Forces and the chain of command that may increasingly affect the ethos, leadership and professionalism of our forces. Other noble Lords may wish to say more about this, but as I want to keep to my main theme of resources, I shall only say that, as far as concerns lifting the ban on homosexuals, I am pretty relaxed about it. All my experience of command at every level from Platoon to Commander-in-Chief has been that we never really had a problem over this and I believe that a code of conduct for everyone is far more important than the private sexuality of the individual. But the commanding officer must be able

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to deal with anyone who breaks that code in any way which he considers prejudicial to the good order and military discipline, without having to look over his shoulder the whole time to see whether he is going to be backed up.

Although the quality of our Armed Forces is still first class and they continue to impress the whole world with their efficiency of performance, the poor retention, including the brain drain of those being pinched by industry and a serious loss of officers in the 27 to 32 age bracket who should be going to the Staff College as a prelude to further advancement, are further indications that everything is not as good as the Government like to make out and that we are storing up huge problems for ourselves in the future if we are still going to expect the forces to do what is currently required of them.

What then should be done as a matter of urgency? Well, in general terms, and as the Select Committee made clear, commitments and resources have to be brought back in line, or we risk stumbling from one crisis to another. Much is made in the White Paper of our forces being able fully to support our foreign policy and act as a force for good in the world. But of course it is doing these very things that is causing the forces to be overstretched--something from which the Strategic Defence Review was intended to free them. But if we are to hold to that restated choice, to be able to intervene as the Government feel obliged in crises and potential crises overseas (and it is, of course, a choice), then the first thing to do is to remove that iniquitous overall cut in resources of 3 per cent compound interest per annum over four years, amounting to an annual cutback of £500 million.

This was arbitrarily imposed as a Parthian shot by the Treasury when the estimable SDR did not throw up the savings that the Treasury hoped for. It was dressed up, of course, on the spurious grounds of efficiency savings with the vaguest possible promises of indirect benefit to the Defence Vote. But taking into account the myriad of saving exercises since 1988 and the steady decline in defence spending over the past 12 years, averaging in real terms 2 to 3 per cent per annum (bringing it from over 5 per cent of the GNP to just over 2 per cent) this has no basis in reality. If it had, if it could be accommodated in the daily round, how come that there are so many areas in the programme that are not meeting their targets because of budgetary restraints, and when the only untoward things that have happened are operations of the sort that the SDR proudly predicted and was designed to meet? No, however it is presented, it is having a debilitating effect over the whole programme and on every vote holder. It makes selective, badly needed improvements in key areas virtually impossible, except at the expense of other equally vital and probably already committed parts of the programme.

It is ridiculous to say that this ill-considered arbitrary action, quite out of keeping with the Government's intention, cannot be reversed. I remember well in the aftermath of the Falklands war when the Treasury was trying the same tactics, this time countermanding an earlier agreement that the replacement of equipment

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lost in the war would be paid for out of the contingency fund. A firm stand by the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister's own views, which are always essential, were quite enough to get the Chancellor of the Exchequer to back down. I hope that this will happen again. This £500 million--£2 billion over four years--is so badly needed. In fact, it is extra resources, not less resources, that are manifestly required. For example, they may well be needed in the recruitment and retention battle to pay non-staged financial incentives worthy of the marketplace for potentially long-serving men and women, particularly for doctors and specialists, so that we can attract and retain able people and have a chance to reach our manpower ceiling that is already set too low.

Extra resources may also be needed to retain the extra Gurkha companies longer than was planned--the only quick way of making an inroad into overstretch. They will undoubtedly be required fully to correct the damage done to the medical services by the Defence Costs Study. I shall leave other noble Lords to deal with this in more detail; but if there are to be significant improvements, which can provide proper professional incentive, motivation of specialists and ability to expand for operational emergencies, it will clearly require more than the £140 million already earmarked.

Extra resources will also be needed to ensure that there is no delay (as currently there is) in implementing the Formation Training Cycle, which is the key element in ensuring that the Army has sufficiently trained forces to meet the SDR's concurrency criteria. They may also be needed to maintain our stocks and keep up the momentum of the equipment programme, so that the new admirable and much-vaunted formations, like the air assault brigade and the additional mechanised brigade, can be fully equipped, sustained and made effective by the target date. Here too, there has been slippage. Additional resources will be required if the promise made to pay £100 million each year on bringing the married quarters up to Grade I standard is to be honoured.

