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All those things, as well as honouring the covenant in terms of badly needed housing, proper medical care and proper pay and conditions of service, cannot be provided by the money allocated in the spending review. There will not be enough to go round. Nor is it any good, as the noble Lord, Lord King, made clear, for Ministers continually to shelter behind claims of sustained growth. The figure of 1.5 per cent growth in real terms that is promised for the next three years, but which is more like 0.9 per cent in practice, starts from the lowest possible baseline after 15 years’ decline and represents 2.5 per cent of GDP. It is nowhere near enough, as the noble Lord, Lord King, said, to compete with inherent defence inflation. The previous period of sustained growth, which the Government like to use as a comparison, was for nine years, from 1979 to 1988. It started with the Callaghan Government and was consistently at 3 per cent in real terms, representing 5.5 per cent of GDP. I know what I am talking about because I was on the Chiefs of Staff Committee for seven of those nine years.

Big decisions—the Minister will no doubt say “tough and courageous decisions”, although some would call them “disastrous”—will have to be made to cut back the programme and squeeze it into the money available. That can happen in one of three ways. The first is salami-slicing—and we know all the dangers of that. The second is by cutting out a complete capability; if so, the House is entitled to know what capability the Government have in mind. Would they do it on a European basis and, if so, how? The third is by responding to public and political pressure and concentrating on short-term responsibilities at the expense of those of the longer term, which would have disastrous consequences in 10 to 15 years, if we assume that Governments can be persuaded to think that far ahead, as they must in the equipment cycle. If they do not, the Armed Forces will arrive, as did the BEF in 1940, in the most appalling and parlous state to fight.

The only way in which one of these three options, which would bring such disastrous consequences to the Armed Forces’ ability to carry out their role in the short or long term, or both, can be avoided is if the Government readjust their thinking and are prepared to initiate a surge in what this country spends on its most important responsibility, the support of its foreign policy. They should spend up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product. That would make a profound difference. It would have a sensible rationale in insurance terms and what the country ought to be able to afford. It would certainly prevent the current position from getting worse; it would enable all the most important parts of the defence programme to be

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properly funded; and it would control the Treasury’s insatiable appetite for ensuring that whatever sum is allocated to defence is not in practice made fully available to be spent at the time. It would also send a clear message, which does not exist at the moment, to those thinking of joining the services or staying on in them, that the Government are really serious about their responsibilities and will match resources to the Armed Forces’ real needs and commitments, which our foreign policy believes are in the national interest. If there is no surge at all, the situation will become infinitely worse.

1.17 pm

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, any speech from my noble friend Lady Park is based on considerable wisdom and experience, and always gives much to our debate. We owe her a deep debt for this debate.

It suddenly occurred to me that it would have been nice if the Secretary of State for Scotland had felt that he could spend a little time sitting on the steps of the Throne to listen to this debate, but that perhaps would have been asking too much of his imagination.

I start from the simple premise that is central to the philosophy not just of my party but of many British people who are wholly apolitical: defence of the realm is the first priority of government. The second and overall aim can be neatly encapsulated by a recent Chinese slogan: the creation of a harmonious society. The third aim must be for Britain to do as much good in the world as it can. We are still a great power in many ways, not least as a veto member of the Security Council. The world needs our values, our skills and our experience; not least, it needs our Armed Forces. The means of achieving these noble aims is sound economic management to generate stability and prosperity at home and the resources to play our part in world affairs.

We are today engaged in two wars, yet the Government’s defence policy has been and remains deplorable for one key reason: it has not matched resources to commitments. This has cost lives. A significant number of recent deaths in action and in accidents have been a result of inadequate supplies or quality of equipment. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, made that point in the most telling way. This failure on defence is one of the main reasons why I would like to see a change of government.

