Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

22 Nov 2007 : Column 928

Lord Geddes: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the report of the European Union Committee of your Lordships’ House? If he is not, I draw his attention to it. The report was conducted by Sub-Committee B, of which I had the honour to be a member, and investigated this subject in considerable depth. It is well worth reading.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I cannot promise that it will be my weekend reading but I will read it very soon.

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, we must take some great satisfaction from the fact that prices have been reduced throughout Europe on mobile phone usage. Are there any plans to repeat those reductions with respect to data and SMS texting?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I think there are such proposals. The Commission has made it clear that it is monitoring the costs of short messaging and multimedia messaging services offered by the phone companies. If the prices charged for such services while abroad do not come down, the Commission is likely to propose a regulation along the lines of the mobile roaming regulation. We would have to see the precise terms of that proposal before we took a view.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the extensive use of text messaging has had a most damaging effect on the use of proper English, spelling and grammar, and that this is particularly dangerous for young people?

Lord Bach: My Lords, without agreeing entirely with the noble Lord, I have a huge amount of sympathy with what he has just said.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, what particular expressions of satisfaction have the Government received from consumers and consumer organisations on this subject?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am not in a position to bring before the House any particular letters I might have on file, but it is generally agreed by the Commission, the European Parliament, the British Government and, I believe, consumers who use mobile phones abroad, that the agreement is highly satisfactory.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, did the Government challenge the data presented in the Times on 25 October?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the relevant Minister appeared on “Channel 4 News” and made it clear that we consider this to be a successful conclusion. So far as the Times is concerned, if we challenged every newspaper article we would spend our time doing nothing else. The noble Baroness will know that newspapers do not always get it right.

22 Nov 2007 : Column 929

Climate Change: Bangladesh

11.30 am

Baroness Uddin asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the UK’s objectives in Bali include pushing for a long-term stabilisation of greenhouse gas emissions. This is a primary concern for Bangladesh, which is one of the countries most affected by climate change. We will also press for a framework for action on adaptation, emphasising the needs of vulnerable developing countries such as Bangladesh. The UK is helping the Government of Bangladesh to prepare their position paper for Bali.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply. Will she join me in commending the efforts of the aid agencies and the British-Bangladeshi diaspora in assisting in the current crisis? Does she agree that some of the recent calamities in Bangladesh and elsewhere are due to global warming and climate change? Will she assure the House that, in any forthcoming discussion on climate change and global warming, her department will give serious consideration to their impact on the long-term viability of countries such as Bangladesh so that they can defend their land and their people?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am happy to pay tribute to the aid agencies working on the ground in Bangladesh and to the diaspora for the way in which they have rallied round. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has issued a statement today which pays tribute to many of those people. The Government certainly agree that the recent events in Bangladesh are a result of climate change. It is clear that developing countries are feeling its impact and that it will make their work in tackling poverty much more difficult. That is why the Government are pushing for a way in which adaptation to the effects of climate change can be dealt with at Bali and by the UN in general.

Earl Cathcart: My Lords, will the Government take advantage of the assembled international community at the Bali conference to discuss the international market in carbon credits, which could be used to support countries such as Bangladesh? If so, does the Minister think it important to have in those negotiations a precise percentage for the amount of overseas carbon credits that the Government will allow to be used in meeting the Government’s own target for reducing carbon emissions, and what figure does she have in mind?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, this is of course one of the issues that the Government will discuss with their partners at Bali—it is one of the

