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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, if I did so I would come up against the problem that I have just articulated; namely, that it would imply a value for DERA. I hope noble Lords agree that we want as much as we can for the British taxpayer from the sale of DERA. These flotations can be difficult to handle and often require a good deal of expert advice. I do not want to do anything that may prejudice the maximum value that will result from the sale.
The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, is a splendid advocate for servicemen and women in relation to housing. The noble Baroness asked about the draft report. That report is still undergoing final modification by officials and is due to be delivered to Ministers very shortly.
I have said something about overstretch. However, I was asked in particular about recruitment. Recruitment is buoyant. The current level of achievement for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines is 99 per cent; for the Army, it is 95 per cent; and for the RAF, it is 96 per cent. Those figures are good, although not perfect. I was also asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, and my noble friend Lord Brooke about overstretch. Overstretch and undermanning are still big problems in the Army. We inherited an army which was 5,000 undermanned and
The noble Lord, Lord Vivian asked about separation. Separation is a difficult problem. As we all know, the separation of families is a major contributory factor to our difficulties in retaining personnel. We have significantly enhanced the separated service allowance package, details of which were announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in December 1999. If the noble Lord did not see them, I shall ensure that they are sent to him.
The noble Baroness, Lady Park, was worried about Pay 2000. We decided to defer the introduction of Pay 2000 by one year, to April 2001, as implementation turned out to be a complex operation. We recognise that there is great concern about this, and we shall continue to give it the attention that the noble Baroness would wish.
My noble friend Lord Brooke said some kind words about the overarching personnel strategies in the Ministry of Defence. He and the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, were among those who asked about training. Training is enormously important. The increased use of simulation in pilot training for Hawks and the Combined Armed Tactical Trainer has allowed for innovative and interesting ideas. The expansion of the Army Foundation College to achieve full capacity by September 2000 is also part of that strategy.
Several initiatives are in place to ensure that service personnel have a smooth passage into civilian life. As I do not wish to detain your Lordships, I shall write to those who have expressed an interest. It will also give me an opportunity to explain an interesting initiative that we are undertaking. I know that my noble friend Lord Brooke will be interested in a youth initiative that involves six schools in Newcastle and West Norfolk, and which aims to ensure that those who may not have got off to the best start in life will have an opportunity to improve their prospects.
Several noble Lords, including the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Lords, Lord Vivian and Lord Lyell, raised the subject of the Territorial Army. It needed to be restructured to meet the demands of the modern world. Far from undermining the conclusions reached in the SDR, the intervening
The number of troops in Northern Ireland will be reduced when the security situation warrants it. Noble Lords would expect me to say nothing more or less about that sensitive question, at what is a sensitive time. I have noted the points made by my noble friend Lord Brett about the civilian knock-on effect, and I shall do my best to ensure that they are taken into account. I thank my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede for his thoughtful and helpful contribution on European defence. I know that he not only takes a great interest in it, but spends much time and thought on it as well. I understand his concerns about accountability. I believe that we have a good deal of work still to do on this issue. As I hope I indicated in my opening remarks, we hope to take this matter forward in the meetings we shall have with our European Union colleagues over the course of the next few weeks.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, is also a passionate advocate of better relationships in this respect. We are making some significant progress on the procurement front over the arrangements that we have of OCCAR which went through your Lordships' House in the legislative process a few weeks ago. I am sure he is aware of the Letter of Intent process that we are also discussing with some of our European partners.
I do not see the issue of our trying to establish a better role for European defence capability as being in contention with our relationship with the United States. Neither do our friends in the United States. I have quoted to your Lordships' House before from Strobe Talbott, and from the other side of the political divide, from Mr Robert Zoellick. Both have made clear that they believe that what we are doing in this respect is a useful step forward in improving our capability.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I wonder whether it would be in order to remind the Minister of what the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-Committee for Europe, Senator Gordon Smith from Oregon, said when he was over here in December. He took a very different view. He made it absolutely clear that there are substantial and growing parts of political thought in Washington which believe that the autonomous action allowed by the European defence initiative will indeed undermine NATO.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I am bound to say that if he had heard all the contributions today he might be in a better position to know that many of these points were covered. I was talking from the point of view of those who speak for their parties on this issue in the United States. I have been to the United States often enough discussing these issues to be well aware that there is a
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, was worried about the cancellation of exercises, he thought because of lack of money. We have been over a number of these issues. I shall send him a list of the exercises that have been cancelled and the reasons. Most of those cancellations have been due to operational commitments and personal welfare. There have been occasions when there has been a shortage of funding, but nothing like to the extent that the noble and gallant Lord appeared to imply in his remarks.
There was a thought-provoking contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I thought that some of the accounts he gave of what is going on in the United States were somewhat alarming, and I am sure very much more to the liking of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, in their turn but possibly not to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. There are many opinions on this issue and there was going to have to be a good deal of thinking time. Perhaps we would all do well to remember that this is election time in the United States.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for what I thought was a first-class contribution. It was extraordinarily thought provoking on the position of the ballistic threat. Perhaps I may make clear to the noble Lord our position on ballistic missile defence. Our national programme of work and feasibility study shortly to be started in NATO will, I hope, allow us to continue to make informed judgments. That is what the noble Lord asks for: informed judgments about the real situation on the ground, and about the kind of capabilities in which we should be investing in the future. I am sure that this is a debate to which your Lordships will return over the course of the next few weeks and months.
I listened carefully to what the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, said about what is happening in Sierra Leone, to which I return now in my closing remarks. I outlined the tasks that we have put upon our servicemen and women. Within those tasks there are options about how they should be undertaken. We are not dealing, as I am sure the noble Viscount knows, in the realms of a pre-ordained script. It is enormously important that nothing is said which undermines the security of those operations.
I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, understands that as well as anyone, but already I detect that urge among media commentators to see whether they can sift through every last word spoken by Ministers in order to see whether they add up to the same nuancing. I am afraid that while there may be a bit of the "mission-creep" which some people fear, although I do not believe that will happen, during the
I agree wholeheartedly with what has been said about military experience in your Lordships' House. Many of us would do well to look at the ways in which we can educate ourselves. I have had to do so and I commend to your Lordships the Armed Forces parliamentary scheme. Sadly, I doubt whether I shall be allowed to participate in it, but I look forward to hearing reports of it from those noble Lords who are allowed to do so.
In conclusion, I thank all noble Lords for what has been said. I return to a constant theme that has rightly come from everyone about the high regard in which we hold our servicemen and women. That is particularly apposite today when they are in active service on an operation that has a high level of public exposure.
I agree with what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, about sympathy and condolences, wherever it occurs, for those who lose their lives and for their families. But the fact is that that is the risk we ask them to take. We are asking them to take it today, as we asked them to take it on many other days. I can think of no better way than to wish them God speed.