I shall start at the top and expand a little on what my noble friend Lord King said about the ministerial team. We all have our own views on what makes for an effective Defence Secretary. The qualities that do so can be very variable, as I shall illustrate with just three names. The intellect and the war experience of the noble Lord, Lord Healey, made him an extremely effective Secretary of State from 1964 to 1970. The stature, integrity, war record and previous ministerial experience at the MoD of my noble friend Lord Carrington made him an outstanding steward of our Armed Forces from 1970 to 1974. The political skills of my noble friend Lord Heseltine enabled him to repel those political groups on the left that sought to undermine our role in NATO’s nuclear shield at a

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crucial period of the Cold War, between 1983 and 1986. When we look at the team today, what a different picture we can see.

The Secretary of State, Mr Des Browne, has been in place only since May 2006. He had no defence experience known to me before he was appointed and he is not by any stretch of the imagination a political heavyweight. I note that my noble friend Lord Tebbit has been trying, in a Question for Written Answer tabled on 9 October but still unanswered, to discover the apportionment of Mr Browne’s time between defence and Scotland. The fact that he occupies both posts reflects ill on him, as it certainly does on the Prime Minister.

The Minister for the Armed Forces, Mr Bob Ainsworth, has been in post only since 29 June. He, too, seems to have had no previous relevant experience. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, the Minister of State for Defence Equipment and Support, who we are delighted will reply to our debate, has been in post for only two weeks. She was for nearly 30 years a much respected member of the other place, where she occupied high ministerial office. For a year she was PPS to Fred Mulley when he was Defence Secretary, and she chaired the Intelligence and Security Committee. I am sure that her well demonstrated talents will make her a considerable addition to the department and, of course, to the government Front Bench here.

Mr Derek Twigg has for just one year been a junior Minister and Minister for Veterans. For 19 years he was a junior civil servant at the then Department of Education and Science, and again he appears to have no relevant previous defence experience. For all their virtues as individuals, this must be one of the least experienced and most thinly spread ministerial teams ever at a time when the demands on our Armed Forces are as great as at any time since 1945.

We recently lost the services of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, who had a considerable reputation in the House. He resigned suddenly and quite unexpectedly two weeks ago. The reason given was that he wanted to continue his pastime of motor racing, but I believe that the noble Lord was much too great a patriot to have abandoned ship for such a reason. It would have been more straightforward had we been told the real reason, which I gather was a dispute with the Treasury over the very large and important procurement programme for the future rapid effect system vehicles, known as FRES.

I shall comment on one other key position at the Ministry of Defence—that of the Permanent Secretary, head of the whole MoD Civil Service. We all have our views on who were the most distinguished holders of that post. Of the two whom I would nominate from my time, the first is Sir Frank Cooper, an RAF war pilot, who between 1976 and 1982 ensured that the department got the resources that it needed to perform its tasks and who was responsible for the introduction, under Sir Derek Rayner, of new procurement systems. The other is Sir Michael Quinlan, who ran the department from 1988 to 1992. Thought by many to have been one of the cleverest men ever to work in Whitehall, he was responsible for

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putting together the intellectual case for upgrading our nuclear capability into the Trident system which has served us so well.

Today the Permanent Secretary is Mr Bill Jeffrey. His previous post, from 2002 to 2005, was as director-general of the Home Office Immigration and Nationality Department, the organisation that was memorably denounced by the then Home Secretary, Mr John Reid, as “not fit for purpose”. Is Mr Jeffrey really the best that today’s Civil Service could produce for this crucial position?

I have one further point on people. Your Lordships’ House is well endowed with military experience, as witnessed by the six distinguished former commanders taking part today and the two former Secretaries of State who have already spoken. The House of Commons is rapidly running out of any military experience. Twenty MPs have served in the regular Army, 18 of them Conservatives, two Labour and no Lib Dems; 11 have served in the TA, all of them Conservatives; nine have served in the RAF, including five Labour, three Conservatives and one independent, with no Lib Dems; and four have served in the Royal Navy, all Conservatives, no Lib Dems. Political parties should make a real effort to persuade those with former military careers to enter the House of Commons. I agree that that might not be a very attractive proposition nowadays, since this Government have so devalued that House. Nevertheless, it is crucial if we are to continue to monitor and understand the needs of defence policy in this country.