22 Nov 2007 : Column 930

most important. I regret that the figures that the Government will discuss are outwith the scope of this Question and I do not have them in front of me. However, I shall certainly write to the noble Earl.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I recognise the acute anxiety that is caused to the people of Bangladesh by this issue but will the Minister confirm that the shipping and aviation industries are co-operating fully with the Government in their efforts to deal with climate change?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Government are in discussions with the shipping and aviation industries. They will have a profound impact on the way in which we deal with climate change. I hope that those discussions will continue to be constructive, as they are at present.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, given the effect of climate change especially on the poorest countries such as Bangladesh, and on us all through increased conflict and migration, what are the Government doing to assist Bangladesh and other poor countries to include adaptation to climate change in their development plans? Given that adaptation will be addressed in Bali, will disaster risk reduction be central to it?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, disaster reduction will be part of the discussions and the framework. At policy level, DfID is helping the Government of Bangladesh to develop their national change strategy and their action plan, but we are also assisting them practically to come to terms with the issue of climate change. We are in the process of approving a £30 million programme to address in a comprehensive manner climate change-related issues in Bangladesh. We are also doing many other practical things, such as assisting the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that river island dwellers’ houses are put up on stilts or raised earth so that the impact of climate change is much less on them. I am very pleased to report that, in the recent floods, of the 32,000 houses that have been put on raised earth or stilts, only one was washed away. That shows that these very practical adaptations are working.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, on a day when the House is about to debate the vital issue of defence and security, we should all recognise that what global warming is already doing in terms of human suffering, death and destruction amounts to one of the greatest threats facing humanity? It will also have immense implications for future migration across the world. Does my noble friend further agree that it is absolutely right for the Government to make this the priority, above all other priorities, in their approach to policy?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend and I am glad that the Government are making climate change a priority in this country with the Climate Change Bill and also on the international scene. This Government,

22 Nov 2007 : Column 931

along with such people as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, are pushing for an action programme that will assist developing countries to tackle climate change. This is a global problem and we are treating it in a global manner.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was published last Sunday, have the Government had any bilateral discussions with the Government of Bangladesh on the implications for that country, bearing in mind that the IPCC predicts that on present trends some areas of south Asia will be permanently inundated by 2050? Will the Government seek to agree with Bangladesh on more robust targets to be arrived at in Bali?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I do not know whether in the past week the Government have discussed that specific issue with the Government of Bangladesh. The Government’s priorities during the past week have been to assist them in dealing with the outcome of the cyclone and recent floods. However, the implications of climate change are very high up on the agenda, as is trying to ensure that both developed and developing countries have targets on emissions that must be met.

Alcohol Labelling Bill [HL]

11.37 am

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for the labelling of alcoholic beverages; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Business of the House: Debate Today

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of Baroness Park of Monmouth set down for today shall be limited to five hours.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Armed Forces

11.38 am

Baroness Park of Monmouth rose to call attention to the planning, action, and support required to enable the Armed Forces to meet the long- and short-term challenges facing them; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I welcome the presence here of so many noble Lords, and especially noble and gallant Lords, who can speak with authority and passion about a major national crisis

22 Nov 2007 : Column 932

and a major national scandal. We have had many such debates on defence since I entered this House in 1991, but I have never addressed the issue with such a heavy heart nor with such indignation.

I should not have made planning one of the aims of this debate. The Armed Forces are in the dangerous situation that they now occupy because successive Governments have planned, as in the Strategic Defence Review and the White Papers since 1997, but have never been prepared to provide the funding or to examine the consequences of the commitments into which they have entered. My own party, believing that the collapse of the Soviet regime in Russia had removed the strategic threat, proceeded to close two out of three service hospitals and in 1996 allowed the Treasury to put through the sale of the married quarters estate and a number of other valuable MoD properties, including the drill halls in county towns, which had been a vital part of recruitment. These two acts had continuing adverse consequences for service recruitment and, above all, for the well-being of service families.

The Government, however, have been in power for 10 years. In that time, the Armed Forces have been continuously involved in interventions—in the Balkans, in Afghanistan twice, in the Gulf twice and in military aid to the civil power elsewhere year after year. Year after year they have been more and more inadequately funded and equipped to do more and more tasks.

The new defence aim reported to Parliament in 2003 was,

Twenty-eight military tasks are recorded, apart from the main mission, and eight subordinate large military tasks in the White Paper. I will read noble Lords the forthright comments of the chairman of the Defence Committee in the other place commenting on the 2003 Defence White Paper:

There have been enough plans, both strategic and tactical. HMG should be acting to maintain forces adequately equipped and trained to deal with the growing asymmetric threat, not least in the now unstable state of Pakistan—a nuclear power where forces are based which constitute a possible threat to our troops in Afghanistan. There are also possible threats from Iran, in terms of fomenting unrest in the Middle East, and jihadism based in Saudi Arabia. We cannot discount possible action from Russia in terms

22 Nov 2007 : Column 933

of interventions supporting Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Syria’s possible intentions in Lebanon and Iraq.

