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Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, as I said, I was an unashamed supporter of Options for Change but I understand why the noble and gallant Lord is saying that. We would be in a very different situation now if we had the manpower levels that we agreed in Options for Change. The problem now is that we do not have

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those levels. We have fallen significantly below them, which has added considerably to the problems of overstretch.

Lord Inge: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that. The point I was trying to make is that at the time we planned Options for Change we did not envisage the world being quite as it has turned out to be and how far our forces would be committed.

Plans under both the Strategic Defence Review and previous studies for improvements to married quarters, barracks and conditions of service have slipped even further into the far distance.

I recognise that it is easy to make such remarks in your Lordships' House without being closely involved with the pressures and the planning. However, I hope that decisions will be made on realistic assumptions and not on wishful thinking. As I have said, we have not had a good track record in that respect. No sooner has one commitment gone than additional commitments have added to the pressure on our Armed Forces. I hope that we shall take a realistic view of how long we are involved in Afghanistan and Iraq, which will almost certainly get worse before they get better.

There can be absolutely no doubt that the commitments and resources of our Armed Forces are seriously out of balance with the money available and the size of our Armed Forces. Therefore, there is a danger of strategic failure at some stage in the future. I believe that it is wrong that the Armed Forces should carry that risk on behalf of the Government. The services provide a key element in support of our national and foreign security and defence policy. By underpinning those critical areas, the services provide a foundation for much of the Government's policy in the wider field of national credibility and prestige.

However, for political reasons, the Government are having difficulty deciding how important security alliances such as NATO and the woolly, insubstantial ESDP should evolve. I believe that we need greater clarity of thought and purpose. I accept that NATO has to change. Some very tentative steps are being taken in that direction. Because it will be particularly important for the new members who previously were members of the old Warsaw Pact, Article 5 will have to remain, but I sense that its importance will decline. In my view, NATO remains the only effective military alliance; and, whether or not we like it, it is in some ways being undermined by ESDP because certain European countries have a very different political agenda. Equally, NATO must recognise that it needs to take on a world-wide role.

In conclusion, I want to say a few words about something very different—ethos, which I believe is a key element in military leadership. I am not sure that it is understood in the world of political correctness and management speak and spin. I like to think that our nation takes great pride in its Armed Forces and in their style and professionalism. That professionalism is supported by military ethos. In passing, I should say that I believe our attendants and doorkeepers here reflect exactly what I am talking about.

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Ethos is an important part of leadership but certainly not of management speak, and it must be relevant to any organisation that professes to nurture a corporate identity. Military ethos is difficult to define. It is the spirit that motivates the Armed Forces and in the end makes men and women put their lives at risk. It is certainly not a policy, nor is it a science. It is a mixture of emotional, intellectual and moral values. It is about comradeship and team spirit, integrity and the high quality people with whom one is fortunate enough to work and serve.

It is also about tradition. People rightly scoff at tradition, if tradition is taken to mean that you never do something for the first time—but how wrong that is if you regard tradition as a standard of conduct handed down to you, below which you try never to fall. Then tradition, instead of unsettling you, will be a handrail to steady and guide you when the going gets rough. Tradition is also about recognising the importance that human beings attach to the sense of continuity, familiarity and pride in the institution in which they live and work. In that respect, I happen to believe that the UK's Armed Forces are a wonderful example.

I end with a quote from Winston Churchill, sitting at the time as a Liberal. He was talking about the Army, but it applies to all the Armed Forces. He said:

    "The army is not like a limited liability company, to be reconstructed, remodelled, liquidated, refloated from week to week as the money market fluctuates. It is not an inanimate thing, like a house, to be pulled down or enlarged or structurally altered at the caprice of the tenant or the owner; it is a living thing. If it is bullied, it sulks; if it is unhappy, it pines; if it is harried, it gets feverish; if it is sufficiently disturbed, it will wither and dwindle and almost die; and when it comes to this last serious condition, it is only revived by lots of time and lots of money".

5.45 p.m.

Viscount Slim: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for introducing this debate. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, that Viscount Younger of Leckie was in my regiment in Korea. He was a fine, young platoon commander. He took a bullet very cheerfully and it did not seem to do much harm to his future.

On the question of veterans, in which, as the Minister knows, I take a great interest, I, too, was sad to see Dr Lewis Moonie move on or move away. I have not yet found him. I felt that he was just starting to get to grips with the problems of veterans. As a nation, we have a tradition of not caring as much as we should for veterans, and I felt that Dr Moonie was much on the right track.

I should like to come down to the lower deck and talk about soldiers, sailors and airmen. If the Minister does not already know it, he should understand that today there is some very definite resentment among members of the armed services that they are not getting a fair deal. The reasons are well known. Some noble Lords have mentioned them. As I understand it, the main reasons are that they are pushed around a little

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too much, are not given time for proper training or recuperation, and do not see their families often enough.

Furthermore, they feel that they are not provided with the best equipment. It is always being promised. Radios are always coming this year, next year, not yet. It will be wonderful to have the Eurofighter, but that is not yet here. The great airbus, on which the Government are so keen, is still on paper. Like the noble Lord, I cannot understand why the C17, a much better aeroplane, is not bought and used more often. I have never met anyone in the Royal Air Force who is particularly keen to fly the airbus.

Reference has also been made to recruitment. I was amazed to hear that recruitment had been stopped a year or so ago because the budget had been spent. There seems to be no financial flexibility to bring forward some money to ensure that recruitment continues. The Minister will probably say, "All is well now"; I hope so. But if one cannot recruit, one cannot train. I heard that one regiment had 200 or so recruits on its books and was told that it could not take them because there was no money for their recruitment or their training. If correct, that is an amazing situation. I merely bring it to the fore because recruitment is vital. I put that against technical advances. One can have as much technology as one likes—by Jove we need it—but one always needs boots on the ground, matelots in a ship and flying pilots in the air, supporting the forces.

If I were in the Minister's position, I would look very closely at some of the high-tech equipment that is on order, which is costing the earth. Do we really need 250 Eurofighters? It is true that we need a hell of a lot of aeroplanes, because we are short of them; the Government have cancelled the Harriers and the Navy now has no aeroplanes at all.

I believe that the men and women of the armed services come first. In the same way, their discontent possibly stems from this latest business of supporting the nation by putting out fires. Some 19,000 servicemen were held to ransom by a union in time of national peril. The pay discrimination between a fireman and a soldier is really quite appalling. It is even worse now, of course, with the latest payments to the fire service. But it was not that so much; it was more that those servicemen wanted to go to Iraq too. All military personnel are sensibly aware of the perils of active service, but they all want to go. This was the main bone of contention, as I daresay the Minister knows.

On the whole, from what I hear, and, as the noble and gallant Lord said, it was very sensible to have had this training in Oman to start with, but we had never really trained for war. We are generally training for other duties. So far, it has to be said, we have not come up against a really tough enemy in mass. We have had skirmishes; I do not believe we have had a real war since Korea. By that I mean a battle, as I understand it, with divisions moving. We were very lucky in Iraq: look at our lines of communication. Everyone said we will keep them open by air. Luckily, most of the enemy had gone. But

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you need soldiers for keeping the lines of communication open. And you need reinforcements, which has not been mentioned yet, because you could receive severe casualties.

One day we will fight an enemy who believes in what he fights for, in his leadership and in the politicians—so-called—who tell him what to do. It will be a different story then. If we do not train for war and the Treasury does not make available the funds to train for war—and we must find time to train a soldier for war—we will be imperilled, and we will not necessarily always win. That is another thing—we have been very lucky in our little wars and skirmishes. As the noble Lord, Lord King, said, they continue and we have to stay. We use all the forces we have and have to use the reserve forces. I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, and I speak as a former chairman and managing director: there is a limit to how long industry and commerce will support us. The situation needs very careful handling. The words of the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, are very pertinent in this respect.

If we need servicemen for the more peaceful operations we are meant to undertake in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and so on, it does not look very good to others if we do not have sufficient regular forces, with all the things they do, and have to call on reserves to help us. We do not get very good marks for that. It is wonderful for the reservists—they have a good time and good fun.

Coming down to earth is important at this stage with our Armed Forces. There is no doubt that they are underfunded for everything that has to be done. But I believe that the main things to deal with are recruitment, training and retention. Every effort must be put into them. There is not enough carrot. Many armies, when they fight, do not have to pay income tax. I do not think that the educational allowance for officers and NCOs has been raised for many years. I am thinking of little things. A soldier today has to pay for a meal. The nation has always fed its armed services. The little cuts hitting the pay packets of soldiers, sailors and airmen are increasing.