We have had some very successful military operations under this Government, including Bosnia, when the UN white paint was replaced with NATO green, Kosovo and Sierra Leone. But the tasks that we now face in Iraq and Afghanistan are daunting indeed. I believe that we have done all that we can in Iraq and that it is time for us to leave it. Iraq will sink or swim, whether or not we are there; its future will not depend on our presence. Afghanistan is another matter. It is crucial. We entered it ill prepared for what we would find. How could the MoD have sent the Northern Ireland Snatch Land Rovers for that campaign? Our forces have done incredibly well, but they are overextended and sadly unable to hold the territory that they have captured through gallant and effective fighting.

Our Prime Minister must adjust our military commitments to the resources that he is prepared to make available. That probably means having a rundown in many theatres—in Northern Ireland, Germany and Cyprus, for example. A European defence dimension is not a substitute for NATO. At the moment we are wasting a good deal of money on things such as Galileo. The Prime Minister must demonstrate that he regards the overseas operations that we do undertake as having the highest priority. He must regard the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces as our most valuable national asset.

1.28 pm

Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for this important debate. First, I pay tribute to two soldiers from the SAS who were killed yesterday in Iraq. I am

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the colonel of the SAS, and I know that I speak on behalf of the whole House when I say that we sympathise. The two soldiers had very young children. I know, too, that Members of this House very much admire what we are doing in the SAS in Iraq and elsewhere, day after day.

I find the Government’s attitude to the Armed Forces mystifying. We should give them credit for injecting some, if not enough, new money into defence, for Iraq and Afghanistan and for training. Undoubtedly—and we should not forget this—much of the equipment that has now been introduced is as good as any equipment anywhere in the world. However, it is unfortunate that too many people were killed and lives were lost through the late arrival of this equipment, which could have been made available if adequate funding had been found sooner, when the requirement was known about.

The fact is that the defence of our country has been underfunded for years. In the Cold War we got away with it, but took huge risks. To compound our difficulties, the Government of the day took a peace dividend that now seems unwisely large, but that was a long time ago. We now have services that have been underfunded for years and find themselves desperately stretched fighting two wars.

At the Lord Mayor's banquet last week, the Prime Minister affirmed his commitment that he would, at all times, support and strengthen our Armed Forces, our defences and security. In my experience as Chief of the Defence Staff in Whitehall, he was the most unsympathetic Chancellor of the Exchequer as far as defence was concerned, and the only senior Cabinet Minister who avoided coming to the Ministry of Defence to be briefed by our staff on our problems. The only time that I remember him coming to the Ministry of Defence when I was there was when he came to talk about the future of the Rosyth dockyard, which was in his constituency. He must take much of the blame for the very serious situation we find the services in today.

However, I am delighted that he is now taking more interest. He has visited Iraq and Afghanistan on various occasions and has devoted more time to those in the Ministry of Defence. But can he really understand how serious the situation is if he appoints—as others have mentioned—a Secretary of State who is not fully committed to defence at such a time as this? I, like others, speak to service men and women who view that as a serious slight at a time when the intensity of operations is far higher than it has been for many years. I cannot understand how the Prime Minister could do such a thing.

It is well known that the defence budget is under huge pressure and it will be interesting to know from the Minister just which programmes will not survive—she will probably not be able to tell us today—which will be reduced and which scalings will be reviewed. We know that difficult decisions will have to be faced unless additional funding is made available. Lately, Ministers have been boasting about the extra money that has been produced for defence. I will not go over the ground that has been so well covered by the noble Lord, Lord King, and the noble

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and gallant Lords, Lord Bramall and Lord Boyce, but whatever has happened, it is woefully inadequate as far as running the services today is concerned. It is not a matter for self-congratulation.

There are many examples of equipment and shortages—some have been given. I am not going to give noble Lords a long list, but one example is a brigade being deployed to Afghanistan not having been trained on medium machine guns before it goes, because the medium machine guns all have to be out in Afghanistan. That is a serious matter and risks people's lives. There is a shortage of three battalions- worth of HF radios. I could go on, but I will not, because the point has already been made.

