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Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, if the war in Iraq has proved anything, it has proved that the special contribution that British forces have made, in addition to their high professional competence and courage, has been the human factor and the skills that they have developed in peacemaking, which come of years of working and training together under a strong, self-imposed discipline. However, our defence policy seems to be driven by the need to save money in order to invest in kinetics options and high technology so that we can operate more effectively with the Americans. We should surely play from our strengths and complement their technical war-making, rather than try to match it.
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"As the post-conflict stage in Iraq has shown, a great deal more is required to achieve the objectives of an effects-based operation, than advanced military technologies in the hands of numerically small forces . . . While we note the co-operation between the MoD and the FCO at the policy level",
"The UK's future security challenges, on the scale of effort envisaged, require the retention of the existing scale of forces, plus the benefits of network enabled capability . . . as further extensive peace support operational experience has demonstrated, the UK may also be called upon to provide presence and for that there is still no substitute for numbers".
Let us not be driven by short-sighted Treasury pressure to reduce the existing platforms in advance of acquiring the new capabilities and demonstrating their effectiveness. In the case of the Navy, for instance, are we giving enough weight to the importance so clearly demonstrated in Iraq of sea-based operations independent of host nation support? The asymmetric threat, unlike our long-standing Sovbloc experience, calls for an ability to respond quickly to the unexpected. Who would have thought that such brilliant success as our Armed Forces have had in Iraq and Afghanistan, would lead to cuts, not funding?
We have to recognise the importance of training and what has been called the moral component of fighting power derived from the ethos and cohesion of individual units, putting a premium on unit and service identity. How does that square with the proposed service cuts? Treasury policy under the new resource accounting and budgeting requires the MoD to pay a charge on the assets it holds. That, and political pressure, led to the need to secure equipment at short notice for Operation TELIC because it was not on the shelf, and that highlighted our reliance on other nations for our sources of supply. That risk should not be taken again.
The FCO tooanother vital player in Iraq and Afghanistanis being effectively severely cut. How can a geographical department function as it should if half the desk officers are abolished and there is no money to visit posts? DfID, which is generously funded, is worthy, but DfID workers abroad, often outnumbering by far the embassy staff, by the nature of their work do not meet and form long-term friendships with persons of power, as good diplomats, and indeed members of the intelligence service, do. As countries in Africa and the Far East become ever more vulnerable to the operation of terrorists, whether domestic or with an international agenda, so it becomes more necessary for our representatives to be in place to learn to understand them and to be understood. Far too much of the FCO's budget is going into strengthening embassy buildings against terror attacks at the expense of funding the people who
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should be in them and who are so vital to our understanding of other cultures. You must live in a country to know it. E-mails will not do the job.
The excellent Butler report, in discussing the machinery of government, has identified a serious threat to the principles of accountability to Parliament and the people through Ministers, and of collective decision-making in the Cabinet. Under the present regime at No. 10, the role of Ministers and their ability to hold the Prime Minister and the intelligence services accountable have all profoundly changed. Since the Secretary to the Cabinet, who attends Cabinet meetings, transferred his intelligence function to the Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator, who does not, Ministers still receive excellent papers from officials, but they are not brought to Cabinet or discussed in Cabinet committees. Instead there are, we are told, frequent unscripted occasions when the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Defence Secretaries brief the Cabinet orally. Ministers will not be prepared. The Secretary to the Cabinet cannot, as he would have done in the past, add anything to the discussion and the man who could is not present.
Add to this the practice of taking decisions in No 10 on major issues on the basis of informal discussions that are not recordedthe Hutton report brought out a flood of e-mails but no formal minutesand it is difficult to see how Ministers can discharge their duty and their right to take responsibility on the vital matter of war and peace. The Butler report's measured reference to the informality and circumscribed character of the Government's procedures is deeply disturbing.
Later in the report, under "Lessons for the Future", we are warned that the dossier has set a precedent for openness and that there will be demands for Government to put intelligence into the public domain in arguing the case for a particular course of action. I share the reservations and anxieties of the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay of Cartvale.
To do what is being proposed will be fatal to intelligence recruitment and operations, since what our friends learn from this open approach our enemies will also learn. Potential sources in a most dangerous environment will simply not take the risks and we shall lose the HUMINT, which interprets the enemy's intentions and vitally complements the product of GCHQ, satellite imagery and other sources.
It was a mistake to identify relevant intelligence in the dossier instead of allowing JIC reports, as in the past, to form part of the private decision-making process under which the JIC would have contributed to Ministers' thinking and assessment along with policy consideration and much overt knowledge.
Incidentally, the JIC was careful to make it clear that although there were contacts between the Iraqi regime and Al'Qaeda, there was no evidence of co-operation. We must protect the JIC from being made, as the report says, into a tool of government. The ISC works well, and that is enough.
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I have read much of the voluminous 9/11 report by the commission in the US. The problem was, is and will be, on the one hand, a flood of detail from NSA, GCHQ, the FBI, the CIA, liaison services, the Immigration Service and so forth; and, on the other hand, a lack in the CIA of enough competent linguists and specialists with the field experience to make assessments. The SIS too has had such problems. In the past few years there have been lean times which led to severe reduction after the first Afghan war in, for instance, experienced operational cadres who were Arabic and, it seems, some dangerous cost-cutting on the validation side.
It takes time to transfer field resources, already limited, from one target to another, particularly when the requirement is both for first-hand operational experience of the cultural and geographical area and for some highly technical knowledge of new targets. On both fronts it seems the service was seriously under-resourced. Even so, it has had some remarkable successes, for which the Butler report gives due credit.
Today the requirement is not only to produce intelligence on the undeclared and secret intentions of coherent governments but also to cover an amorphous inchoate octopus: a network of individuals; a shifting target very difficult to penetrate. It is one thing to have a mass of detail from technical and other sources which takes precious time, in a fast-moving scene, to interpret. It is quite another to get inside the mind of a terrorist with whom, unlike a potential Soviet defector or agent in place, there is no common cultural or political ground and no incentive for the target to make any relationship outside a closed circle.
This is a dangerous world, not least because Russia, for instance, despite significant investment by the UK, the EU and the US, still has nearly 40 tonnes of chemical weapons, has not started the destruction and wants the destruction deadline advanced to 2012. Russian bureaucratic delays are preventing action, already funded, on plutonium disposition, and we can be sure that weapons and knowledge are being sold and that Russia has neither the will nor the effective security resources to prevent this.
I hope with all my heart that my former service will be left to get on with the job it can do so well if it is properly resourced and that John Scarlett, an officer with a distinguished record of high professionalism and courage, will be supported in the excellent job of which he is capable.
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We are committed to Iraq and nothing should prevent us from using the great skill and dedication of our soldiers, diplomats and the many ordinary, committed men and women, both Iraqi and British, and not least, the courage and farsightedness of the Minister.
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