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These are little areas, but then you move a bit further. Take a compass and stick it in with the points showing a 650 mile radius—the distance a plane can fly—and ask how will we be able to service military operations in those areas. Stick it in the Straits of Hormuz. I remember that when I was trying to save HMS “Eagle”, I was told that we could manage 650 miles out to sea with a Buccaneer, provided that it was fully armed and had twin fuel tanks.

I leave with the thought that the world is a most interesting place, but one should look at it from the poles as well as from the middle. I will provide all my support to the Government on defence things. As a suggestion, because I have a new project called Project Excalibur, I will ask the Government whether they will support me. I am proposing to take the clean feed of this debate, turn it into a half-hour programme and ask the Government if they will circulate it to all regiments and members of the Armed Forces worldwide. They will then realise the support that exists here in your Lordships’ House.

2.49 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I warmly thank the noble Baroness for this opportunity. I hope the Government Front Bench will forgive me for raising questions about our role in Afghanistan which came up in the gracious Speech, but which the Minister was unable to answer. The central question for me has become a focus for seminars in every NATO country; is our military intervention in Afghanistan an anti-terrorist measure—a form of self defence—or is it to secure reconstruction and development for Afghanistan? How can it be both? Should soldiers be aid workers? I will draw no parallel with Iraq, although there are obvious similarities in the way we have approached post-conflict reconstruction in both countries.

Because of my allegiance to a number of humanitarian NGOs—although I am not officially speaking for any of them—I see soldiers primarily as protectors rather than aid workers, but I am not one of those who in

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principle opposes the involvement of the Army in development. There have been many occasions in history when soldiers have restored infrastructure and rebuilt bridges and roads, which of course benefit the population. And there are recent examples in Sierra Leone, where UNAMSIL forces rebuilt mosques, or in the Balkans where our soldiers were working with refugees in Macedonia and lives were saved by soldiers. However, the conditions have to be right. The difficulty comes where there is no obvious correlation between war and reconstruction. In Helmand province and along the border with Pakistan, territory is repeatedly being captured and lost. As my noble and gallant friend Lord Bramall said, villages and farmland are devastated and civilian lives are continually risked and sacrificed. This is a frequent consequence of civil war in countries such as Sudan or Lebanon, but it is rarely today associated with foreign military intervention.

There is a famous line in Tacitus, which the soldiers will know:

where they make a wilderness, they call it peace. Of course that comment was made in very different times. There was never such an intention in Afghanistan. But what started in 2001 as the liberation of a country by an overwhelming force, approved by almost every UN member and intended to be translated quickly into a zone of peacekeeping, has turned into something quite different—and I think we all acknowledge that. Helmand is known as the “lawless province”. Throughout the country civilians and Afghan aid workers are being attacked, and reconstruction work is held up in some of the formerly secure provinces such as Badghis, and even in areas closer to Kabul itself. We may be containing the Taliban, but we are not yet winning the hearts and minds of the people. There is still no clear allied strategy. Our military objectives in the south are becoming harder to define, let alone justify. NATO commanders are finding them out from their politicians because decisions now will dictate the way that the organisation behaves over a decade.

The alliance is holding firm, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, mentioned, there is overstretch everywhere, and there are clear disagreements between the US position and some European countries. Surely we should respect the position of countries that prefer to support security for reconstruction and not for a full-scale war in Helmand and along the Pakistan border which we did not foresee. Germany's constitution allows only training and not fighting forces, but their training unit is being tripled. The Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung said recently:

The picture is complicated by the use of the provincial reconstruction team—the PRT—which is a clever combination of motives, which again was greeted with enthusiasm at the beginning. But students of PRTs—remembering its middle name is reconstruction—have shown that whatever the original model, Governments have strayed very far from it.

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Two of the PRTs have been widely quoted as “successful”' models: one was our own in Mazar-e-Sharif where the British NGOs testified to its usefulness and co-operation with the community and its independence of humanitarian work, and there is the small New Zealand PRT in Bamyan. The Bamyan PRT keeps out of aid projects, although Governor Sarabi longs for a US-style budget for development. The US PRT in Khost, for example, has provided nine villages with drinking water, and the Hungarian PRT in Baghlan has a similar project which is arguably a form of public relations as well as development.

Our PRT in Lashkar Gah has contributed substantially through “quick impact projects”, but these local projects should really be reviewed—I shall mention that again in a moment—because while encouraging the population, they cannot be seen as part of an overall development plan while a war is going on so close by.