Finally, if, as the Government seem bent on, NATO is to be enlarged and Europe is to develop its own command and control machinery within NATO, these, too, will require considerable resources if they are to mean anything at all, and it would be intolerable if these had to be accommodated within the existing overstretch budget. So the requirement for more, not fewer, resources is wide and urgent, since in all these areas targets are wholly or partly going by default.

If Ministers are to be true to their words and claims and intentions set out in the SDR, now the White Paper, the Government must start to put more money where their mouth is, or at least not be prepared to put up with doing less with less money, as seems to be happening. I beg them to follow the advice of the Select Committee, when concluding that the MoD budget,

    "gave rise to serious concern",

and to rebalance that budget upwards in the present spending review, with particular regard, in the short term, to removing that 3 per cent punitive cut.

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However worthy the Government's intentions may be, and I accept that they are, to degrade in this uncertain world the strengths and operational capability of our Armed Forces below what they themselves have established as necessary, by accident--because of the omnipotence of the Treasury--is just as culpable as doing it by design or on purpose, something of which I would never accuse them. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.21 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, for introducing this Motion and talking about the White Paper. He made a typically forceful speech. He will no doubt expect that I may disagree with him on some aspects of what he said, but if I do so it is as a subaltern to his former company commander--which, indeed, the noble and gallant Lord was--with the greatest respect but in the knowledge that the subaltern usually won the argument.

I welcome the White Paper. I have a certain sympathy with what the noble and gallant Lord said about the language in the paper. However, generally speaking, it seems to me to mark a good step in the implementation of the Strategic Defence Review. In passing, I would say that when I sat in the place where the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, now sits for the Opposition, I was rather sceptical about the idea of a defence review. We had had Options for Change--the noble Earl, Lord Howe, will remember that--and the defence costs study. I took the general view that we had had enough and that the Armed Forces should not be subjected to yet another major defence review. However, as a result of what has happened, I have become converted and I agree with the generous assessment of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, that the SDR was a success. The question now is: how do we put the SDR and the conclusions of the SDR into proper practice?

I cannot disagree with the noble and gallant Lord about overstretch. I talked about overstretch from the Opposition Front Benches in all the time that I was there. We have all talked about overstretch for as long as I can remember and for as long as I have been in this House. As long as there are former Chiefs of the Defence Staff in the House I have no doubt that we shall continue to talk about overstretch in the Armed Forces.

The conclusion of the SDR--which the noble and gallant Lord brought out, but, I thought, perhaps insufficiently forcefully--was that you cannot reduce the strength of the Armed Forces without reducing the commitment. If you do one without the other, you are lost. It seems to me that you will have to look either at increasing the strength of the Armed Forces in the present situation, or reducing the commitment.

In that respect I draw attention to something in the White Paper which I am sure my noble friend will be able to answer. I was rather surprised to see that we had overseas interests due to the international nature

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of trade that affected our defence capability. I find it a rather odd concept in the modern world that trade should be accompanied, as it were, by gunboats, or by helicopters or whatever. After all, e-commerce is not, as far as I know, subject to normal defence procedures. I should be grateful if my noble friend could help me on that point.

I also noted that our history gave rise to commitments to overseas territories. I understand all the arguments and, in her previous incarnation in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my noble friend dealt with some of those overseas territories. However, I am not entirely certain that we should not be thinking in the long term about exactly what our commitments there should be.

I welcome the arrangements for defence procurement. We have had enormous problems with this over the years. I have made many speeches criticising the previous government on the mess that they made of procurement. We are now seeing the results; for example, rifles that jam, ships that cannot leave port, upgraded Tornados that cannot launch the right missiles and so on. I believe that the Government have grasped this and with the new structure of defence procurement will be able to cure these problems. Obviously there is a long lead time with these matters and we cannot expect everything to happen overnight.

I also welcome the emphatic response to the NATO problem, that our defence must be modelled around NATO and that anything we do in Europe must be conditional on subordination to NATO. That is not just because the Russian threat is not ended, although that is a possibility, but because NATO is the only viable, multi-force operation with command and control procedures that we all understand, and which work. Anything that consists of a European army adopting new command and control procedures would seem to me to be fantasy land.