I am interested in this feeding business. The noble Lord, Lord King, said that we talk about marching on a full stomach. That is probably right, although many of us have marched on empty stomachs for quite long distances, generally getting something a bit later. But I have always found for myself and most of the soldiers I have been with that we fight a little more fiercely and much better if we are slightly hungry. That has always been an observation in my life.

Recruiting, training, retention, along with sensible, really needed modern technical equipment, and not forgetting the families, will all prevent the Government from having to cut the Army once again and saying as an excuse, "We can't get the recruits, so we will chop two regiments". That is absolute nonsense. I do not believe that the Ministry of Defence has really been concentrating on the fundamentals of recruiting a solider, sailor or airman, training him and keeping him. That, to me, is the most important thing.

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5.58 p.m.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, in a debate such as this, we are peculiarly fortunate in having expertise from every corner of the subject. We have heard the survey of the noble Lord, Lord King, over the whole subject. We have heard the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, speak on the Territorial Army, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, on the Defence Medical Services and the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, on the RAF. We are particularly fortunate in this House to have such advice and expertise. I wish in particular to thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for introducing the debate.

Throughout the debate, tribute has been paid to our Armed Forces. That is more than deserved, particularly when referring to the events of recent weeks and the campaign in Iraq. I underline the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, on what a man joins the Armed Forces for and what he hopes to get out of it. A campaign such as Iraq is what a man joins the Army for.

I was talking the other day to men in the battalion at Wellington Barracks who have been on public duties for too long. Too long a period on public duties bores them rigid, and the cost of a pint of beer can destroy them financially.

Throughout the problems of the Armed Forces runs overstretch, the most dangerous of all problems. This Government seem to have no hesitation in undertaking new enterprises without taking into account the question of where to find the men and the equipment. Unsurprisingly, the remarks of Admiral Boyce have been often quoted of late. If the Armed Forces are to undertake the roles that the Government seem to wish them to, and work that must be done is piled Pelion on Ossa, there must be money to do it. Treasury priorities are altering, but it seems never to give the Armed Forces the amount they need, and the proportion of GDP has dropped consistently.

A Bowman radio will not save a single ill child, but it is a priority nevertheless; that must be recognised. The Treasury must understand that it has to pay up. The noble Lord, Lord King, commented on the need for equipment and highly technical kit—but also on the alternative of keeping boots on the ground. That is a world-wide priority, because we believe that what the Armed Forces are doing in our name all over the world is a priority for peace and goodwill to all men. There is no doubt that we need men. It is not only the Royal Logistic Corps and its hi-tech equipment that is vital.

Today's newspapers reported remarks about the shortage of ammunition for the Royal Logistic Corps. It may be that they did not in fact need more than five rounds; nevertheless, they must be treated as soldiers, with the responsibilities of soldiers.

It is particularly worrying that the line battalions are so short of men. The possibility has been mentioned that the Government may cut down the number of battalions; they have virtually done so already. If a battalion must do any active service, it will have to

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borrow men from another battalion to fill its ranks—a company from X regiment will join Y regiment and go to war together with it. The current shortfall is recorded as 6,510 men below the current, very low requirement of trained men, which has been falling steadily for some years.

We need to find out how to fill this void. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body records that it,

    "shall have regard for the need for the pay of the Armed Forces to be broadly comparable with pay levels in civilian life".

That is not the case. The recent pay award of 3.7 per cent with average working hours of 54.5 per week is, on the face of it, respectable, but in fact, the hours worked per month do not compare favourably with the experience of firemen, for instance. The lowest ranks—privates—are paid 13,000, and they get more quite soon, but by comparison, policemen and firemen were paid much more. Hours of duty have also risen from 75.1 hours per week to 89.5, thereby reducing the effective hourly pay to a very low level, albeit above the national minimum wage. The hours that the men are working do not really matter, but it matters that they must pay so much, relative to their total income, for a pint of beer.

This problem can be divided between recruitment and retention. When recruiting, several things are required. The regiments need really good recruiting sergeants spread in and around their depots. If a man is considering becoming a recruit, he should also be able to talk to his mates who are already in the Army so that they can tell him how they are getting on. If, and only if, they say that they are happy and have decent money and things to do that they want to do, recruitment will rise.

Later, when your man has been there for several years, and might now be getting married, he is beginning to think—as the recruit may not—of his future, and the matter of living accommodation is much more important. Unless the kind of living accommodation he can offer his wife, and the price of cabbage relative to their income, add up, the wife will tell him to get out of the Armed Forces and to go somewhere he can get a decent wage and where he will be recognised. Those calculations will also involve death-in-service benefits, private life insurance, and pensions—none of which are currently adequate or give hope for retaining men. The Treasury has to throw in the money. Unless it does so, we shall not be able to provide for our forces.

I have one further point. The media's position in war is becoming extremely serious. If there is a reporter with every battalion, they will be able to relate events, and sometimes to do so in a rather curious manner. It is not helpful for the families at home to read such reports in the newspapers. Many of the reports are absolute rubbish, and that does not help. A problem encountered in the first Gulf War—the unavailability of telephones—may no longer exist because so many men now have their own mobile telephones, but a persistent problem remains—the lack of money.

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6.11 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, once again, in Iraq, British servicemen and servicewomen have proved themselves in extremely difficult circumstances. Some have made the ultimate sacrifice. A squadron of my former regiment, the Household Cavalry, with light armoured reconnaissance vehicles, destroyed a great many T55s of the Iraqi 6th Armoured Division and the artillery of the 3rd Artillery Corps. Sadly, three lives were lost. I am aware at first hand of the enormous personal sacrifices made by families on these occasions. One of those lost was my cousin's son, Alexander Tweedie, a young troop leader, much loved and respected in his regiment.

Few would dispute that the British Armed Forces are among the very best in the world. Indeed, arguably on their back, the Prime Minister has been able to bestride the world stage again and again with such confidence. Now that the first ships, planes and soldiers are back from the Gulf, other political issues are already beginning to nudge military affairs out of the headlines, which reminds me of the words of Rudyard Kipling:

    "O it's Tommy this an' Tommy that, an' 'Tommy go away';

    But it's 'Thank you, Mister Atkins', when the band begins to play".

So before the events of the past few weeks become distant memories, with other issues increasingly taking priority for the Government's attention—and, critically, for public funding—it would be wise to ask whether, five years on from the SDR, and four years on from publication of the Armed Forces Overarching Personnel Strategy, the Government have lived up to their own rhetoric and discharged their obligations to our Armed Forces. Increasingly the answer must be, "No". The reality is that our Armed Forces are now suffering from acute and endemic overstretch; have been chronically underfunded in key areas of capability; and, worst of all, the men and women who man them are in danger of being taken for granted.

The Prime Minister has great ambitions for Britain's services to be a "force for good" around the world, but his Government have little appetite for facing the true costs. Providing for the security of their people is, however, a government's first duty; and because Britain is still a nation whose well-being depends on trade, they also have an acute interest in maintaining global stability. Moreover, as a permanent member of the Security Council, the Government have a duty to do so. Defence is not therefore an area where Britain can afford to stand aside even if it wished to.

The challenge that the Government must meet is to position our Armed Forces so that they can respond militarily to the known and unknown threats ahead of us, as well as provide us with continuing political influence with our most certain ally, the United States.

Above all, the UK must not get left behind in the RMA—the so-called revolution in military affairs—in particular, as my noble friend Lord King said, in the ability to acquire, process, analyse, disseminate and react to, often with precision-guided firepower, a mass of high-quality real-time information drawn from an

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array of human and technological sources. This move to network-centric or network-enabled warfare is already transforming the nature of high-intensity operations, and also has huge potential against asymmetric threats and in what is likely to be an extended campaign against terrorism.

As part of the move towards network-centric warfare, US Central Command in Qatar, in preparation for the Iraq war, deployed the global command and control system. Running over a military version of the Internet called the secret Internet protocol router network, it gave the US forces the ability to know not only where they were, but also where all US troops were in real time, as well as the location of Iraqi forces that had been observed and identified by a large range of surveillance systems.

Soldiers in front line units were able to use Internet-style chatrooms to share time-sensitive information, with these chatrooms accessible to all levels of the military command structure. If we want to fight alongside the Americans in future conflicts, we will need to keep pace with them in doctrine and equipment procurement and be able to integrate with the Americans' information network. That did not happen in Iraq.