Recently, senior officers, including the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, have thought it necessary to speak out. It is regrettable when senior officers think it necessary to do that. I do not think that it is the British way or that it is constitutional, but it indicates how they are at the end of their tether. What the Government are expecting them to do and deliver is absolutely unreasonable with the resources that they have.

We find ourselves in a very dangerous world at the moment. Long gone are the days when we could remain safe in our own country, isolated from troubles elsewhere. If the Government are really serious about defence and security, as the Prime Minister clearly said last week—it is interesting that government support behind the Minister has just gone up by 50 per cent, which does not indicate that members of the Government in this House are taking it very seriously—funding must be increased or the Government will seriously damage one of the state's greatest assets beyond quick repair.

1.35 pm

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, has spoken with great authority and I hope that his words will be seriously considered by 10 Downing Street in due course.

I should mention in passing my own interest as honorary air commodore and as president of the Scottish Veterans Garden City Association, which provides houses for veteran service men and women who have an element of disability. I also have a past interest as an Army reservist for just on 10 years in the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) who were at that time the Scottish equivalent of the Royal Green Jackets.

Today, I wish to raise the issue of the Government's commitment to the military covenant. We understand that the military covenant is an unwritten commitment between the state and service personnel. But a very good definition of it was given in the Army Doctrine publication volume 5, already quoted by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. The key sentences which he mentioned bear repeating:

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The noble and gallant Lord went on to refer to the,

Very serious concerns have been raised today about honouring the military covenant. One was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean; the time that it takes for inquests to be held. Bereaved families have to wait for very long periods, sometimes years. Will the Minister please say in her winding-up speech what is being done to hasten the process to alleviate the distress of those who have lost their next of kin?

Then there is the allegation—indeed, it is more than an allegation because a considerable amount of evidence has been put forward—that the accommodation is completely inadequate for those returning from active service. I note that the Defence Committee in September 2007 said that some accommodation remains appalling and that accommodation is an important factor in retention. The committee’s actual words were that,

Will the Minister assure the House that upgrading of accommodation will be a top priority and that financial windfalls obtained as a result of the sale of Ministry of Defence land, as in the case of the area surrounding Chelsea Barracks, will be ploughed back into the Ministry of Defence estate?

There is also a query about equipment—again, they are more than queries because there is a great deal of evidence. The noble and gallant Lord who has just spoken mentioned that in some cases equipment arrived late. The Minister will be aware that in March 2003, the assistant deputy coroner for Oxfordshire made a very direct criticism concerning the delay in issuing personal body armour. He said:

Sadly, this is not the only case where criticisms by the coroner and, indeed, direct condemnations, have been made. We are aware of the more recent case of her son’s death taken up by Mrs Gentle. I hope that Ministers can reassure us—and that the Minister will reassure us today—that lessons have been, and will be, learnt, and that great care will be taken in future to make certain that necessary and potentially life-saving equipment is readily available. Surely the Government’s commitment on such matters should be put beyond doubt. I hope that the Minister will do just that today.

The Minister will be aware of the very direct request by the Defence Committee in July 2007, which stated,

Surely having sufficient Tornado aircraft and helicopters available is vital for the troops on the ground.

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The Minister will also be aware of the Honour the Covenant campaign of the Royal British Legion which seeks a just compensation scheme, a greater commitment to support the physical and mental health of service men and women and more support for bereaved families. I warmly welcome the words of the Armed Forces Minister, Bob Ainsworth, when he said that,

I am very glad that constant review has been promised. I understand that the fighting in Afghanistan has been far more intense than anything experienced since either the Korean War or the Second World War, and that perhaps not all the facts were fully within the nation’s possession for some time after the fighting took place.

The Government should give wise and far-sighted signals with regard to their future intentions. As regards the plans to withdraw the ship “Endurance” before the Argentine invasion of the Falklands, questions were then asked whether the wrong signal had been given, and many commentators took the view that that proposal had not been helpful.

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