Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Many noble and gallant Lords have given their views on this as professionals and many other noble Lords have orchestrated their views as well. My view is that it is high time that the Government stopped basking in the glory of the performance of their willing and able Armed Forces—who will always do whatever they are told to the best of their ability whenever they are sent to do it. The Armed Forces do it through pride: they are proud of who and what they are and they are proud of their nation. I just hope

22 Nov 2007 : Column 972

that the Government will demonstrate sufficient pride in them to enable them to do what they do so well. If they do so, they will be entitled to take some pride in the performance. Otherwise they should shrink from taking any credit for what people are achieving in circumstances that could and should be prevented.

2.15 pm

Lord Lyell: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Park for giving us the opportunity today to have a good, lengthy debate on defence. One looks down the speakers’ list to find half a dozen dazzling speeches. Perhaps I may make one request to the Minister: please, will she take up the suggestion of my noble friend Lord King and see that the report of this debate is brought to the Prime Minister's notice? As well as being a very competent Scot, accountant and figures man, his heart is in the right place and I think that he would take to heart what is being said today.

It is a great privilege and pleasure, and great luck, to follow the marvellous speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. He justifies the British Army’s motto, “Be The Best”. That was certainly one of the best speeches today and I would reiterate much if not all of what he said. However, as a very humble 19-months’ serviceman, I was always taught that you should concentrate on what was in front of you, and I see that the subject of this debate is the long-term and short-term future of the armed services.

We have heard a bit about the long term: the carriers. It seems to be good, innovative thinking and good planning. I have the good luck to be the secretary of the House of Lords Defence Group under the marvellous chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Dean. We made two visits in July, one of which was to the Royal Naval Air Station at Culdrose where, under the excellent leadership of Captain Thicknesse RN, we saw the Merlin and the Sea King helicopters and what they can do; I think they will be part of future carrier operations. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on strike training—I hope that that is the right term for air power—in the GR7s, the naval version of the harrier which will bridge the gap on the carriers before the arrival of the vertical and short take-off version, let alone the carrier version of the Joint Strike Fighter. I understand that the Navy will be acquiring the VSTOL.

As for air power in the long term and the Typhoon—which the Defence Group had the good luck to see during a visit earlier this year to the first operational squadron at RAF Coningsby under Group Captain Atha—I hope the Minister can confirm, probably later in writing, that the good work will continue, and that repairs to the runway at RAF Leuchars will soon be completed. I understand that 6 Squadron, the first operational Typhoon squadron detached from RAF Coningsby, will soon be at RAF Leuchars. I am very glad that my nearest RAF station will be equipped with this excellent and most modern aircraft.

As for the short term, I can add nothing to what has already been said about Iraq. As for 2008-09 and political developments in the United States, I just wonder what will happen. I suspect that our operations in Iraq will be affected by what happens across the Atlantic, and that they will continue.

22 Nov 2007 : Column 973

I turn to Afghanistan, the main theme of today’s superb speeches. I have never been there—I do not know it—but I have looked on a map and perhaps I have read too many novels about the military operations and the life there. The terrain, the extraordinary mix of people and what they want in supporting the Government are very difficult. I am concerned that it will be a very long-term operation, but perhaps the Minister can confirm that. Everything that has been said today indicates just that.

I return to the home front. In the debate, an enormous amount of time has been spent on, and the main thrust has been, our people in the Armed Forces. The Army’s motto is “Be The Best” and its members certainly are, each and every one of them—not just those who serve but also their wives and families and those who support them. They certainly make our Armed Forces the pride of this country and of many admirers around the world.

The young men in the Armed Forces are not Masai warriors, or those professionals who go to war and then retire to domestic life at the age of 25 or 30. Our young men are incredibly professional, and are certainly as good as any you will find in the world, if not better, but they are not ascetic monks. They have domestic and home lives; they have people at home they want to see. That is why I am so pleased my noble friend Lord Selkirk referred to housing and to Chelsea Barracks, which I passed this morning on my way to your Lordships' House. I understand that £500 million or thereabouts might be achieved from the sale of Chelsea Barracks for all sorts of purposes. Like my noble friend, I hope that those funds can be reinvested to improve the existing stock and to refurbish other stock in one or two years. That money could straightaway be put towards refurbishing much of the rundown, tired and fatigued housing all over the United Kingdom, and possibly abroad, where it is needed.