One word of caution needs to be sounded, for there is already much talk of reductions in manpower. While there is no doubt that the balance between, and within, our Armed Forces must evolve to reflect technological developments and changes in the threat, the presumption must not be made, however tempting to those holding the purse strings, that network-centric warfare will, of itself, generate significant savings in manpower. Experience has shown that there is no automatic trade off between technology and manpower in the military domain.

Could the Minister therefore explain the Government's plans for greater co-operation and integration between our Armed Forces and those of the United States in the field of network-centric warfare? Could he explain what impact network-centric warfare will have on the procurement programme and manpower levels?

Even a cursory glance at the nature and duration of commitments taken on by British forces over the past decade suggests that they are no less manpower-intensive today than in the past; indeed, they are arguably more so. The reality is that overstretch is as much a function of duration as of intensity; and peacekeeping, in all its guises, is seldom short term.

The situation is made worse by a shortfall of more than 6,500 trained personnel. More than half the Army was deployed on operations and other military tasks in the first quarter of this year. A quarter of the 5,000 troops sent to replace units that fought in the war were reservists, yet failures in the process for paying reservists have still not been resolved. Problems with pay and rations, too little time at home between deployments and a lack of the most basic equipment are all contributing to a collapse in morale in the Armed Forces. Unless urgent action is taken to stem

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the impending surge in resignations of servicemen, trained at huge public expense, there will not be enough experienced people left.

If sustained overstretch is to be corrected, the inescapable conclusion is that either the size of our Armed Forces must be increased or the Government must take on fewer commitments—which the track record suggests is unlikely. Only then will a sustainable balance be achieved.

There is much else that can be done to ease the pressure. As a first step, a tangible commitment should be made to rebuilding the Territorial Army and making it more useable. The restoration of an adequate manning and training margin is long overdue and should be made a priority. Having an adequate "reserve" of people to cover for illness, extended individual training courses and ad hoc commitments is vital if gapping in front line units is to be avoided and careers managed properly. Shortages of the basics have been well, and deservedly, publicised. Those were caused not only by the MoD's policy of ordering equipment "just in time", but also by a combination of government indecisiveness and Treasury miserliness. There were 197 urgent operational requirements raised to provide the essentials for war fighting. Despite the Prime Minister's assurance that money would be released, it was not released soon enough.

The Challenger 2s were converted for desert warfare in time only because the invasion was fortuitously delayed by UN negotiations. The last armour upgrade was only fitted the day before the fighting started, thanks to the Herculean efforts of civilian staff working 18-hour days.

Body armour did not reach all the troops who needed it. Reservists deployed to HQ formations in theatre had to resort to taking their own laptop computers.

According to the BBC, the RAF resorted to deploying concrete bombs by the end of the war, because supplies of the explosive ones were running low.

A letter published in the latest Soldier magazine complains of a lack of small arms, AS90 and Challenger 2 ammunition, critical spares for aircraft and vehicles, NBC consumables, malaria tablets and anthrax vaccinations.

The lives of our servicemen and servicewomen must never be put at risk in such a way again.

Furthermore, this Government have consistently failed to address personnel issues in the Armed Forces. Damage is being done to the risk-taking culture, and thereby to fighting spirit and operational effectiveness, by the growing fear of legal vulnerability and the burden of red tape. This applies particularly to the Army, where tactical success—which increasingly has operational and strategic significance—depends on timely and bold decisions being made by junior commanders, who are often physically isolated and acting in the midst of uncertainty. Such decisions frequently involve risk—often high risk.

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Mistakes will occur and must be tolerated. If they are to take these decisions, commanders must have absolute confidence that they will be supported by their superiors and by the judicial system if things go wrong; that is unless their mistakes are the result of gross negligence or their actions are palpably illegal, with full account having been taken of the circumstances in which the decisions were taken.

Families are as important to service personnel as to anybody else and there is no doubt that many service personnel feel disadvantaged in relation to people in civilian life, and they have good reason to feel that way.

The appalling state of much service accommodation has emerged as arguably the most important issue for service families, particularly in the Army, where accompanied service is more common than for the other services.

The relentless drive to reduce the number of married quarters—held empty to accommodate fluctuations in demand—has created inflexibilities, which make it increasingly difficult to ensure that families are housed in accordance with their entitlement. This, allied to the increasing, if subtle, pressure from the MoD to get service personnel to buy and live in their own properties, is in danger of creating a real crisis for accompanied service.

Things are no better for single living accommodation. Marne Barracks in Catterick has been described as unfit even for a tramp to live in. The accommodation regularly floods and has poor heating and rotten shower cubicles. Although new accommodation was promised two years ago, the Army Estate Organisation does not intend to start work on new accommodation until the 2004–05 financial year.

We have superb Armed Forces in this country but we also have a track record of taking them for granted. If our Armed Forces are to continue to attract not just the numbers required, but crucially also the quality required, we must make sure that they are trained and equipped to the highest standards and treated fairly. I fear we may be falling short.

An essential start point must be unapologetic recognition that service personnel constitute a special case by virtue of the unlimited liability that comes with their function: that they need to be different and have a right to be different. Yet taking that step, and following it through to its logical conclusion, seems to be a step too far for this Government.

6.25 p.m.

Lord Vincent of Coleshill: My Lords, I welcome this debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for initiating it. More specifically, I should like to use this opportunity to reflect on the evolving capabilities of our Armed Forces in a changing and far less predictable security environment.

Increasingly today, as we have seen so clearly in Iraq, the outcome of military operations is dependent on the timely application of emerging science and

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technology, both to enhance the capabilities of our future weapons and equipment and to ensure that our forces at all levels have the knowledge and understanding required to employ them most effectively, often in unexpected circumstances.

Of course, this does not mean that the recruitment, training, leadership and professional commitment of our Armed Forces will be any less important in future. However, without the right tools to do their job and the informed judgment needed to use them most effectively, the Armed Forces could find themselves at an increasing disadvantage in future operations, not least because there is growing public and political expectation today that we will continue to minimise our own casualties and avoid unnecessary collateral damage. As regards collateral damage, we have been very fortunate indeed and should not take that for granted.

Historically, there is nothing new about this need for the right tools to do the job, at least in principle. However, I believe the ever-faster pace of emerging science and technology is giving far greater significance to this aspect of our future military capabilities.

We recognised this, for example, very late in the day in the 1930s when advanced research on aircraft structures allowed us to develop for the first time a new generation of high-performance monoplane fighters—the Hurricane and the Spitfire—which entered service in time for the Battle of Britain.

It is not widely recognised, even today, that without the advent of radar, which only became operational during the early months of 1940, those high-performance aircraft would have been far less effective, to the point where their own superiority could never have been fully exploited—possibly at the cost of the eventual outcome of the Battle of Britain itself.

Similarly, the defeat of the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic, which was so critical to the outcome of the Second World War, was ultimately dependent on their detection and destruction through the advent of radar and Asdic—the forerunner of sonar—and eventually our more effective conduct of operations which exploited those new technologies much more effectively.

Those examples, and an increasing number of other similar developments which have added so significantly to our military capability since then, have rested on a growing professional foundation of science and technology, which has been drawn on over the years to enhance the operational capabilities of our Armed Forces.

To this end, members of our Armed Forces and selected Ministry of Defence civilians have also in the past received advanced education in such matters, both to help formulate and acquire new and more capable generations of weapons and equipment and to ensure that we were able to employ them to best effect on operations.

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Today, despite the increase in that element of our defence spending currently intended for our next generation of weapons and equipment, I find myself asking whether a number of longer-term trends are not now afoot that could perhaps unwittingly seriously undermine the defence science and technology base from which our enhanced military capabilities must ultimately be derived in future. For example, the former Defence Evaluation and Research Agency—DERA—has been largely sold off and transformed into QinetiC, where increasingly its research and development priorities will inevitably be determined by commercial pressures and interests, rather than our future defence needs.

In a wider context, an ever smaller proportion of young people attending university today are choosing to read science and technology-based subjects. Additionally, there is growing concern about the teaching in many of our secondary schools of subjects such as mathematics and physics, which are so important to the understanding and development of emerging science and technology today, particularly with regard to its military applications.