However, I support a European involvement. I support the idea that the European Union should be able at some point in the future, and on occasions which we cannot predict, to intervene when the United States decides that it does not want to intervene. Such occasions may arise. Provided that it is all subordinated to the NATO prerogative, I would be in favour of that. Nevertheless there are those who say that we must be more independent in a European Union army. That would mean creating a new satellite intelligence system and creating a new heavy airlift capacity. The amounts of money involved in that are absolutely gigantic.

Before I end I take your Lordships through the percentage of gross domestic product that our major European partners spend on defence. The 1997 figures are the latest ones I could get. The United Kingdom spends 2.7 per cent of its gross domestic product on defence; France spends 3 per cent; Germany 1.6 per cent and Italy 2 per cent. What stands out there to me is the figure for Germany of 1.6 per cent. If there is to be a European force of 50,000 or 60,000 troops in the field with support services, it seems to me that the Germans have to contribute much more to that budget than they are doing, or are likely to do at the moment.

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I believe that this White Paper is a transitional one. It has moved the SDR forward a little. Other White Papers will move the SDR forward further. I congratulate the Government on what has so far been a rather successful run.

3.28 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, is right to draw attention to our international obligations. In considering our own defence forces we should bear in mind that the two countries which have done more than any other since the end of the First World War to try to maintain the peace of the world are the United States and the United Kingdom.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, has done a valuable service. He has raised the question of our reserve forces. We could not have played our part in winning either the First or the Second World War without strong reserve forces, especially the Territorial Army in which I served from June 1938 until July 1945.

Until last year it was easy to discover details of the units and the specialist efforts of the Territorial Army. This year, it has not been so easy. The noble and gallant Lord referred to a number of issues arising from the Defence White Paper. I hope that the Government will bear in mind the comments that he made.

We know from the Strategic Defence Review 1998 that the Government decided that the Territorial Army should be reduced to about 40,000, and it has been. But that is too small, especially as its members are now required to supplement the efforts of the Regular Army when serving abroad. A number have served in the Balkans, including my noble friend Lord Attlee.

The Strategic Defence Review this year implied that the Territorial Army would be made more useable and that it would be better resourced and better trained. But is that so? A competent Territorial Army commander would have issued his programme for the training year beginning on 1st April this year many weeks ago because it takes time to compile. That being the case, can the Minister explain why the man-training day budget for some TA logistic units has been cut by 20 per cent, as hinted at by the noble and gallant Lord? What signal does that send to Territorial Army soldiers in units that have been cut and, to some extent, reorganised? I should mention in passing that my noble friend Lord Attlee is unfortunately unable to give the House information on this point because he holds a command position in the Territorial Army. I hope that the Government will decide that the Territorial Army must be expanded. In the event of another major war we would be at a disadvantage, given its present modest size.

Last year the functions and duties of the TA were briefly but reasonably well described. However, it is impossible now to discover the strength of the various branches of the TA. I hope that from now on we shall be given more information.

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The only other matter I have time to mention concerns the conflict between human rights and service discipline. It is a matter which, in the Government's interests, must be resolved. There will be the occasional crisis if the Government continue to fail to ask Parliament to legislate. It is no good leaving it merely to the advice of a Minister, as the noble Baroness suggested on one occasion when this matter was raised.

The issue is simple. The exercise of human rights by any member of the Armed Forces under, for example, Article 10 of the convention--which is set out in the Schedule to the 1998 Act--could easily conflict with good order and military discipline. Article 10 grants the right to freedom of expression "without interference by public authority". I emphasise those words; they are in the article. Therefore a private soldier could criticise a general publicly and could not be stopped.

The noble Baroness challenged my interpretation of Article 11 when I asked a Question on 22nd February. She rightly drew attention to the last sentence of Article 11, which states:

    "This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces".

That is not the whole answer. If no steps are taken to prevent the exercise of these rights, chaos will result. It means that a matter will have to go to court, which, bearing in mind the uncertainty of the wording, may or may not grant an immediate injunction. In any event, even if the court grants an immediate injunction, the matter will have to be decided by the High Court, and it could take weeks before a final decision is made. The Government really must do something about this while the Armed Forces Discipline Bill is in another place.

