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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I do not know why it was decided that the European Commission should be represented at this juncture by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, myself and the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, who was one of the best secretary-generals the Commission ever had. But I think we
 
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have to put up with that. In future it would be rather better if the contributions made by those representing the old Commission were more spaced out.

I should also like to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, in welcoming my noble friends Lord Drayson and Lord Triesman in their exacting and exciting roles. I wish them every possible success.

As the past chairman and past president of the Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea, I begin by saying that the organisation owes a tremendous debt to two of its supporters now deceased: Lord Callaghan and Lord Campbell of Croy. The former, long before becoming Prime Minister, established ACOPS, in 1952, and remained involved in its affairs. Indeed, just a few days before he died he wrote to me saying that his son Michael would be an invaluable member of the ACOPS executive. I am glad to say that he now is. Lord Campbell of Croy was also a valuable colleague. I am indebted to him for the advice that he proffered throughout his career.

I should like to deal in this speech with two themes: climate change and Europe. In a few weeks' time Britain will assume the European Union presidency and I hope that environmental sustainability will be one of the main topics that it takes up. In that connection I should like to declare an interest as president of the British Airline Pilots Association, which has long been conscious of misgivings about climate change. I am delighted, through its outgoing chief executive, that British Airways has expressed both anxieties and opportunities on this score.

The third runway at Heathrow, which we hope will be constructed between 2015 and 2020, will be dependent on our ability to effect stringent environmental criteria for enhancing air quality and limiting noise in both the air and on the land. Global warming must feature in aviation's future, and concentration on reducing CO2 emissions and other deleterious effects of jet aircraft in the upper atmosphere is a must. Environmentally friendly aircraft design, ways to achieve shorter routings, the employment of alternative methods of aircraft descent—a raft of measures—are absolutely essential. Above all, the application of cleaner technology together with a viable system of emissions trading between airlines will become part and parcel of that process.

Rod Eddington, BA's outgoing chief executive, had this to say in our parliamentary magazine:

I think he is absolutely right.

I turn to my second theme, Europe. In my view it is profoundly mistaken to believe that Britain's future should be unduly influenced by George Bush and the neo-cons. They have failed to establish their bona fides. They were guilty of a colossal misjudgment about Iraq. Since the war the toll in death and injury of both military and civilians has been immense. But we should not forget that Saddam Hussein's lethal contribution before the war was also unforgivable.
 
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The campaign launched against Tony Blair during the recent election did not attain the standards of fairness that the British people were entitled to expect. Ultimately, the Conservatives—to some extent, at all events—paid for that. I believe that the Prime Minister was honestly misled. But Iraq has happened and withdrawal now would be misconceived. We should concentrate on the task of reconstruction, as my noble friend Lord Drayson has argued.

Regarding the European Union, we must get off the fence as soon as possible and demonstrate our commitment to making the Union work for the benefit of all its citizens. The limbo in which we float at present will only marginalise our country in the long term. We do not have to be subservient to everything proposed within the European Union, but negative posturing can only undermine the benefits of a united Europe. We have to be seen to be involved, helping to shape its future, and by doing so our voice will carry more weight not just on European affairs but on foreign policy issues at large such as the Middle East.

It follows that the constitutional treaty, even if it is not entirely to our liking—no compromise can ever do that—should in principle be supported. It points the way for a multilateral partnership which we fervently hope will establish prosperity and peace.

12.49 pm

Lord Freeman: My Lords, on behalf of the Conservative Back Benches, I welcome the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson. His is a difficult job, as he is responsible for some £10 billion in expenditure. I know that I speak on behalf of my colleagues when I say that the assured and clear way in which he opened the debate bodes well for the Ministry of Defence. We warmly welcome him. I notice that two of his predecessors in that post, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, are attending this debate.

I declare an interest as chairman of one of the larger defence contractors. The defence industry pays tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who bore his responsibilities with good humour and common sense. He always bore the blandishments and lobbying of the industry with good humour. We wish him well in his new job.