Within the new—or not so new now—MoD Smart procurement arrangements, which I welcome and generally support, there may also be signs of longer-term difficulties in attracting and retaining people of the appropriate knowledge and ability to serve in the Defence Procurement Agency. Under these new arrangements, projects are now controlled and directed within approved limits by about 140 multidisciplinary, integrated project teams, which have a vital role to play in delivering our future weapons and equipment programmes to time, cost and performance. Many of them have served us well since their formation, but they operate within a very flat organisational structure, with far fewer opportunities for the staff involved to develop their careers in a highly relevant way through service in our research and development establishments, many parts of which have now moved out into the commercial world.

The longer-term issue is that, having served us so well in the integrated project teams, career progression for staff will be seen to be very restricted and the teams' future manning with people of the appropriate quality and experience will be increasingly difficult.

Within the Armed Forces themselves, there is less specialisation on militarily relevant education in science and technology today. One cannot study secure and sensitive aspects of emerging military technology, such as electronic warfare, on normal university courses.

If, overall, my concerns about a declining science and technology base being unable to inform and deliver our future weapons and equipment requirements in the years ahead are justified, I fear that our Armed Forces may eventually find themselves without the capabilities needed to operate effectively in an increasingly unpredictable yet demanding security environment.

Sooner rather than later, an objective assessment should be carried out on the longer-term effects of the trends to which I have referred, so that in years ahead,

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we are not inadvertently left behind with inadequate military capabilities, or an inability to employ them to best effect on military operations.

Against that background, I today reflect increasingly on the fact that most of the weapons and equipment now in service with the Army had their origin more than 20 years ago when I was personally responsible for their acquisition. They may in most cases—and I claim no credit for it—have served us very well, but we need now to lay firm and dependable foundations for their successors.

6.33 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I am not going to speak to your Lordships about boots that were of the wrong type or about trousers that get wet at the seat. I am not going to speak to your Lordships about the fact that while the Guardian embedded correspondent with the Household Cavalry could speak happily to her editor in London on her cellular telephone, the squadron corporal major could not talk to the squadron leader because the wireless sets were not functioning properly due to their being 10 years out of date. I am not going to speak about the fact that the Scimitar, excellent vehicle though it was, broke down because of its age.

I am going to speak because, 40 years ago, I was a subaltern in D Squadron of the Lifeguards. Consequently I followed that same squadron's fortunes in Iraq with close attention. They were lucky to have with them a journalist of exceptional ability who sent back stories of their exploits, which I read as if I could see the events unfolding before my eyes.

Today is Waterloo Day, marking the considerable achievement of the Lifeguards and Blues in destroying large numbers of French infantry. The last horsed action of the First Household Cavalry was to walk into Damascus in 1941. Their first motorised action was to move into Baghdad in 1941 as well.

At the beginning of the war in Iraq, there was a letter in the Daily Telegraph from the commanding officer of the Fusilier battalion that had been shot up by the Americans in the first Gulf War asking what had happened and what precautions had been taken against it happening again.

I know perfectly well that blue-on-blue has been happening since the Peloponnesian War. The Prussians took up pursuit of the defeated French at the end of Waterloo because they had already shot up, I think, a battalion of the 43rd. Blue-on-blue is not new, but we should be improving on it.

In turning to the Household Cavalry blue-on-blue incident, it is worth going through exactly what happened. All one really wants to know is why it happened.

The cavalry was carrying out a classic advance-to-contact operation. The squadron was moving within its own battlefield control line, which means that all the air above it was supposed to be controlled by their embedded American air control officer. They had been warned of dug-in Iraqi guns and of soldiers who were half-demobbing by dropping their uniforms, changing

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into civilian clothes, climbing into white pick-up vans and grabbing the odd AK47 or RPL if the spirit moved them. The advance was going according to the drill book. A vehicle had broken down, had been recovered and was in the process of repair. The squadron leader's command vehicle had been bracketed by Iraqi artillery. The regiment went on to provide cover against the Iraqi T55s, which attempted to intervene after the air incident. I shall now attempt to describe that.

The vehicles had infra-red recognition and fluorescent panels. The third vehicle displayed a large Union Jack. The weather was perfect. Two A10 Warthogs came in extremely low. At one stage, the corporal of horse could actually see the pilot's face. The planes made two passes and shot up two vehicles and badly damaged another. There was very little excuse for that. Smoke was let off, as it should have been. The American air traffic controller was trying his level best to stop it, but it still happened.

Corporal of Horse Gerrard said from his hospital bed on the "Argus":

    "All this kit has been provided by the Americans. They've said if you put this kit on, you won't get shot".

We know American Silhouette tanks. The same corporal of horse and practically every other tank commander in the British Army can recognise an American Silhouette tank at 1,500 metres. The Warthogs had come down as low as 50 feet to shoot up targets at 110 yards. I know that because my Guardian journalist friend found a Warthog website—it is a curse that the Americans have. On the website was a message from a technical sergeant in the Massachusetts Air National Guard which said, "Hi, it's Hog 166". The journalist told me that they have great pride in their achievements. They are slightly despised by the rest of the American air force because they do not fly smart and expensive planes or fly very fast or have Tom Cruise to act them. They merely fly very low and beat up tanks. When properly controlled, they are extremely good at it. What happened in this case was that they were not properly controlled.

I should like to ask the Minister for the details of the inquiry. Who is chairing it and will the results be published? If it is a British military inquiry, will it have access to American officers and the pilots concerned? If it is an American court of inquiry, will we be kept completely informed? We have to learn lessons from this. It is not good enough for the same things to happen in Gulf War I and Gulf War II. That is why we should be insistent on finding out the results of the inquiry. Hog 166 says:

    "Let the guys that investigate do their job. If our guys screwed up, well then our courts will fairly be their judge along with the Almighty".

That strikes me as the attitude of a very sensible soldier.

I hope that the Minister will ensure that we know what happened and tell us the result. That way we learn all the lessons we possibly can.

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6.40 p.m.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, the Motion so thoughtfully and authoritatively introduced by the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, refers to defence policy and the future of the Armed Forces. I am not going to follow the noble Lord, Lord King, and other noble Lords on the subjects of over-stretch and recruitment problems. My contribution is of a more technical military kind. I should like to ask the Minister what military lessons have been learnt from recent operations which might affect decisions about how the Armed Forces are organised and equipped in the future. It is the future that I want to talk about.

Since I served as an infantry officer—it seems centuries ago—much has changed. Everything now on the field of battle and in the Army is virtually unrecognisable to me and there are far more technological developments to come. We have only just begun the first phases of a military revolution which will change the battlefield and the structure of our Armed Forces unrecognisably. We have learnt a number of lessons from various operations that have taken place since the end of the Cold War. We learnt lessons in Afghanistan and in the first operation in Iraq. However, it was from the second operation—Iraqi Freedom—that there is much to be learnt not only from the successful operations of our own Armed Forces in the Basra area, but more especially from the remarkable achievement of the American Armed Forces in their advance on Baghdad. There has been much criticism of the performance of the American forces in the post-war environment in Baghdad. Whether this is justified or not, it should not detract from the fact that the military operation itself was brilliantly planned and successfully executed.

These operations were regarded by many in the United States Administration, especially in the Pentagon, as a testing ground for a completely new concept of operations. As the Minister and other noble Lords will know, this concept is referred to by defence planners and analysts as EBO or effects based Operations. This new piece of jargon has all kinds of technical aspects. It means in effect the bringing together of armed forces—navy, army and air force—with all the resources of advanced technology, especially precision guided munitions, such as smart bombs, and so on, and information technology. Some of this was already evident in Operation Iraqi Freedom. A new generation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems enabled the establishment in the theatre of operations of a joint fighting force of all arms with access to a common intelligence picture and under the direction of a real time command and control system. This is the "network-centric" operational concept to which the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, and the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, have both referred. Will the Minister confirm that our own defence planners are in close liaison with the Americans in developing this concept and analysing its effect on the organisation and equipment of our Armed Forces? As the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, rightly

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said, we shall not be able to fight either on our own or alongside our American allies unless we keep up with such developments.

As I have said, perhaps one of the main elements in all this is precision-guided munitions—smart bombs and missiles. I should like to give an example of the impact of this technology. In 1943 it took a thousand B17 bombers dropping 9,000 bombs to destroy a specific target. Today the same effect can be achieved by one aircraft equipped with two laser-guided bombs. But, of course, before one can attack a target, it is first necessary to find it and pinpoint its position. This is generally called, in military jargon, target acquisition. The obvious conclusion from this is that future operations will involve not only precision-guided munitions but highly sophisticated real-time battlefield intelligence.