On the people concerned, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, referred to young people. I am pleased to see that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, is on the Woolsack today. He and I share a great love of sport, including football. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, will appreciate the four-letter word “duty” as he sits there, and I am sure that he will enjoy himself. At the opening of the Wembley Stadium, I was delighted to see Private Beharry, Victoria Cross, come out. Little by little, such events bring the situation home to the public. I would call him, and others like him, a hero and I believe it brought the matter to the public's notice in a subtle way.

We have heard, and we shall continue to hear, enormous amounts about overstretch. I have a note here about the arms plot which may come under the aegis of my noble friend Lord King. Service men and women, including their families, require intervals for rest and recuperation, let alone for training. They might need retraining, or training on new skills for new tasks which they will be asked to undertake, but that is all done during the intervals needed by our service men and women.

There is another darker or shady side to the situation: injuries and casualties. My noble friend Lady Park,

22 Nov 2007 : Column 974

other members of your Lordships’ Defence Group and I have been fortunate enough to visit military hospitals at Northallerton and Haslar, and my noble friend Lady Park may remember visiting the military hospital at Frimley, which caused considerable concern. My noble friend was robust and extremely tough in demanding that Frimley would get everything that it needed. That is certainly relevant today.

In March this year, I was extremely fortunate, with my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, to visit Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham. We found that the two military wards were superb. Something that appealed, besides the service, the dedication and commitment, were two separate facilities on site for accommodating single servicemen under diagnosis there, together with refurbished flats for relatives visiting the wounded and ill soldiers. The dedication and skill put into refurbishing that accommodation is second to none. That is one small detail, but little by little, progress is being made in that area.

Your Lordships have referred to kit. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, spoke about the lamentable situation in which soldiers have to spend their own money to get the best kit that they need. I am confident that the Minister will take up this point, following the traditions of the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, whose loss we regret. We wish him all the best in the future. I give my personal thanks, support and devotion to the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces 24 hours a day, seven days a week, today and every day for as long as it takes. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Park.

2.26 pm

Viscount Slim: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for this very timely debate. With courage and dedication, she has done much in her life for our country. I welcome the Minister. She may not entirely like what she hears, but we are here to help her and we will do so as much as we can. We will try to get her on net, as I think that that is rather important.

I thank all noble Lords for their kind words about the SAS casualties. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, is our Colonel Commandant and I am the president of the SAS. We have obviously had a bad time. One hopes that the badly injured will survive. Lately, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, and I seem to be going to Hereford more than we would wish on such occasions.

I was not amazed but I was sad that in the Queen’s Speech I could not pick out the word “military” anywhere. I would like to have seen a thank you or some gratitude from Her Majesty’s Government for what the Armed Forces have done. It may not be a normal thing to do, but there are people wandering around saying that they have a bit of vision today. I think that it would have been very good news for the Government and very good PR. Everyone in the nation hears the Queen’s Speech and it would have awakened the population a little to what is happening overseas and the terrorist problems that we have in our country.

22 Nov 2007 : Column 975

I believe that the covenant has been broken, not just yesterday, but over the past 10 or 15 years. There is no one else to blame for that except the politicians—the parliamentary system and all three political parties. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, said, there is hardly anyone in your Lordships' House today for what is a mammoth and important debate. I think that all parliamentarians are culpable, because the military is often at war but the nation is not and Parliament is not. The Cabinet does not think like that. We have peace and everyone is looking to ensure that people get a new set of free false teeth, rather than to see that a serviceman is properly looked after and things like that.

Briefly, the talk is that there has been no war or battle like Afghanistan since Korea and that they are similar. I do not subscribe to that entirely, although the close-quarter fighting can be the width of your Lordships’ House. Certainly, in Korea, it was that and less. But in Korea there suddenly seemed to be an awful lot of Chinamen about. They came from everywhere; it was an avalanche. I merely give your Lordships that as an example because, looking at the history and present position of Afghanistan, your Lordships will see that there are areas that the Taliban have and rule. History shows that, when that happens, various tribal chiefs and warlords get coerced into the Taliban net. Gradually, enemy numbers increase. I hope that it will not happen but have a feeling that it might; there will suddenly be an awful lot of enemies. Warlords suddenly give up their individual hatreds and cobble themselves together and you suddenly have outside your gates not just hundreds, but thousands.

When I visited Afghanistan with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, a seasoned and experienced solider, everywhere I went I asked whether our servicemen had sufficient ammunition. I once just about ran out of ammunition and it is not a happy feeling. I understand that we do not make our own ammunition but buy most of it from abroad, and sometimes some of it does not work very well. We ought to ensure that we are stocked and supplied correctly and that there is no sudden panic that we cannot get it or do not have it.