My wife and I visited the Swedish PRT which has replaced ours in Mazar last month, and once past the barriers and menacing looks we were treated with great courtesy. We paused by the memorial to Lance Corporal Steven Sherwood, aged 23, who died on 29 October 2005—he is one of the 257 mentioned by my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig—a reminder of the constant danger to our forces and our aid workers, even in the north; and we must be proud of them all. The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and others spoke of the additional dangers they face. The noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, in his maiden speech on PRTs said that in more stable provinces,

from a defensive model to one

No one could see the Mazar PRT as a friend of development; it is a bastion of military force above the town, hidden behind concrete and barbed wire, and, as a citizen, that is all you would see. A few inquiries showed that contacts with the local population were minimal although they went out on foot patrols. It is hermetically sealed and does not even purchase goods from the local market. Instead of meeting people and getting involved with development, its forces hardly venture out unless they receive an urgent security call, which is rare, because it is one of the safest places in Afghanistan.

A recent study by the Overseas Development Institute's humanitarian network shows that outside forces tend to define peace and security in their own terms, with little reference to the aspirations and priorities of local people. It concludes that, where security is of paramount importance, assistance from the military is likely to continue but that local communities and governments must be more involved in decisions affecting their future. I doubt if that is happening in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is testimony to the continuing need of the international community to adhere to that obvious principle. So I ask Her Majesty’s Government to undertake a review of the contribution of the provincial reconstruction teams and of the impact projects to the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

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A couple of sentences from the Foreign Secretary during the debate on the gracious Speech still bother me because I know that he is concerned about hearts and minds. He said that,

Later he said:

Added together, do not those remarks imply continuing uncertainty about the purposes of our military mission in Afghanistan? Is it really sensible to regard Helmand as the front line of terrorism in the world today in the same way as we saw the Taliban as an inspiration for al-Qaeda in 9/11? And can we really justify the Afghanistan campaign as a testing ground for NATO in the future, which as we have heard from my noble and gallant friends, is definitely the case? It is an excellent example of our Army and our Armed Forces in action. I would be grateful for clarification from the Minister, because I am sure she shares my view that the British people, while very supportive of our gallant forces, our reconstruction efforts in the country and our new ongoing diplomatic initiative, need much more reassurance about our military role in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Finally, I welcome the new Prime Minister’s commitment to more parliamentary involvement in war-making powers and look forward to taking part in a minor way in the new Bill, with the proviso, which we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that our Members of Parliament learn a little more about the Armed Forces.

2.59 pm

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, like every other Member of your Lordships' House, I am very much in debt to the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for raising this as a subject for debate. In the short 10 years for which I have been a Member of your Lordships' House, I have never heard a debate of such seriousness, quality and one-sided passion from men whom I did not think were necessarily given to passionate speech.

I have a few words of friendly advice for my noble friend, whom I very much congratulate on her appointment. I wish her well without any reservation whatsoever. I hope that she will understand that when I have a few remarks to make that are critical of Her Majesty's Government, they do not reflect in any way on her personally but are given in the hope that she can avoid some of the mistakes that her colleagues—and, dare I say it, her predecessors—have made. There has already been reference to the extraordinary appointments made by the present Prime Minister at the Ministry of Defence.

I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, who mentioned that which we all know: that the first duty of any Government is the defence of the realm. I am wickedly tempted to say to my noble friend that her first job when she gets to her desk at the Ministry of Defence this evening is to send a signal to all naval

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officers that they acquaint themselves with the borders of the realm that they are supposed to be defending, which seems to be something that one of our Ministers—was it as recently as yesterday?—was himself not acquainted with.

I have already said what I think about the double-hatting of the position of Secretary of State for Defence with that of the Secretary of State for Scotland. I will say it again unambiguously. I think that it is a disgraceful appointment. I have been to see my Chief Whip; I told him that I was going to say this; and I am going to go on saying it at every possible opportunity until the appointment is revoked. It is a disgrace. It is an insult—not merely to those who are serving in Her Majesty's forces but to their families, and that is what I take personally very hard indeed.

This is my friendly advice to my noble friend. I hope very much that when she replies to the debate, she makes no attempt to justify that appointment but rather gets up to say that she will convey the unanimous sentiments of this House to her right honourable friend on that point. If she seeks to defend it, she will do herself great damage. I intend to dwell on that for a moment. This appointment reflects not only on the Prime Minister; it also reflects on the Secretary of State for Defence, because he should not have accepted it. As I said, the sooner that it is revoked, the better.

There has been discussion of resources, which goes to the heart of whether we are able to equip and sustain our Armed Forces appropriately. I very much endorse what the former Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord King, said on the subject of the mantra of Her Majesty's Government increasing resources in real terms by a modest percentage year after year.

