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Lord Triesman: My Lords, I am certainly never going to advocate selection by procedures in smoke-filled rooms; I cannot stand cigarette smoke.

It is our wish to see the appointment of the best person who meets the criteria, not simply the serving of some sort of geographical term, as that would not necessarily produce that result. The one thing that I would say about the selection process is that it is inevitable, if we are candid about it, that the person selected will need to be able to work with the major powers. That is just a reality. The process should be as transparent as possible, and it is bound to be the case that everyone will want to see candidates—and then a candidate—emerging with that capability.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, would it not be appropriate for a Government who, I trust, support stronger global institutions to launch an initiative on a reconsideration of how the Secretaries-General of not just the United Nations but of a number of other international agencies are appointed? The way in which the IMF and the World Bank appointments were made
 
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seems to have followed outdated bargains struck between the Europeans and the Americans rather too long ago. We have had difficulties appointing the Secretary-General of the World Trade Organisation. Would it not be helpful if the British Government made proposals on how we might improve the process of selecting the leaders of global institutions?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, perhaps I may, with the greatest respect, restrict my answer to the United Nations. It would take a long and significant debate to deal with the Bretton Woods financial institutions because of the particular functions that they serve.

It is my understanding that the members of the United Nations in general are confident about the Security Council process for arriving at the nomination of a candidate, followed by the election of that person by the United Nations as a whole. It would benefit from greater transparency, as would all the processes, but it would be unwise to shake loose something on which the international community has agreed as a process. In general, getting that kind of agreement is pretty hard.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I recognise that we all want to see the best person possible become the next Secretary-General of the United Nations, but does my noble friend feel that, in view of the fact that leaders of the G8 countries recently met to address major issues of global warming and making poverty history in Africa and in order to secure the best possible strength and influence in a Secretary-General, he or she should come from one of the G8 countries?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I do not reach that conclusion. Kofi Annan does not come from that background. I saw at first hand the extraordinary impact that he had on the discussions at Gleneagles. He was one of the great forces for making progress in the areas of deep concern to the United Kingdom. So, it is possible to do it, with respect to my noble friend, without being a member of the G8. Whoever it is, he or she needs to have the confidence of the Security Council, the G8 and others, which is why there is bound to be some discussion in the run-up. I do not think that it has to be a G8 member.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, notwithstanding—

Lord Grocott: My Lords, it is time for the next Question.

HMS "Invincible"

11.23 am

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My Lords, although HMS "Invincible" will be placed into very low readiness later this year, she will remain available to the Royal Navy until she is withdrawn from service in 2010. This measure has long been planned and in no way jeopardises the Navy's current operational commitments.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. In the light of his Answer, what is the monetary value that will be released by the government plans for this fine ship, and when will those resources be available to fund other defence purposes?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, the resources that will be released by putting "Invincible" into a state of very low readiness are already part of the overall plan we are using to focus logistics support on ships that are undertaking high-priority tasks. This is already happening. These are tasks where we require ships at high readiness, and we need to make sure that these ships that we are most likely to need are available. It is also in the context of the very significant investment which we are making into new warship building, which is going on at present. A very substantial number of ships—eight ships—are currently being built.

Lord Boyce: My Lords, the untimely decommissioning of "Invincible", together with the lower levels of readiness in the Fleet institutionalised by the MoD some months ago because of lack of in-year cash, makes the Navy even less able to play its part in delivering the Government's ever more hollow-sounding mantra "force for good". Will the Minister say which Royal Navy directed "force for good" tasks being done prior to April 2004 are not now being done as a result of last year's unwise slashing of six perfectly capable and modern destroyer frigates from the front line?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord raises the issue of the changes that need to take place in the application of the Royal Navy to the operations that we face today. As we announced, the reduction that we have made to the destroyer and frigate fleet maintains the Royal Navy's ability to respond to a wide range of contingencies including war fighting. What we are doing in shifting these resources is to make sure that the Navy, like our other Armed Forces, is able to meet the changing nature of the threat which this country faces, and the demands on this country in terms of its involvement in both humanitarian and nation-building tasks. We are going through a process of very important change and reform. We should congratulate the Armed Forces on the way in which they are rising to this challenge and on the way in which this process is being managed. The effect is clear that the Navy is able to respond to the task it will be asked to do.

Lord Garden: My Lords, how will we meet one specific commitment under the Helsinki headline goal, where we declared with a fanfare of trumpets that we
 
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would have a carrier available at 60 days' readiness? What length is the Minister's extended low readiness—is it 60 days? I suggest that it is probably rather longer than that.

Lord Drayson: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. Very low readiness means that the ship, HMS "Invincible", will be placed into reserve. Bringing the ship out of this state of very low readiness will take approximately 18 months.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Drayson: However, my Lords, the principle under which this is done is based on the identification of the needs which the Royal Navy will be tasked to undertake in the future. Those operational tasks require the ability to respond in a Carrier Strike capability—basically an aircraft carrier which has fast jets—or in support of an amphibious landing which can be addressed by a landing-platform helicopter ship, such as HMS "Ocean", or a carrier with helicopters on board.

This plan allows us to meet that requirement. The way in which we are going through the process of refitting our aircraft carriers through to the time when we will have the new carriers available is one which has been planned to take into account the operational requirements which we envisage.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, is it not the case that the withdrawal of the Sea Harrier force has made the continuing running on of HMS "Invincible" unnecessary?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord raises an important point relating to the Sea Harrier. We recognise that the withdrawal of the Sea Harrier will leave a temporary degradation in the outer layer of air maritime defence for task groups between the withdrawal of the Sea Harrier in 2006 and the arrival of the joint combat aircraft. But the task groups have the layers of defence which we regard as being sufficient to reduce the operational risk. The nature of the expeditionary operations which we envisage the Royal Navy needs to undertake in the future means that the provision of aircraft carriers, such as "Invincible", or landing-platform helicopter carriers, such as "Ocean", is vital. The reason why we need the new carriers coming forward, which is a very significant investment, is to follow the existing "Invincible" class carriers going out of service.


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