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Lord Boyce: My Lords, I too welcome this debate. It allows me to pay tribute to all our armed services for the outstanding work they are doing, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan but also all around the world. They are rightly admired in all quarters for how they go about their business, whether it is war fighting, peacekeeping or defence diplomacy, and this country derives huge hidden benefits from that in all sorts of ways. In particular—this can be inferred from the speech of the Minister in the debate on the humble Address—when this Government have been sitting at various international top tables, they have been especially pleased to bask in the glow of the fine reputation of our Armed Forces as they have engaged over the past 10 years in levels of activity that far exceed defence planning assumptions. But I am afraid that the merciless trading on the good will and

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professionalism of our soldiers, sailors and airmen has not been matched by anything remotely approaching the same level of commitment by the Government in cash or in kind.

We see this best when observing the deflation of the defence budget as a percentage of gross domestic product versus inflation in activity against the assumptions of our defence policy, and inflation in the cost of defence equipment, which is running at something in the order of 8 to 12 per cent. And the so-called year-on-year increases that the Government continue to boast about have first to be measured against the initial underfunding of the defence aspirations set out in the Strategic Defence Review. It is an absolute fact that none of the year-on-year increases has closed that initial gap, let alone provided for the concomitant rise needed to match the soaring levels of activity which are taking a matching toll on man and machine.

As for the derisory Comprehensive Spending Review settlement that defence was given in July, let us examine the detail of that 1.5 per cent budget increase that the Government were so pleased to announce. First, the Minister will no doubt be extremely reluctant to remind us that the replacement strategic deterrent will have to be absorbed into that 1.5 per cent. This really does display a cynical observance of the promise made by the then Prime Minister that the cost of the Trident replacement would,

I said in this House at the time of the debate on the nuclear deterrent replacement that:

I leave your Lordships to draw your own conclusions. But further to this, can the Minister confirm that the ring-fenced defence modernisation fund and the operational welfare package benefits that the Secretary of State for Defence was trumpeting about in last week’s Sunday Telegraph are also to come out of that 1.5 per cent? I submit that they are, and the fact is that the smoke and mirrors work of the Government, and in particular the Treasury, actually means that the core defence programme has had no effective budget rise at all. If one could cut to the truth, which is a really challenging task, we would find that it is in fact negative, especially if one extracts the £550 million to be spent on slum accommodation that should have replaced years ago.

This negative budget is why, if you go to the Ministry of Defence today, you will find blood on the floor as the system slashes the defence programme to meet what is a desperate funding situation. You will find—I know this—measures being examined to cut the future equipment programme, as well as reducing the present front line and its support. I fear in particular for the Royal Navy, where already the destroyer/frigate force level has haemorrhaged to 25 from the required 32 set out in the Strategic Defence Review of nine years ago. It seems that further reductions are likely, and these on a fleet that is still

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damaged by the savage moratorium on fleet support that was instigated by this Government a couple of years ago and from which, although lifted earlier this year, it will take at least a decade to recover, if at all.

Incidentally, I hope that the Minister can assure us that the Ministry of Defence is still not clinging to the strategically illiterate opinion that network enabled capability allows for a reduction in basic force numbers. Such a theory, of which Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was such an unfortunate and dangerous exponent, has been comprehensively trashed by experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Network enabled capability and force reduction certainly do not apply in the maritime domain where I remain to be convinced that the Ministry of Defence has woken up to the fact that a ship cannot be in two places at the same time, and that the importance of presence, which is so fundamental to conflict prevention, demands more and not fewer hulls.

On that—if the Minister does not already know, she will find out—this Government have ordered only eight warships since 1997, of which only four were destroyers and frigates. In the same period, 57 ships have been disposed of, of which 13 were destroyers and frigates, the workhorses of the fleet. Some of those disposed of were in fact younger than the ships they replaced. I believe that the destroyer/frigate level is far too low to meet the challenges of the long term. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what is going to happen to Nos. 7 and 8 Type 45 destroyers, and whether the Future Surface Combatant will be brought into service to fill the place of the Type 23s as they start to age out in the next decade.