Russia, which is rearming extensively—its defence budget for this year is £16 billion and it is reported that a £94 billion programme for rearmament is planned—remains an important player by proxy in the Middle East. Russia no longer considers itself bound by the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. An ominous response has been the reported move by Poland’s new Government to consider withdrawing from their commitment to allow the US to base part of a missile defence system in Poland. Russian officials are said to have given warning that the US plan could lead to a new arms race.

Much will depend on the EU's readiness to stand up to Russian bullying. If we indeed regard our commitment in Afghanistan as open-ended, we must expect some years of military commitment and the possible escalation by pro-Taliban forces to gain control in Pakistan. Our NATO allies in Europe, never in most cases very robust, will gradually fade away.

We do not know what call may be made on our military resources to fight an asymmetric war, to protect our borders, to protect the integrity of UK waters and airspace, to support the civil power in times of flood or internal unrest or to carry out disaster relief, as we come to the succour of Commonwealth countries in emergency. All those possible tasks are recognised, with many others. Incidentally, I wonder how much of the €10 billion Galileo is now going to cost—the original estimate was €4 billion—we shall have to pay.

All these possible tasks are recognised, but who will carry them out and with what training and equipment? We have commitments to the EU, the AU, the UN and NATO. Parliament, through the Defence Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and other respected bodies, such as the National Audit Office and the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, has repeatedly warned over the years that our defence capability is at serious risk. Still the Treasury and the Government continue to starve the forces year after year, while the Government continue to pile more tasks on them. The MoD itself has been far from blameless. Even at this critical time, when not a day passes without more reports of serious overstretch—aircraft which ought not to be flying, a shortage of helicopters because there are no instructors, let alone an absolute failure in the duty of care—the MoD this week says that it intends to publish a White Paper on service personnel next spring. It will,

and move to encourage recruitment. Once more it is jam tomorrow, never jam today. Both strategically and practically, the defence of the realm is in greater danger than for many years. There is one major cause and one single remedy—resources, both human and financial.

It is now widely admitted that the military covenant is breaking down. Because so many noble and gallant Lords are here today who can speak with authority on the military issues, I shall concentrate on

22 Nov 2007 : Column 934

the duty of care. That has been for too long ignored. The Government are prepared year after year to use and exploit our Armed Forces but not to pay them fairly, whether in money, decent quarters or security for their families, nor to provide enough equipment for satisfactory training. Three major bodies, the Public Accounts Committee, the Defence Committee and the National Audit Office, are unanimous in stating the urgent need for the human needs of the troops and the families to be addressed. The Armed Forces Pay Review Body quotes the Chancellor’s view that pay settlements should be guided by the 2 per cent CPI inflation target and “affordability” within departmental resources.

The Secretary of State for Defence emphasised that affordability was a key concern in determining the pay award. A “fair pay” award needed to be set against the MoD's priorities for targeted measures. The NAO's report on recruitment and retention identifies the crucial pinch points, including, incidentally, the severe lack of doctors; without the Territorial Army I do not know what we would do. The defence White Paper sums up the policy as,

The MoD today is working within the 2007-08 defence budget, which was set in 2004. Pay recommendations which exceeded provision—that is, above the “affordable” 2 per cent—would threaten other objectives, yet operational demands on serving soldiers have greatly increased. The Government must understand that they are not dealing with a piece of equipment but with that indispensable item, human beings, who cannot postpone living for five years to suit the budget cycle.

Unfortunately, as the White Paper recognises, network defence capability,

There has to be investment in equipment and systems, but also in training the people who operate them.

The redoubtable Lizzie Iron, then chairman of the Army Families Federation, wrote in 2004 to the then Under-Secretary of State, having presumably been told yet once more that there was no money:

Mounting political commitments are making it impossible to train the forces to wage high-density warfare, which is their primary military task and one which cannot be achieved at the last minute. Our defence forces are not primarily a political weapon, and neither the Treasury nor the FCO are the right people to make the strategy. Action is needed before it is too late to address the military tasks and needs of the defence forces, and, incidentally, to complement our seriously attenuated military capacity by restoring some of the worldwide diplomatic presence we once enjoyed. This not only nourishes our relations with other countries and promotes our trade, but has provided safe bases for our intelligence gatherers and the means to negotiate naval bases when they are required in emergency. They also forewarn us of threats.

22 Nov 2007 : Column 935

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page