One of the questions for defence planners, therefore, is whether we need expensive platforms such as main battle tanks and aircraft carriers or whether we need a completely new concept in the organisation, training and equipment of our Armed Forces. I would ask the Minister to confirm that this is the direction in which our defence planners are moving and also to allay some of the fears voiced by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent of Coleshill, about the extent to which our Armed Forces are being trained to use this equipment.

Another lesson from the American advance on Baghdad was in the logistics field. In the past, it has always been thought essential to stockpile large amounts of supplies before a major operation of the kind envisaged in Iraq. Sixty days is about the normal military calculation. In the Iraq conflict, US Army units fought with just a few days'—two to three days sometimes—of water, food and ammunition, replenished by sophisticated logistics systems, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, as "just in time" logistic systems, once again based on information technology and digital communication systems. Does the Minister agree that we are on the edge of a complete revolution in military affairs in which very few of the old planning assumptions and tactical doctrines are valid?

My own experience is that the Armed Forces themselves are remarkably quick and flexible in responding to new ideas. They have not always received all the political support they deserve, but we have to accept that, as far ahead as one can see, there is unlikely to be any great increase in defence budgets or in resources devoted to our Armed Forces. Indeed, the reverse might be the case. It is therefore all the more important that we should exploit all the advantages of military science, such as smart munitions and information technology, to meet the possible military operations, sometimes called asymmetric operations, of the future.

It is important also that defence planners should be looking even further into the future, beyond the requirements of immediate operations. One of the most important factors in the next phase of the military revolution is likely to be the directed energy weapon. This

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may be quite a long way in the future, but it is already technologically feasible. Directed energy weapons concentrate large amounts of energy at specific wavelengths and frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum and then direct the concentrated energy at distant targets. To put that in simple layman's terms: it is like being able to generate a bolt of lightning and aim it at a specific target. When this is developed it will, of course, have enormous implications for the cost of weapons and for controlling the incidence of what is sometimes called "collateral damage".

Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether he will be prepared to share with the House, as far as he can within the limits of security, some of the thinking of the Ministry of Defence about these matters. The events of Operation Iraqi Freedom have once again demonstrated that our Armed Forces—Navy, Army and Air Force—will always do what is required of them and do it with skill and commitment. It is important that the strategic doctrines and technological concepts within which they operate should take full account of the military revolution which has been developing for some time, and which had its baptism of fire in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

During the course of the debate, a great deal has been said about recruiting. I should like to conclude with a word about our young men and women of today. They are a generation to whom computers and digitalised technology are second nature, as they certainly were not in my young days. The Armed Forces of the future will be an environment in which they will be completely at home. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what plans the Government have for attracting this technologically aware generation into our services.

6.52 p.m.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord King for this opportunity to discuss the crucial role of the Armed Forces in their highly professional and internationally respected contribution to the defence of our nation and the promotion of freedom and justice in many parts of the world.

I wish to focus in particular on the Defence Medical Services and endorse and expand some of the concerns raised by my noble friend Lady Park. The role of the DMS in ensuring the highest possible standards of care for military personnel is vital in the promotion of their well-being and to the maintenance of their morale. The men and women who risk life and limb are entitled to the best possible treatment, both in the immediate theatre of war and in all forms of follow-up care and rehabilitation.

However, there is long-standing concern about the shortfall of staff in the DMS causing problems of overstretched medical personnel. That leads to low morale and serious doubts about their future. According to the BMA, the DMS have, overall, less than half the number of trained doctors required and in some specialities the shortage of staff is even more acute.

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This is not a new problem. In 1998, the Ministry of Defence in its paper A Strategy for the Future admitted that the DMS were,

    "suffering a serious shortage of both regular and reserve personnel",

acknowledging that,

    "we have only about 50 per cent of the doctors we need".

Therefore, the medical, manpower and retention review was specifically established to investigate these problems of understaffing and to propose remedies. However, there are still very serious shortages. As recently as July last year, of the 120 anaesthetists required by the DMS, there were only 23 in post; of 43 general surgeons, there were only 18; of 10 burns specialists, there were only three; and of 416 general medical practitioners there were only 190 vocationally trained, with a further 73 in training, but insufficient GP trainers to provide the training. Those figures are shocking and deeply disturbing.

In 2001, DMS staff were deeply involved in the Balkans, Afghanistan and in a major exercise in Oman, but to support these increased commitments there was no increase in military medical and dental personnel. There are now serious problems in the retention of medical and dental officers. The MoD's own DMS attitude survey revealed that 82 per cent of DMS doctors feel that the DMS are over-committed to operational deployments. That proportion rises to 94 per cent among consultants.

The war in Iraq involved massive deployment of medical reservists who filled those gaps with great commitment. But there must be a question as to the extent to which the DMS can continue to rely on reservists for several reasons. The first concerns the costs—professional and financial—to the reservists themselves. A recent letter in the Daily Telegraph of 10th June by the wife of a consultant surgeon described his disturbing experiences. When he volunteered for service in former Yugoslavia, he suffered financially with a reduction in salary and a loss of private practice. This March he was called up for compulsory service in Kuwait with just 10 days' notice. He appealed against that, partly on health grounds, but received another call-up notice while he was in hospital. His wife's letter concluded:

    "The MoD needs seriously to consider how it uses the services of its medical reserves in the future or it will struggle to meet its objectives. My husband will be resigning his commission forthwith".

That is only one example. But it reflects concerns being expressed by many reservists, especially as the recent deployments are so extended and therefore so disruptive of their own professional careers. The BMA News of 17th May this year reports a survey conducted among reservists in the Gulf who claimed that, if the tour of duty were to extend beyond six months, 34 out of 52 of the doctors who responded said they would "probably" or "definitely not" continue to serve as reservists. Moreover, these long deployments abroad have a knock-on effect on the National Health Service which itself is suffering from staff shortages in both

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hospital and primary care services. The recent MoD waiting list initiative required the ministry to call on the private sector as the NHS could not meet the demand.

Therefore, questions must be asked about the extent to which the DMS can continue to rely on reservists. I ask the Minister how Her Majesty's Government intend to reduce the dependence of the DMS on this source of support which has served it so well in the past but which may be less available in the future.

Before I turn to my own profession of nursing, I raise one other issue. I must confess that I am fascinated that the United Kingdom appears to be virtually the only country in Europe which thinks it can do with so few dedicated military hospitals. Only the Royal Hospital Haslar, Royal Naval Hospital Gibraltar and the RAF Hospital in Cyprus remain. I recently had the great privilege to visit Royal Hospital Haslar and was reminded of the special value of the service hospital. That ethos also survives very strongly in the military hospital abroad. But it is that special ethos which offers such an attraction in recruiting healthcare personnel to serve in the DMS. I have also visited the Ministry of Defence Hospital Units and it seems to me that they do not offer the same distinctive traditions and atmosphere of a military hospital. Therefore, by closing so many military hospitals, there has been a serious attrition of appeal for those who now have to suffer the disadvantages of service responsibilities without the distinctive benefits.

Of course I am aware of the development in Birmingham, but to date Haslar is the only home for uniformed members of the DMS in this country where they can enjoy the kind of environment for which they joined the services. Therefore, I ask the Minister how successful the medical manning retention policy has been in recruiting and retaining staff in the DMS. Will consideration be given to bringing back one or two military hospitals to provide that special ethos, characteristic of the Armed Forces, described so well by other noble Lords? And will there be the appropriate career prospects so essential for retaining the very dedicated and highly qualified personnel in the DMS who could so easily find more favourable prospects, salaries and career opportunities outside the DMS in the National Health Service and/or in private practice?

I turn briefly to the challenges confronting the nursing profession in the DMS. One of these challenges is the apparently demeaning, penny-pinching disestablishment of the one-star Director Defence Nursing Services post within the Surgeon General's department. This disestablishment cannot be good for the morale of the nursing services. It is particularly anomalous at a time when the Department of Health's proposals in Agenda for Change represent significant enhancement of pay and career development for nurses, based on the appreciation of the key role played by nurses in the provision of healthcare. There is a serious shortage of nurses working in the Armed Forces, especially in certain specialties. There will be an urgent need to consider the impact of Agenda for Change, which is likely to increase competitiveness in the labour market, with enhanced

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career opportunities in the National Health Service and the private sector, compared with those remaining in the DMS.