On further specifics, such as the equipment for our people in theatre in Afghanistan and Iraq, no doubt the Minister will trot out the line that all they require has been met, as the Secretary of State attempted to imply in another part of his piece in the Sunday Telegraph. However, let us remind ourselves that to achieve this, some £2.2 billion has had to be spent on urgent operational requirements, demonstrating the impoverishment of the defence programme. But what the Prime Minister, the Treasury and Defence Ministers need to realise is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, we are seriously endangering our people because of the lack of money being given to equip, train and support properly those in the second line preparing to rotate to the front line, not least because such units have been robbed—I use the word advisedly because it is a technical expression for cannibalising, known as “store robbing”—of the equipment they need to train on so as to arrive in theatre properly prepared; and they have been robbed of that equipment because it has been used to furnish those already in the front line. The additional danger into which this puts our Armed Forces is entirely down to a shortage of cash, a shortage that could easily be remedied if the Government were so minded.

Let me turn for a moment to the future. I worry that, with the inadequate budget that the Armed Forces have, there will be a not unnatural focus on shoring up what is required to fight today’s war. The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, to whom I am also grateful for having initiated the debate today,

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has already mentioned this. We are at serious risk of undermining what we may require to fight tomorrow’s war, and we can be fairly sure it will not be the same war as we are engaged in today in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope that there is recognition of the need to think beyond a hand-to-mouth policy, which is where we are today.

Let me, for example, dwell on the sea. It remains the way by which the world conducts most of its trade; it is the only undisputed access to areas of strategic interest that can be guaranteed; and it remains crucial to the United Kingdom’s economic vitality and ability to protect our interests. Early crisis management cannot depend on host nation support and over flying rights, and maritime forces are likely to be the principal way to apply decisive influence and force in any early stages of a crisis. However, I suspect that with the overall shortage of money for defence, there is a danger of the Navy being raided to pay for today’s land-centric operations. I ask the Minister to reassure the House that this fear is not justified.

The message is clear: the Government, especially the Treasury, still have a completely peacetime mentality. For all the Government’s platitudes about commitment and caring for our Armed Forces, the visible sign of this is conspicuous by its absence when we see a budget that so inadequately resources our Armed Forces’ levels of activity. Certainly commitment is starkly absent when we see the appointment of Ministers who are not devoted solely to their task, as shown by the double-hatting of the Secretary of State and the previous Minister for Defence Equipment and Support.

I make absolutely no apology for raising this subject again; it is very serious. It is seen as an insult by our sailors, soldiers and airmen on the front line—I know because I often have reason to speak to them—and it is certainly a demonstration of the disinterest and, some might say, contempt that the Prime Minister and his Government have for our Armed Forces. It shows an appalling lack of judgment at a time when our people are being killed and maimed. It is not for nothing that the Chief of the General Staff has said that his people feel undervalued. They really do deserve far better from the Government.

12.53 pm

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, if the Minister takes up the suggestion of my noble friend Lord King to invite the Prime Minister to read this debate in Hansard, I hope that she will consider asking him to start with the deeply disturbing, passionate and informed speech that we have just heard. There is not very much left to be said, but apparently it needs to be said time and again for all the notice that the Government take of it. In congratulating my noble and redoubtable friend Lady Park on initiating the debate, I shall add one or two reflections of my own.

I begin, perhaps rather surprisingly, by expressing my gratitude to the Chief of the General Staff for the exceptionally thorough and authentic briefing that he gave to your Lordships’ Defence Study Group two or three days ago in Portcullis House. It was attended by many other people, which evidenced the deep anxiety

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felt by so many for the welfare and well-being of our Armed Forces today. The Chief of the General Staff provided a presentation that was entirely soldierly. There was a very firm commitment on the part of the Armed Forces to carry out the wishes of their political masters, but there was an underlying motif that their masters must will the means.

Much of the briefing was encouraging, particularly in the field of improved equipment for those on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan—and not before time, we would all say. It was good to hear the commander of the heavily engaged and recently returned Mercian Regiment battle group say that he had felt fully empowered for the battle group’s task. He praised in particular the Mastiff vehicle, for whose procurement we owe a great deal to the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, whose departure we continue to lament and be puzzled by.

Nevertheless, it was not possible—and, for my part, it remains impossible—to put out of mind certain contrasts between that briefing and the tone and content of the leaked alleged CGS briefing team report which was carried on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph two days previously. General Dannatt very properly declined to comment upon a leaked document and he denounced leaking, but the document as reported seemed to carry the ring of authenticity. In particular, it spoke of the consequences for good will for the Army from its members, and their families, by reason of the great pressure their service is imposing upon them. We have all heard a great deal of anecdotal evidence to confirm this.