In the same way, perhaps the Minister has not yet been fully briefed, but there is a long supply route from Karachi to Kandahar by vehicle. It is open to all sorts of interference, of which, luckily, it has not had too much lately. But we owe a debt of gratitude to President Musharraf for allowing that to be and for the support that he gives. People are currently rather throwing bricks at the president, and our Foreign Office and our American cousins seem to think that there should be more democracy. We should be very careful; after all, it took us 400 years to sort of get democracy going. The people of Pakistan, with their Muslim way of life, do not necessarily want our type of democracy; they will develop their own. Your Lordships may be interested to hear that my taxi driver in Islamabad said to me, “We have a saying in Pakistan: never pay your lawyer, never pay your barrister—buy the judge”. The president might therefore be quite right to make some changes in the chief justice’s department. It may be that bringing

22 Nov 2007 : Column 976

back failed, and perhaps not always very honest, politicians is not the best for Pakistan today.

Coming down to earth, I was in America with my old friends the American Special Forces, whom I have known since the day President Kennedy started them. I was asking about the best sniper rifle. You are not going to win the war in Afghanistan, urban or countrywide, with sniper rifles, but they are an important weapon for the Army and the Royal Air Force Regiment. I was told the other day that we have a new one; I do not know when it is coming in. I asked about this in America and was immediately taken and shown four different sniper rifles, of which I would have taken three. I asked whether they were readily available off the shelf. “Yes”, they said. I said, “Well, I would only want to sell them or give them to the British Army or the RAF Regiment”. They said, “We can supply tomorrow”. I merely point to this: why do we not buy equipment off the shelf?

The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, and I gave the Minister’s predecessor a tough time about C17 aircraft. We asked: “Why don’t we buy more?” and “Why don’t we buy helicopters off the shelf?”. People reply: “Well, who would maintain them?”. If you can put 10,000 civilian security personnel into these places, you can put civilian maintenance crews in. You have to hire them. We went through a great deal of trouble in your Lordships’ House getting civilian practices properly into the forces’ new military law. In business, if we want something we go and get it, whether simple or technical. This was where the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, was so good: he knew how to do these things and had business management experience.

I was going to do this slightly differently from the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater. I was going to ask why members of the Cabinet cannot sit around the table and say that the military and defence forces matter, that they must do something about it for the present day and the future and that they must really take an interest and be seen to want to be part of the defence of Great Britain. They have singularly failed to do that so far.

2.37 pm

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I always like following the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, because he gives me a feeling of supreme British confidence. I will try today to speak in a slightly different way from your Lordships because I regard this as something of a blood-letting debate. My noble friend Lord Lyell and I have been in this House for nearly 90 years between us, and it is the first time I have ever seen such a savage attack upon a Government.

That shows the remarkable mind of the noble Baroness who introduced this debate. I first met her when I had a lot to do with the Middle East at a lunch at No. 10 Downing Street. In a gentle way, she came up and said, “I’m Daphne Park. Can you tell me something about yourself?”. She never told me anything about herself. It was only years later that I realised that she had a heart of gold and a mind of steel. She has chosen such an appropriate moment to raise this debate. I am not saying that I have something against women in the military or anything

22 Nov 2007 : Column 977

like that, because who can when you have the Boadicea of them all—the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, who leads our defence group—sitting opposite you? The Minister is not in her seat at the moment, but we need someone on the Benches opposite who has political skill and cunning. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Le Mans—no, of Bolton—has that skill.

To go back to the speech of my noble friend Lord Marlesford, we remind the noble Baroness that, behind her, we can put 80 members of the Conservative Party who have served in the Armed Forces, six Chiefs of the General Staff, 60 from the Cross-Benches, 17 from the Liberal Democrats—with the sad loss of the noble Lord, Lord Garden—and a really great force. This is what we have to offer the nation.

I am afraid I would like to do a little blood-letting too. By accident, but not necessarily by design, I have fairly considerable experience of the Middle East and of the countries where we have conflict. When it was decided to go to war, I spoke about it, but I never said that I would support the war. All I said was that I would support for ever and a day the right of the Prime Minister of the country to make that decision. It was one of the most disastrous decisions ever for the Armed Forces and for this country, but we can put it behind us by saying it was the Blair Government, now gone. That is what I have now done mentally because this country always has to have a Government and on defence matters we should always seek to support it.