I will concentrate on military personnel. I feel somewhat nervous as I normally follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, who has far greater experience than me in this field. I have a feeling that we will both be singing from the same hymn sheets. I declare an interest as president of the Council of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association in the United Kingdom. I will speak briefly and make three points. First, the regular forces are undergoing great change and challenge at present. As the Minister described it when he opened the debate, we need to modernise our Armed Forces. All of us would agree with that. We have had substantial and significant reorganisation of our infantry; the concentration of the Army, Navy and Air Force into super-garrisons and super-Air Force bases; and greater concentration on our naval ports.
 
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All that inevitably creates upheaval and, incidentally, a smaller footprint of the regular Armed Forces in the country.

I look around your Lordships' House and I wonder how many noble Lords served National Service. It is a fact that anyone now under the age of 65 will not have done National Service. If we look forward to such longevity as that of my noble friend Lord Renton, perhaps there will be some who will serve in this place for many years to come who have that experience, but I suspect that in the other place there are very few with direct knowledge of the armed services. The connection between our regular servicemen and our civilian population is becoming thinner all the time.

Of course, we have continuing assignment responsibilities of our regular forces. We have heard about Iraq, and I pay compliment to our servicemen in Sierra Leone, where I recently visited. I hope that the training team will remain and that UNAMSIL, the United Nations force that has had a significant input from British forces, will continue, albeit on a reduced basis, for some time to come. The noble Lord, Lord Garden, referred to the fact that perhaps next year our servicemen will be asked in increasing numbers to go to Afghanistan.

Those all are elements of unsettlement in our regular forces, and the Ministers of the Crown must balance political commitments that are made against capabilities. In the past we have not got that balance quite right. It is attractive for governments to make commitments and then try to sort out the supply of capability later. I well remember the occasion, now over 15 years ago, when the Secretary-General of the United Nations came to the Ministry of Defence and said plainly, "Whenever there is a peacekeeping requirement in the world or a need for intervention by UN forces, we would look to the United Kingdom first". That was a great compliment, and I suspect that those pressures are still present. Yes, United Kingdom forces will always respond but, for heaven's sake, within reason.

Secondly, I praise the contribution of the voluntary reserves in Iraq. The voluntary reservists who have already served in Iraq are equivalent to 16 battalions. At some stages of the conflict they reached almost 20 per cent of the total forces present—that is additional to naval and Air Force volunteers. There are some storm clouds on the horizon. The manning of voluntary forces, certainly for the Territorial Army, is now at 80 per cent of establishment, and falling. Recruitment is reasonable but retention is poor, and one must ask oneself why. It is partly because the officers and senior NCOs of the reserve forces have been sent to Iraq, in many cases leaving other ranks with no leadership and no indication of their precise future role, which has not been good for morale.

We have the continued closure of Territorial Army centres. If we are going to rebalance the infantry it is important that the Territorial Army, and indeed all reservists, maintain as wide a geographic base in this country as possible to preserve contact with the civilian population. I am afraid that there are signs
 
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that some employers of our reservists are beginning to be concerned about the frequency of call-up. I strongly recommend that the Government should enshrine in legislation the limitation that no one should or could be called up twice in a five-year period.

Finally, there is an exciting gleam of hope in connection with the treatment of young offenders who are threatened with exclusion from school. The Armed Forces are playing an important role in an initiative called Skill Force Development. In particular some warrant officers, who leave the forces in the order of 20,000 to 25,000 a year, are now being enlisted into Skill Force. It is financed by the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Education and Skills, and charities. They are now active in 130 schools up and down the country. They take those pupils who teachers believe might be candidates for permanent exclusion and offer them training for one day a week in life skills and adventure training if they go back to school for the other four days a week and qualify for their exams.

That is an excellent initiative, and I congratulate the Government on it. I say so in a bipartisan way. The initiative was tried some 25 years ago but it did not make progress; now it has done, and it needs to be encouraged. It is one way in which former servicemen and women can make a real contribution to the standards of behaviour of young people, and I commend it to the House.

12.58 pm


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