3.35 p.m.

Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, I am grateful, as I am sure are all your Lordships, to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, for enabling the House to discuss this theme at this time. I was also most interested to hear the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Williams of Elvel and Lord Renton. I am sure that the Minister will respond to them.

To take an analogy, in some ways it is almost as difficult to judge the defence needs and the state of defences of the nation against this White Paper as it is to discuss and analyse the real state of the health of a company based on its annual report. Indeed, there are some similarities between the White Paper and an annual report--some of which are physical and obvious. The White Paper is quite a glossy publication: it is strong on photographs and some of its language has been described as somewhat bland. Nevertheless, it is an extraordinarily important document and, in some ways, a rather disturbing one.

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It is disturbing because, among other things, it is very explicit on the objectives and the needs for defence, some of which have been referred to. They are writ very long indeed. Let me take one example--the obligation on this country in defence terms,

    "to act as a force for good in the world".

When the Prime Minister spoke in Chicago earlier this year about the moral imperative to act where there has been systematic abuse of human rights, he clearly envisaged in that context the potential defence dimension to such action. If we take only that one objective and set it against what we know about the resources, there is clearly a potential mismatch or overstretch between them. I should be grateful if, when the Minister responds, she will comment on how the Government see the balance of priorities between the objectives for which the defence resources of the nation are to be committed. They are in themselves a universe of obligation.

The concerns about overstretch, to which the noble and gallant Lord and others referred, have been well documented, discussed and debated, both in the other place and in the media. I shall comment on one concern--the challenge of retaining people serving in the Armed Forces. The recruitment advertising campaign that the Government and the MoD have been running has had considerable success. However, if one pours people in at the top while losing them out of the bottom all the time, the overstretch problem will remain. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell the House more specifically what measures are planned to improve the retention rate within the Armed Forces.

I drew an analogy with an annual report, which is, of course, a report at one moment in time. Time and events move on. Likewise, the White Paper presents a perspective at one moment in time. Even since its publication events have moved. I should like to headline two matters and seek a response from the Minister.

There is reference in two or three paragraphs of the White Paper to the situation regarding the ESDI. Earlier this week, I noted an interesting article by the Secretary-General of NATO, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. The noble Lord wrote with considerable urgency that Kosovo had revealed an imbalance in capabilities between the European Union and the United States which was,

    "neither fair nor politically sustainable".

I have just returned from a visit to the United States. It is clear that, although this matter is not top of the agenda in terms of the domestic elections now under way, there is real irritation and impatience, certainly in the media, with the inability of the Europeans to get their act together in terms of "the bang for the buck". The truth is that our spending collectively on defence amounts to 60 per cent of America's and for that we receive 15 per cent of the capability. That is not a sustainable position and something must be done about it. I should be pleased to hear from the Minister the Government's further thoughts on the ESDI.

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One paragraph of the White Paper refers specifically to relations between NATO and Russia. Since its publication, we have heard the present Russian leader talking to Sir David Frost on television and explaining that, on the whole, Russia might quite like to belong to NATO. That statement is set against the background of the appalling saga of events in Chechnya. If ever there was abuse of human rights, surely we saw an illustration of it in that dreadful conflict. As the Prime Minister prepares for a visit and more detailed discussions with Mr Putin, it is important to hear from the Government what their thinking is and what we intend to say to Russia.

The White Paper is important. In some ways it is reassuring; in some ways it is disturbing. It must always be remembered that an annual report invites investors to put their money on the line. In a sense the White Paper invites the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces to put their lives on the line. It is therefore critical that resources and obligations are matched.

There is one powerful point of reassurance in the White Paper. We are told that while we may be somewhat short of resources on land, on sea and in the air, no less than one-fifth of all the civil servants of the United Kingdom now work for the Ministry of Defence. We are not short behind the desk!

3.43 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I join in thanking the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, for instigating this debate. The Strategic Defence Review was praised and welcomed. It spelt out intentions and, in places, aspirations. It is reasonable now to examine one or two of the key planks in the review and assess progress.