Last year the Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service celebrated its centenary year. Many tributes have been paid. I hope that those tributes reflect an appropriate appreciation of all that the QUARNNS and the other nursing services have to offer to the DMS, and that changing opportunities in the NHS for nursing staff in both clinical and managerial posts will be reflected in the DMS. Would the Minister consider the reinstatement of at least one one-star appointment to the nursing services in the DMS as a recognition of the centrality of nursing in the provision of healthcare in the Armed Forces?

Although I have highlighted the role of the medical, dental and nursing professions, I also pay tribute to the medical services officers, to other ranks, ratings and airmen without whose superb services the DMS could not function at all. All your Lordships appreciate the crucial role played by all the medical, nursing and paramedical staff in providing clinical care in and for the Armed Forces. However, the evidence shows many problems that are causing a serious haemorrhage of key personnel, which endanger the viability of the DMS. Those who remain in the services will be looking to the Government for reassurance that their predicament is understood and that effective remedies are imminently forthcoming. I hope that they may receive some reassurances from the Minister tonight—for their sake and for the sake of the Armed Forces who defend our nation, our freedom and the freedoms of many other people in many parts of the world.

7.3 p.m.

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, it is appropriate that at this stage of the debate I should acknowledge that I am without doubt the least informed of the most junior officers present. I hold senior officers in great awe—and the noble Baronesses, Lady Cox and Lady Park, in even greater awe.

Sometimes one reaches the moment in one's life when one is not sure which way to think or move. I begin by recalling some of my mentors from the past who said: first of all think whether one thinks in black and white or colour. I do not know. Then, if one tries to think if something is black and white and one is not sure which way to go, take a blackboard and some white chalk and take a white board with some black chalk. Write positive and negative on either of them. Write what one thinks is right on one side and what is wrong on the other. Then reverse them. One may find oneself coming to a conclusion.

I shall try today to confuse myself, as I will your Lordships, by turning a few things on their heads and asking: why is there a Ministry of Defence after what has happened? Why do we not go back to calling it the Ministry of War, or, if it is politically correct, Ministry of Peaceful Affairs? That begs the question: are we going to war or are we out to defend the realm? If we are out to defend the realm, do we need to go to war? In that case we should have a Ministry of War, and if we are going to war abroad we are "at war".

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I turn to Iraq. I was brought up to believe that one did not do things unless someone knew why one was doing them. If one was a junior officer one would never be told anyway and at some time or another one would find out from the lower-deck buzz. The question I would like to ask the Minister is: did we go to war with Iraq, and now that the war has stopped, are we at peace? I thought that we could not go to war unless we declared it on a country, and one cannot declare war on an "ism". Therefore, if one has not gone to war, when hostilities cease, one is at peace. The matter is difficult, because historically—and I like the idea of pre-emptive strikes, and in previous debates I have said that one has to show force, not "Shock and Awe", force—one has to let people know that one means it.

There would have been none of the argument about weapons of mass destruction 100 years ago. We would have sent a punitive mission to take out the regime—which is exactly what we did. I rather wish that we could have said that before. I remember being told by the Benches opposite that there was no relationship between Iraq and terrorism, that we were not going to take out regimes. Yet we went ahead. That is what caused me some doubt. I was even more doubtful when I listened to that remarkable debate in the House of Commons which was, at its best, debating whether or not we went to war. Having gone to war once, there is a worry that we might go to war again. But our prime duty must be to defend ourselves. I do not believe that one goes to war on terrorism. I believe that one defends oneself against terrorists. That is another matter, because with terrorists we are dealing with one group of people or even individuals.

I do not agree with the rhetoric in the United States that talks about "axis of evil", because an axis is a straight line and axles are circles. I do not believe in the propaganda of weapons of mass destruction. Nobody has ever mentioned the "supergun". I was fairly heavily involved in that. That was a wonderful weapon of mass destruction. It was visible; it was a great phallic symbol. Nobody bothered when they went out there to find out where it was pointing. Nobody bothered to recognise that the technology which made it as long as a football field was sufficient to be able to send a shell a long way away. Instead, we sat on a group of chemical weapons. They are not weapons of mass destruction. Sarin and many of the nerve gases have been used for years.

When the Russians were advancing upon Berlin, I believe that the Nazis—or Germans as they were then called—pointed out that they had V4 and V3 rockets which were weapons of mass destruction. The Russians were worried about the nerve gases such as sarin, which in those days were called "weapons of last defence" or "last resort". One put on a paper piece of kit, wore one's gas mask for four hours a day and all night, and that was not a weapon of mass destruction but a weapon of defence—or, more importantly, a weapon of fear. But are any of the toxins on the list that were described in the anti-terrorism Bill, or in the Government's papers, any worse than SARS? They were probably less fearful and less frightening. The worry that I have raised before is that if we are not careful, we frighten our own people into a difficult situation.

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Just before the war began I went to the United States, as I do regularly, and I could not believe that on an "orange alert" every 10 minutes on television people were advised, miles away from Iraq on the other side of the world, to protect themselves with plastic sheets on the windows from such-and-such gas that would be released across the prairies. The fear that came across was worrying. Every party was there. Mr Blair was a great ally. He was going to defend America from weapons of mass destruction. When one went to the airport and tried to leave, one found that there were four and a half hours of queues as everyone was searched—unless one decided to go on a national day when the level of fear was so great that one could go straight into the airport and board an empty plane. The danger of terrorism is the fear that we create among ourselves, rather than the mechanisms of defence.

So when it comes to the question of how we defend ourselves or attack, I suppose that we must first consider defence equipment. The way to address that is by expenditure. The second way is to consider people. We have total forces of, say, 200,000. The United States has 1.5 million. The rest of NATO and continental Europe has about 1.5 million. But the British Commonwealth has 2.5 million. So Her Majesty can speak for 2.7 million members of armed forces, in one way or another. It is not me saying that; it is the Swiss and others saying to me, "You are a world power. Why do you not realise it? You have more influence than anyone in the world, other than the United States, which thinks that it has influence".

When one is not sure what to do, one returns to nature. The other night, I was talking to some of my noble friends and asking about birds, because I could not remember the stories of birds. I was reminded that a swift can fly at more than 50,000 feet and can fly to the Arctic and back without refuelling. That led me to ask, "What is our bird—the British bird?" Actually, we have a lion. A lion roars, and the British lion held everyone in fear. What do the Americans have? They have a bald or a white eagle, which they regard as a symbol of freedom.

Your Lordships will know that when Zeus, Jupiter or Jehovah—or whatever he was called that day—was deciding who should be king of the birds, he said, "Well, it could either be the most beautiful, or I shall let you decide among yourselves". The commission of birds sat down and said, "It will be the one that flies the highest". Now, the little wren was disappointed about that, because it could not fly very high, and the eagle thought that it would win easily.

So the wren went up to the eagle and said, "Can I fly on your back when you fly high, so that I can see what is going on? I should like to be well-informed". They flew higher, higher and higher and the little wren said to the eagle, "Fly higher, get higher, get up!" As the eagle finished flapping, the little wren gave a jump of one metre. Although the eagle is called king of the birds, the little wren is called king of the nests.

That little wren can frighten an eagle, because the eagle screams when it sees the wren. I do not want to say that we or the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, are the

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poodle—which is not an insulting word—of the United States; or that we, the British, must be the pooper-scoopers for the Americans, but we are a form of intelligent little wren.

If the one thing to come out of this is that the Government have persuaded the United States to devote more attention to Northern Ireland and Israel, that is a remarkable achievement. The world in which I have worked has been trade and finance. Usually, because I could not be successful in important countries, that was in the beat-up parts of the world. Yes, it was in Iraq, Iran, Libya, Algeria, north Africa and all over the Congo—wherever there was British trade potential, I was sent because I was not sufficiently important. But if I learned anything there, it was to look at us as they see us.

Although many people dismiss the Commonwealth, and will not think of the English language, which 750 million people speak as their first language and 750 million people as their second language, and which 750 million are learning, we could say to ourselves: is it not strange that in such events it is the English-speaking forces—the Australians, the Canadians, ourselves and others—who seem to turn out? What is our role? If it is to defend ourselves, we must defend ourselves not from a physical military enemy, but from the covert world of terrorism. That can be done only by increasingly greater intelligence and co-operation.