The Minister will be all too familiar with the Sunday Telegraph front-page story. However, it will not be necessary for her to allude in any way to the alleged leak if in her reply she deals with three specific questions of fact which are highly relevant to the debate. First, is there now a recognised problem of soldiers going sick to get out of the Army? If so, what is the reason? Secondly, are the target times between operational tours now typically not being met and being shortened—the so-called “harmony guidelines”? Thirdly, is leave often cancelled or constrained because of operational overstretch? These questions are crucial to the fairness or otherwise of what the Army is being asked to do today.

I should like to move from the immediate circumstances of the Army to consider the quite separate aspect of the impact upon our historic defence capabilities brought about by the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan commitments. No one doubts that for Iraq and Afghanistan extensive costs over and above budget have been properly met, by the Army in particular. But what seems to have been hardly noticed outside—in the comments, at any rate—is the knock-on effects imposed by the Treasury, or widely perceived to have been imposed, upon our historic defence provision as a whole. Yet such are the dangers that confront our country at the moment, which have been touched upon already in the debate, that we surely cannot allow ourselves to become unbalanced in our defensive array. Ours must be a position of all-round defence from which we can

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respond appropriately, not only to the foreground risks but to those that can be foreseen in the middle distance and even further away.

Speaking immediately after the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, it is rash indeed for me to focus on the risk we face at sea from submarines, but I regard his remark about the “haemorrhaging” of the defence and frigate force as providing me with a springboard for doing so. I regard submarine attack as a foreground risk. Are submarines now not capable of attacking by missile from 200 kilometres away, and by torpedo from 30 kilometres or more? Will the Minister confirm that 45 countries now deploy about 650 submarines? Without in any way seeking to suggest that we should foresee a threat from the majority of those countries, is there not a dangerous number—including, for example, Iran—whose hostile potential in today’s world it would be folly to discount? In which case, is it not essential that this country maintains its anti-submarine warfare capability and does not allow it to diminish through savings having to be made in its provision to make up for what Iraq and Afghanistan are costing? However, is there not a wide perception that this is now happening?

Will the Minister confirm that the necessary individual expertise in anti-submarine warfare techniques, once lost, will take years to be reacquired? How long does it take to impart the skills needed for the location and prosecution of a target? Do those skills not need to be continuously practised? Will she assure us that anti-submarine training, both afloat and ashore, is continuing and is planned to continue on an undiminished scale? Are all those of Her Majesty’s ships which had ASW capability included in their specification still being fully equipped with that capability, or are any ships now put into, or kept in, commission without it? Are there any plans to do so? Will each of the Type 45 destroyers be commissioned with ASW capability, or are there different plans? I ask the same question regarding the later Astute submarine hulls.

When the Government speak of affordability, they are really speaking of the concept of prioritising what they are prepared to buy. Will the Minister accept that, when we are getting ever fewer ships as they become ever more powerful, we cannot responsibly afford to diminish this layer of protection that we have historically provided for them, and which we need to provide for them to guard against the risk of a submarine attack sinking them from afar? Unless our ASW capability is to be fully maintained and updated, it is inevitable that the service will come to be perceived not so much as a world-beating navy but as a coastal defence force.

1.04 pm

Lord Bramall: My Lords, I am sure that our caring and concerned Ministers at the Ministry of Defence would subscribe to the view that our Armed Forces are behaving magnificently and gallantly, are doing their duty under difficult circumstances and deserve all support in terms of equipment and backing that this country could possibly give them. Indeed, I am sure that those Ministers are anxious to provide that support.

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I, too, greatly regret the departure of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, who mastered how to make the complex MoD procurement system work to its best advantage and to the benefit of the Armed Forces. He forced things through and really made a difference to the equipment programme. His successor, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, with all her parliamentary experience behind her, still has a mammoth and urgent task ahead of her. Naturally we wish her well.

The trouble is that you do not have to look far to find out why it is that on occasions in the past—and, I fear, why it will be on more occasions in the future—support for the Armed Forces does not measure up to what is needed and deserved. First, over the past three years or so there has been no coherently joined-up foreign and defence policy in which military force could be deployed and operate with complete confidence about the real aim of the operation or about how the broad strategy and design for battle would develop in the future.