However, I have a few problems. My noble friend Lord Lyell—whom I regard as my chief secretary who tells me exactly what to do—and I are known as the “war Lords”. It is better occasionally to attack and then defend. The current Secretary of State, who has a split job, one day turned up to see the war Lords and say hello. He spoke for a few moments. He said, “I don’t know anything about defence, but I’m going to learn and I’m going to go to see what they are doing in Afghanistan”. He then left the room for a Division. Then he came back and said, “Shall I go on?”. We were all pretty put off, so we said no and he left.

Last night, the war Lords—myself, my noble friends Lord Lyell and Lord Luke, and the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert—went to the defence attachés meeting in Lancaster House. It was rather good. We got in and as we were introduced my noble friend Lord Lyell said “We’re members of the war Lords”. Half way through, a gunner general—I shall not mention his name—got up to say that he was very sorry, but the Secretary of State was not able to be there because he was in the Commons on a three-line Whip. On one or two occasions, I have managed to get from here to Lancaster House in a government car in four and quarter minutes. I could not understand why he could not turn up. As the gunner was there, I thought “Never mind”. I remember something I learnt in the Navy: “If I wasn’t a gunner I wouldn’t be here—fire one”. That is the way to determine the distance between the salvos in a royal salute. I was a bit put out by that.

In my days of trade I always had tremendous respect for our defence sales team abroad. It was quite brilliant, but where has it gone? Where is the

22 Nov 2007 : Column 978

responsibility? Who is the Minister now? I thought it was my duty to do a bit of Daphne Park-ing and find out what and how it worked. DESO, as it is called—I call it “deso”, but other people call it “diso”—has moved to—UKIP, is it? No, it is UKTI—United Kingdom Trade and Investment—which replaces part of the Department of Trade. The Board of Trade, which always used to have the Minister of Defence and the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Archbishop of Canterbury on it, has gone to UKTI. UKTI is a non-ministerial government department. It reports to the Foreign Secretary and to the beer garden—no, to the British Enterprise something or other, a new body, which is its other partner. It does not report to the Minister of Defence in any way. The Minister of Defence has no relationship with it whatever under the current ministerial code. Here in the Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Digby-Jones, represents part of that side—UKTI—someone else represents something else, but part of it, which used to be within the Department of Trade and Industry, is the space and satellite side which belongs to the university and technological something ministry. Will the Government please tell us who is now responsible for defence sales? It cannot be the Minister because it does not report that way.

Now I come to the importance of defence equipment. We used to produce some of the best defence equipment in the world, and we still do. We had a dedicated ministry. I remember standing here in the 1970s fighting like mad for two days to try to save our shipbuilding industry because we would not be able to build warships any more. Of course, it was nationalised; it went and much of the technology disappeared overseas. That still comes to the fore today. It is, perhaps, more worrying that we have lost most of our manufacturing base. That no longer matters for the balance of payments because it is more than compensated for by service industries and financial services. The biggest single group in manufacturing is the defence industry. If it has only the UK defence budget as its market, it will fade away and we will gradually lose those skills. It is already happening to some extent to the French, but if we are unable to market our equipment abroad to allies and potential allies, we will find that in the end we will have a deficit of technology that we cannot make up other than by acquiring it from other people. Will the Government give considerable thought to this and get over the worry that perhaps they are no longer interested in defence?

We have committed forces to a place where I would never have committed them without knowing what we were going to do in future. Last night, I took the opportunity to do a bit of lobbying myself and, as my noble friend Lord Lyell knows, I went around to all those people who are our former allies or who could be our allies—the Australians the New Zealanders, the Canadians—to ask what we could do together, and we had discussions about where the next trouble spots might be. For example, as the Soviet Union has stuck a flag in the bottom of the Arctic and the north-west passage is open, it may not be long before there are more attempts to gain raw materials and other resources there. And in the south Atlantic, off

22 Nov 2007 : Column 979

the Falkland Islands, with all those countries that have claims, including Australia, New Zealand and every one of the Polynesian islands that plays rugby, it may not be long before there is a Soviet presence there—a nuclear submarine, an investigation vehicle, certain technological developments—laying claims.

When my team was advising and helping after the Falklands war, two things came out of it: the remarkable performance of some of the kit there, such as Rapier, which led to sales of Rapier to Turkey. Battle-proven British equipment has twice the value of that which is not battle proven. At that time, Lord Shackleton—for whom I had enormous regard and who taught me a lot—asked for a proposal for what could be done with the Falkland Islands. We sat and thought and suggested we establish SAFE—the South Atlantic Fund for Exploration and Development. Everybody who has a claim to the Antarctic should be required to set up a company, a base or an office in Port Stanley. It should have a head man, a chauffeur, a cook, a gardener and everything else. That would have restored the economy of Port Stanley.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page