I do not approve of the continual demands for opening of bank accounts and so on. That is another issue. But if, in defence of our realm we must take pre-emptive strikes or seek a peacekeeping role that must have international support and we need to go to war, I am not saying that we should split the Ministry of Defence into two—the Ministry of Defence and the ministry of war—but perhaps we should cost those two exercises.

We know that we are under-strength. That has been made clear. I have previously raised the point that when a regiment has only one battalion and that battalion consists of only 750 men, it does not really deserve to be called a regiment. Then one asks: "How shall we finance that?" Opposite me, I see on the Government Front Bench, with his wise eyes, the Samuel Pepys of the Labour Party. If it is worthwhile at this time, we should give it what it takes, no matter what it costs once we have costed it. Otherwise, we shall find ourselves in a permanent mess in which defence and war are mixed; in which fear is rampant; in which we frighten ourselves; and in which we will not know from where the danger comes.

That leads me to fables that I read last night by Aesop and La Fontaine. Your Lordships will recall that one spoke about mice. The mice were in council and said, "We must do something about that big bad cat". They said, "Yes, we have an idea. We will put a bell on it, so that when it arrives, we can run away". One of the council, the minister of defence, said, "Who will put the bell on the cat?" They said, "You; you are the minister of defence". He said, "Who will find the cat?" They said, "Ah, that is the job of the prime minister".

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Where is the cat? We do not know. We are in such a period of uncertainty that I must sit down as a junior sub-lieutenant, recalling the words of that great admiral, Jackie Fisher: the role of the British Army should be that of a projectile to be fired by the British Navy against God knows whom.

7.16 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I shall try to top that. I thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for initiating this debate. Perhaps I may also apologise to the House for not being present for some speeches. I had to attend a meeting on the Licensing Bill, which is to come to your Lordships' House tomorrow morning.

I begin by echoing the tribute paid by the noble Lord, Lord King, to the professionalism and courage of our troops who took part in the recent conflict. It seems not many weeks ago that I stood up and said that I was against that conflict; I do not retract that position. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that many of the scenarios that I painted, and many of my worst fears—expressed not just by me but by many noble Lords—have, thankfully, not been realised. That is all to the good.

However, one issue about the conflict that especially concerned us on these Benches was something raised several times in the debate, and by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, although he is not in his place. That is the issue of an exit strategy. That is still undecided. It cannot be forgotten that we have about a quarter of our Armed Forces—well, of our combat forces—in the Gulf at present.

Removal of our soldiers will of course rely on winning the peace. Although on 1st May, the President of the United States declared the end of major hostilities, it is depressing that 40 American servicemen have lost their lives since then, as have a large number of Iraqis—civilians and combatants. The situation is extremely volatile. Saddam Hussein is not in power, but we do not even know whether he is dead. As has been mentioned, removal of our troops and dealing with the issue of over-stretch will rely on the formation of a political authority. Of course, that issue is wide of this debate, but it is proving extremely difficult to undertake, and we wish all those who are undertaking the process of bringing about a political authority that can allow our troops to be withdrawn and the introduction of a civil authority our best.

That is particularly poignant because Sir Michael Boyce has raised the issue of whether we can undertake another campaign or whether our troops will need rest and rehabilitation for at least 18 months. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, raised the issue of the number of our number of commitments. He mentioned particularly the issue of the Congo. I support the Government wholeheartedly in our commitment to the Congo. Obviously, there is a difficulty here. I say that from the political and humanitarian aspect of our providing troops for a conflict that has cost so many millions of lives in the past few years.

However, from a military perspective, the exit strategy also raises its head. It is to be hoped that our troops will be able to pull out when the Bangladeshi

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contingency from the UN is in position later in the summer. However, there is a real danger of mission creep in the Congo. I think that we will be in the Congo for a long time. It is a situation that must be ended, but it will take more commitment not just from Britain, but from a large number of European forces and other forces to bring that disaster to an end.

The role of the reserve forces was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman. It is not my place to cover the ground that he has already gone over. Has research been done on the consequences of outflow from the reserve forces; where those people who, as a result of commitments being called upon, are considering giving up? Is this having a detrimental effect on the numbers in the reserve forces?

The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, raised the important issue of the number of men currently in the reserve forces. The situation is far more serious than is painted by the figures that are on the books of the reserve forces. Anyone who has been in the reserve forces—I served as an officer with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers—knows that when one calls up one's troops for the summer camp, one is lucky if one in four, maybe one in three, or, in a good unit, one in two, actually turn out. Obviously in some units more will turn out. Nevertheless, this is a severe problem, because it leads to one of the issues that I am most concerned about. The people who we are calling on to supplement our regular forces are those trained individuals who are most valuable.

Although I understand the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, raised about formed units going out, I do not think that formed units should be sent out on these operations. Individuals are important. We should realise that these individuals are a scarce resource. In the remit, the particular individuals that the Minister will be looking at are vehicle electricians and vehicle mechanics. It takes a long time in the reserves to train those individuals up to a high enough standard. It is possible to call them out on the first time the reserves are called up. However, if we are there for the long run, I am not sure that we will have the supplies of trained personnel to fill those roles.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised the issue of the state of the medical services. Is it true that the situation is worse this year than last year? We have had a number of debates about this issue. The Government are aware of the problem. However, it is becoming a real issue because it is affecting the treatment of our service personnel.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, mentioned the article in the Sunday Times about service personnel having to pay for private health insurance to get treatment for injuries sustained on active service. Whether there is truth in the article is the subject for another debate, and I think that we will be returning to it.

Gulf War syndrome is pertinent at this time. Recently, Sean Rusling's case went to the High Court, which said that in his case there was an issue of Gulf War syndrome. The Minister is shaking his head. Obviously that was an appeal from a tribunal. The judge said that it would be up

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to each individual to prove that he was suffering from Gulf War syndrome. Will that affect the pension rights of those service personnel who believe themselves to be suffering from Gulf War syndrome? In earlier debates, the Minister said that those incapacitated through illness will receive Army pensions. However, if they are trying to claim Gulf War syndrome and no other, it is difficult to categorise their incapacity. Will that be a case where they would receive a pension?

I will return another time to discuss the issue of depleted uranium, about which I am concerned. We do not have time to discuss it now. There is specific guidance about depleted uranium when it has been burned and turned into an aerosol. It will become an issue, not just for service personnel, but for Iraqi civilians, that the A-10s and tanks were firing depleted uranium shells into some of the ministries. After the conflict, looters set fire to those ministries, causing large clouds of burning material. Has research been undertaken into whether those clouds of burning material would disperse depleted uranium in a form that has been set out as a dangerous contaminant for our Army personnel? That would have a major effect on the wearing of gas masks in many areas in Baghdad.

I welcome the provision of the A400M, which is a valuable step forward. The C-17 has been mentioned. Has the C-17 in its present form been cost effective? I believe that it is under service contract. The mileage undertaken by the C-17s in recent years must have far exceeded what was expected.

I was going to talk about weapons of mass destruction, an issue covered by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, in his speech. However, I have run out of time, and that will be discussed in another debate. I believe that we will soon return to many of the issues that have been raised in the White Paper, and the Government will bring forward a paper on the lessons learnt from Iraq. I thank the Minister for the helpful answers he has given in the many Statements he has made.

7.27 p.m.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, this has been an informative debate clearly identifying the numerous concerns of your Lordships on defence issues. First, I express my sincere thanks to my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater for introducing the debate and for drawing so clearly to your Lordships' attention current and future problems on defence. I wholeheartedly support what he said.

I congratulate all our troops who took part in the Iraq operation for their courage, bravery and determination to win and to defeat the enemy. I know that all your Lordships are immensely proud of our troops, and they well deserve full recognition of the breathtaking success that they achieved.

However, there is one aspect which did not go well. Many of us thought that the BBC was biased in its coverage of the conflict both before and during the fighting. It gave unnecessary weight to the views of the opponents of the war and it seemed to take great delight

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in presenting the gloomiest of views of what was going on. Its overall coverage was pessimistic to say the least. This sort of attitude not only undermines the morale of the troops, but also the morale of the families who are left behind. I can only hope that, in any future conflict, the BBC will not be so thoughtless and will show more sensitivity.

Today is Waterloo Day, the day that General Sir Hussey Vivian, my ancestor, and the ancestor of my noble kinsman Lord Astor, led the final successful cavalry charge that turned the French. Personnel matters relating to his men were uppermost in his mind. It is those matters that I shall cover today.