Sadly, the 1999 White Paper revealed some serious shortfalls in implementing the SDR. It is also very complacent. I have counted between the two covers over 30 instances of the "We are jolly well going to take the bull by the horns" sort of remark. In the Secretary of State's introduction we learn that,

    "The Armed Forces are already exploiting opportunities for using new technology in operations",


    "We will be continuing to look for opportunities for further joined-up working".

Elsewhere, we are told,

    "We are already working to reduce our vulnerability",


    "Our approach is to establish within the EU what is required to properly support decision making".

I had hoped for more positive results.

More irritating are dubious references to further funds having been allocated. I offer a prime example of spin:

    "Additional funding has also been made available to restore deficiencies in weapons systems and spares of critical equipment, and the enhancements to the RAF's deployed sustainability will be introduced progressively in the period to 2006".

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The defence budget has not been increased--rather, the reverse is the case. So what has suffered in order to find those extra resources for the Royal Air Force's needs? Six years to restore deficiencies and spares of critical equipment, anyway, seems inexcusable. Young men and women are required to go and fight for us. The Government take six years to catch up with critical operational needs. It is just not good enough.

Another reference to additional funds talks of £140 million for the Defence Medical Services. But if press reports are to be believed, the provision for the medical services has been cut back. What has suffered because £140 million has been transferred from elsewhere; the RAF enhancements maybe?

I had hoped that we could learn more, not only about what has been thought about and planned, but what new improvements have been completed and are working satisfactorily. The paucity of examples--except, I am pleased to note, in the personnel field--is depressing.

As the Prime Minister has written in a different context:

    "the job of government is to meet the needs and aspirations of the people. That depends on deciding on the right policies, and then delivering them effectively".

I heard President Thabo Mbeki sum up the latter part of that aspiration rather more succinctly in these words:

    "It is not done until it is done".

So what have the Government done about the strategic airlift requirement? It was identified, and rightly, in the SDR as an absolutely key capability, so urgently needed that the Royal Air Force had to give up more than three squadrons-worth of operational fast jet fighters to help to pay for it. But where are the four C-17 aircraft or their equivalent for our short-term strategic airlift needs? Can the Minister tell us the position?

The much heralded Joint Rapid Reaction Force is misnamed. It is unable to live up to its "Rapid" title, and the White Paper admits as much. A key plank of the Strategic Defence Review has yet to materialise. Will the two replacement carriers (another key plank) suffer a similar fate? Meanwhile, we have seen the Government's defence policies in Kosovo, in the Middle East and elsewhere relying more and more on the deployment and application of offensive air power. We should not have given up, with no viable offset, all those fast jet fighter aircraft which could do far more to sustain Her Majesty's Government's foreign and defence policies in the expeditionary overseas actions on which we have had to embark in the past few years.

Meanwhile, without strategic lift, we are not well positioned to be a worldwide "force for good". What an object lesson we have had over Mozambique. Those Puma helicopters were not even on standby for a stripped down move, let alone ordered to move until Tuesday of last week. By Thursday, they were on their way. That was a remarkable example of 33 Squadron's fine leadership and motivation. The whole House should congratulate those fine airmen and airwomen.

8 Mar 2000 : Column 1058

Despite my criticisms of the White Paper, I pay tribute to the Minister for the way in which she has invariably and so helpfully responded to points made in defence debates. I am sure that today will be no exception. Her busy schedule has been badly skewed by the timing of today's debate. As Convenor, I can but express my apologies to her that this Cross-Bench day has interfered with her visit on important national business to the Gulf. We are truly grateful to have the lead exponent for the Ministry of Defence in this House to respond.

Before I sit down, I wish to draw attention to the recent retirement of the noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm, from the post of honorary inspector general of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. For 10 years, from January 1990 to January this year, the noble Lord has devoted himself wholeheartedly to the interests of the RAAF. Throughout a series of defence reviews he has sustained the morale and efficiency of the many dedicated men and women who voluntarily serve their country in a great variety of important fields. The noble Lord has encouraged them. He has been a fine advocate for their interests. He has had the reward of seeing those particular reserve forces being allowed to grow in capability and strength. His is a fine achievement. The noble Lord will long be remembered with affection and gratitude for all that he did. I am sure that he will not lose touch with the auxiliaries. He will always be their most welcome guest at any time of the day or night, in the field or in the mess. He deserves your Lordships' congratulations and good wishes.

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