The Helmand area in southern Afghanistan has proved to be a truly excellent battle-training area. Every self-respecting soldier, from commanding officers down to the rank and file, is eager to go there to prove their prowess as a professional under pressure and to show how good their regiments are. I do not want to write down the value of that on the Army’s overall effectiveness and efficiency in the future, but it has been that aspect, along with their loyalty and sense of duty, that has motivated our soldiers and produced undoubted high morale on the ground rather more than any clear idea of where it is all leading in the longer term.

No military operation can be pursued with vigour, confidence and success over time without a clear-cut political aim, and it is up to the Government always to provide it. There are some signs that this is starting to happen, with the penny perhaps dropping at last that there may be ways of dealing with al-Qaeda and other forms of international terrorism—and indeed of producing more stability in the Middle East in which countries can co-exist with one another within a realistic and sustainable balance of power—other than simply a prolonged and open-ended battle of attrition against the Taliban or maintaining a permanent western military presence in Iraq, as the Americans seem to have in mind. I hope that we can look forward to a properly joined-up foreign and defence policy with more dynamic diplomacy backed, supported and strengthened, as it always must be, by military force, although not invariably led by that force—a policy that means resources and commitments can more easily be matched.

The second restraint impeding the Ministry of Defence—and this is now urgent—is the vast funding gap that exists and is likely to continue to exist between, on the one hand, the aspirations of the Government and the real needs of the services and, on the other, the resources that are planned to be available over the next three to five years. It is no good the Minister denying that such a gap exists; the whole ministry knows it to be so after the recent results of the spending review. Every defence correspondent worthy of his name knows it as well. The Minister will

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have heard the most powerful assessment by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, on the subject. There is no doubt that that gap is there.

The Government have expensive ambitions for a successor to Trident, all apparently to come out of the defence vote. They are committed to two fleet carriers, which, however satisfying and useful they will be for the Royal Navy to possess and man, will hardly pull their weight without funding not only for the aircraft to fly off them and give them an offensive capability but also for adequate numbers of smaller craft, both to give the carriers outpost protection under a war threat and to carry out the myriad other maritime tasks that fall to the Royal Navy in peace and war such as patrolling sensitive areas, protecting our trade routes and shipping and projecting power and commitment at short notice.

In all conflict situations worthy of the name, eventual control of the airspace is vital to the successful conduct of any battle on land or at sea. In fact that great military commander, Field Marshal Montgomery, added a 10th principle of war: “First, win the air battle”. That, particularly in prolonged conflict, often comes down to numbers as much as it does to new technology.

As for the land battle, Afghanistan is already revealing glaring weaknesses. Although the equipment is good—no one is accusing the Government of not procuring good equipment; I hope that the Minister realises that—the problem is invariably one of numbers and utility, the result of cuts in past programmes and shortages of spare parts, all sacrificed as a result of salami-slicing over the years. The chickens come home to roost when all this leads to inadequate flying hours when they are most needed. There are still not enough helicopter gunships or troop-carrying helicopters, and the Puma that tragically crashed yesterday was very old. The light tanks are the same as those that we used in the Falklands war 25 years ago. Some of the armoured personnel carriers date back as far as 50 years but are now more underpowered because of the extra protection that has to be grafted on to them. All the transport is quite simply wearing out as a result of the extremely harsh conditions and may need replacement.

As far as manpower is concerned, the present tactic of engaging and killing Taliban—to say nothing of civilians when superior firepower, including air support, is used—and driving them out only for them to return at a later date, will lead to no satisfactory and stable outcome. Unless there can be sufficient troops to hold and protect the ground that has been cleared, it will not be possible for vital aid development constructively to take place in a way that will enable us to win essential hearts and minds in the tribal areas. The recent “Panorama” programme made that perfectly clear. So far, local forces have shown themselves unable to achieve this stability by themselves.

If operations in southern Afghanistan are to be as successful as they could be, extra troops will be needed. To achieve that and many other objectives, as well as to correct overstretch—not only during operational tours but between them—and the enforced curtailment of training in recent years, the Army is clearly not large enough, probably to the tune

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of several thousand men. Such numbers are required to fill out and sustain the units of all arms, to prevent the unsatisfactory fragmentation of units and to bring them up to a proper war-fighting establishment. The Army will also need as soon as possible an all-purpose fighting vehicle, known as FRES, which will have strategic—that is, air portable—and tactical mobility, as well as proper protection against modern munitions. FRES’s original delivery date of 2005 has already been postponed well into the future.

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