The Armed Forces are substantially underfunded. Unless improvements are made—especially to pay and conditions of service in the Army—there may be a dramatic departure of many officers and soldiers, even though retention and recruitment have been better this year. I shall illustrate the underfunding. The defence share of GDP shows no increase since 1997; it has decreased from 2.9 per cent of GDP in 1997 to 2.3 per cent this year.

There is serious concern about the overall balance of investment in the defence budget. Too much is spent on projected high-technology equipment and not enough on servicemen and servicewomen. Of course, we must not send our troops to war badly equipped or without up-to-date equipment, but it is essential that the Armed Forces be given fair, proper and relevant pay and conditions of service.

I am convinced that some of our servicemen and servicewomen are badly underpaid, especially when their pay is compared to the starting salaries of firemen, policemen and ambulancemen who receive around 5,000 more than the initial wage of our military personnel. For instance, a fireman receives 17,982 and a soldier only 13,045. On present planning, full manning in the Armed Forces will not be achieved until 2010. However, if significant improvements were made to basic pay, achievable if the Armed Forces Pay Review Body's terms of reference were amended to allow direct comparison to civilian occupations such as the emergency services, full manning could quickly be implemented. If that is not possible, there is an immediate case for increasing significantly the "X" factor to bring overall pay to levels comparable with those in the other emergency services.

In addition to the need for an increase in pay, there are other issues. The 5 per cent increase in the longer separated service allowance, although welcome, and a proposal to reduce the qualifying period from 18 to 12 months are not enough. Perhaps the Minister will explain why that allowance could not be increased to at least 1,000 per month tax free and the accumulated turbulence bonuses increased to 5,000. Ministers should be aware—I warn them now—that there is an intense feeling of resentment that servicemen and servicewomen are being taken for granted by the Government. They are convinced that they are not getting a fair deal. The Armed Forces are intensely loyal and will always follow their orders, but I detect that many of our servicemen and servicewomen have had enough. Unless Army pay and allowances are

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realistically improved, the MoD should not show surprise if vast numbers decide to leave suddenly. Urgent action is required now—not tomorrow—to remedy the problems; otherwise it will be too late. The disintegration of our Armed Forces will have taken place.

I turn now to over-commitment. The armed services have been over-committed, and recently just under 60 per cent have been deployed on operations that cannot be sustained. Those military operations for all three services have been made more difficult because they were under strength and because units have been involved in a fire-fighting role in Operation Fresco. It will be a great relief to the Armed Forces as a whole that that strike is now over, which will allow troops to return to realistic training and once again concentrate on increasing their skill levels. There are two ways of reducing over-commitment: the first is to limit strictly the number of operations to the availability of troops; and the second is to ensure full manning by improving pay and conditions.

As at 1st April this year, the Royal Navy was 910 under trained strength; the Army was 4,850 below trained strength; and the Royal Air Force was 750 under trained strength. Although recruiting and retention have improved this year, there is a need for those servicemen and servicewomen now, especially in the Army. However, a ridiculous situation has been imposed, preventing more Army recruits than the forecast figures from joining up because the training organisation is limited and funded to the forecast number of recruits who will join and there is no leeway for surge capacities. That has meant that recruits, although fit to enlist, are not allowed to do so because there are no funds to pay them. There are neither sufficient bed spaces for them nor enough instructors to train them and give them the required care and attention in the training organisation. Furthermore, because of the new policy of capping the yearly recruit intake, full manning will now not take place until 2010. Will the Minister give an undertaking to stop capping the number of recruits so that we are able to process and train as many of them as can be enlisted to the agreed establishment?

I shall speak briefly about the possibility of future reorganisation in the Army, as mentioned in the defence debate in another place last Thursday. I would not disagree that restructuring may well have to take place if the Army is to conform to required new capabilities and a future defence policy leading to a heavy element, a rapidly deployable medium element and a light element. At this stage I do not want to be drawn into the many different arguments about which units might be reduced in the future, but I wish to make one point as forcefully as I can. Although units may be reorganised, there is no case whatever for reducing manpower levels. It makes no sense to throw away expensive trained military manpower when the Army is already below its trained strength by 4,850 personnel.

If restructuring is to take place eventually, all units should be brought up to their trained strength as quickly as possible. For instance, if the basic structure of armoured regiments is to be reduced to three tank

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squadrons, the fourth tank squadron's manpower should be reallocated to the four armoured reconnaissance regiments for them to return to a four-squadron establishment. However, the possible restructuring should not take place until other weapon systems such as the Apache helicopter and the future rapid effects system vehicles come into service. That will not be until 2010, and that does not include slippage time.

I have no time to speak about the critical situation of the Defence Medical Services. However, members of the Armed Forces and their families feel that that is another area in which they are not being properly cared for and are being taken for granted yet again. I agree with every word that my noble friend Lady Cox and my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth said. I ask the Minister to explain what improvements are planned for the situation of the DMS?

Refurbishment and rebuild of single living accommodation and married quarters are a major retention factor in all three services. The fact that only about 50 per cent of both projects has been completed so far is regarded by the services as yet another broken promise and more evidence that they are not getting a fair deal. What is the new completion date for all those projects? Why is it not possible to bring forward the completion dates from 2012 for the married quarters in Germany and for all the remaining single living accommodation in the UK and overseas? I do not believe that it is impractical to bring forward that work and advance funding more quickly. I urge the MoD to take immediate steps to do so.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, emphasised issues relating to air power and air supremacy. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, focused, among other things, on how our Armed Forces were too small and on the importance of ethos. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Vincent of Coleshill, expressed concern about the capabilities of our Armed Forces and the risks of lessening the importance of the scientific and technological base. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, wisely drew to our attention to aspects of the future. My noble kinsman, the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, made some telling points on realistic defence issues. They are all serious matters, and I ask the Minister to take particular note of what was said and to examine carefully what my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater said in his opening remarks.

I am aware that I have painted a rather gloomy picture, and I do not want to create the impression that morale is low. That is not the case; the opposite is the truth. Morale is high and servicemen and servicewomen enjoy the military tasks and the training that they carry out. However, I warn the MoD that there is a prevailing mood and feeling among servicemen and servicewomen that they are not getting a fair deal and that they are being taken for granted. Unless their pay, allowances and conditions of service are significantly improved and urgent steps taken to increase the defence budget, the Armed Forces may become so reduced that they will not have the capabilities to carry out their commitments. Immediate action is required. We must provide more money for personnel issues—it should be found now from savings

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from the equipment budget. We must limit commitments; remove the cap on recruiting; stop imposing cuts on existing trained manpower; improve the medical services; and speed up significantly the modernisation programmes for single living accommodation and married quarters.

Many noble Lords have quoted today the warning given by the Chief of the Defence Staff that we would be unable to mount a medium-scale intervention again until 2005. Now is the time to build up our forces, for the Government to be seen to care for our troops and to give them the fair deal required on the issues I have raised. That should go a long way towards providing fully manned and satisfied Armed Forces.

We have superb and outstanding Armed Forces and I thank every one of them and their families for their loyalty, hard work, dedication, determination and courage. They have risen to the difficult challenges and overcome them; they, as usual, have done what we have demanded of them. Let us now give them a fair deal and provide the conditions they need to make their lives easier.

7.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, first, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for having initiated this debate. It was about time that we had a proper defence debate in this House. He seized the moment, if I may put it like that. All noble Lords will be grateful to him for having done so. The debate, as such debates tend to be in this House, has been extremely wide-ranging and extremely expert.

Although in a friendly manner the noble Lord chided both myself and—more seriously, I think—my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for our lack of services upbringing, I have to remind him, in the spirit in which he made those remarks, that my right honourable friend has now been Secretary of State for even longer than he was himself the Secretary of State for Defence. The serious point to make here is that continuity is much appreciated in the military world. My right honourable friend has learnt a huge amount over the almost four years that he has been in office. For myself, I have now done two years which, if I remember rightly, was the length of National Service. So I feel as though I have begun to learn something about this field.

Secondly, I take this opportunity, from the Government Benches, to thank our Armed Forces for the absolutely brilliant way in which they have conducted themselves in Iraq. That is the most important aspect of the debate. I thank, too, all noble Lords who expressed that view. Our servicemen and women will know that this debate has taken place.

Although we have done so in his absence, let us now do so in his company. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his service to his

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country. He illuminates this House by the fact that he himself served in Iraq. I thank him very much for that. It is good to see him back in his place, safe and sound.

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