I very much hope—again, this is a friendly word of advice to my noble friend—that she does not seek to defend the 1.5 per cent figure or repeat it as a justification for the theme that Her Majesty's Government have the Armed Forces at heart. When she gets back to her office—she is a very sophisticated and intelligent Minister—she needs to find out what that 1.5 per cent nominal increase in real terms represents in the decrease in capability, given the inflation element in defence equipment year after year. There is no getting away from it: 1.5 per cent overall in the budget represents a reduction in capability year after year. I very much hope—this is friendly advice to my noble friend—that she does not try to call in aid that 1.5 per cent figure as evidence of what the Government are doing for defence, because we are steadily going downhill as a result of that overly modest contribution.

My noble friend faces great challenges at the defence procurement end of the Ministry of Defence. She will suffer from the mistakes of her predecessors—no doubt I made a few in my time. I very much hope that when she gets there, she will realise the one thing that we all ought to realise: there is no such thing as a stupid question. I hope that she will not be intimidated by the jargon and the often overbearing attitude of those who are advising her. Here I am going to say

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something sacrilegious, which will no doubt offend many noble Lords with whom I have agreed wholly up till now. Those people will not always tell you the truth. People do not like to admit that people are not telling them the truth, because they realise that it is a reflection on them—or rather of what other people think about them. It is very difficult to take that on board.

I tell my noble friend—again, this is a piece of what I hope she will regard as friendly advice—that I once had a conversation with a former Conservative Defence Secretary at a conference overseas. He rose to a far greater height than me—he became a Secretary of State and member of the Cabinet. I said, “You lucky fellow, didn’t you enjoy it?”. He said, “Yes, except that they lied to me”. I hope that my noble friend tucks that away as something that she must recognise will happen from time to time. Do not be afraid of asking the stupid questions.

As I said, my noble friend will be the prisoner of various decisions taken in the past, some of which she will not be able to influence or reverse. To me, for example, one of the most classic ones relates to the Trident missile system, of which I am a great supporter, and I am a supporter of it having a successor. But it is quite beyond me why we in NATO pay good money for a missile system that is delivering thermonuclear warheads with an accuracy of a CEP of a handful of metres. The joke used to be that you could not only hit Moscow, you could put it into the men’s room in the Kremlin. Frankly, what on earth is the difference, when we have a warhead with a destructive capability many times that which we launched on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whether it ends up at that end of your Lordships’ Chamber or at the other? We seem to be paying for a grotesque, otiose accuracy. My noble friend may be in a position to influence that when it comes to the next generation of ICBM that this country will procure. I hope that she will consider that.

I move on from Trident to Typhoon, of which we are all immensely proud. I suggest to my noble friend that when she gets back to her desk, she asks a couple of questions about Typhoon’s agility. It is a marvellously agile aircraft. I do not know whether she is familiar with the way that airmen measure agility. They do it in terms of the number of G-forces that a plane can sustain when it is being put through its most violent manoeuvres before it falls apart. We pay a great deal for the agility of Typhoon. I am not going to disclose the figure—I happen to have it at the back of my head, but I will not disclose the figure in your Lordships’ House—but I suggest that when she inquires about the agility of Typhoon, simultaneously with acquiring the figure for its maximum agility, she acquires the figure for the maximum G-force that the human frame can sustain. She might be interested in comparing the two answers.

When she knows that the Saudis are buying 20 Typhoons—I forget how many it is, but that is not important—I suggest that she urges that the contract be made for them to buy them not from British Aerospace but from the Royal Air Force. That will release funds for the Royal Air Force to get a much

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more cost-effective aircraft. When the Minister talks about Typhoon, on which we are spending billions and billions of pounds, I suggest that she acquaints herself with radar cross-section, asks what the comparable radar cross-section is on modern American fighter planes, and sees what she is getting for our money.

There are many reasons for these misallocations of defence expenditure. Some are for political reasons in our country. I remember when I had to go on buying frigates from one shipyard many years ago. I do not mind telling your Lordships that that shipyard was Cammell Laird. Frigates were cheap in those days. A frigate cost £100 million. Frigates from Cammell Laird cost £120 million. I was made to buy them for political reasons—for employment policy and regional policy—all of which were very good and noble things but which should have been charges not on the defence vote, but on the department of employment’s vote or the department of the environment’s vote for regional policy. I very much hope that my noble friend will screw her courage to the sticking place, although it will be very difficult. I failed, so I shall not be too censorious of her if she does not succeed, but I hope she will realise that she should fight against that.

The Minister will find my very last point to be about much the same sort of nonsense, in that she is required from time to time to buy some—I am trying to use politer language today—Euroslobbering make-work project such as the A400M, and I suggest that she acquaints herself with all the reasons why it is preposterous and totally unnecessary. I hope very much that she will put all her energy behind getting the fifth C-17, which we were promised I think a year and a half ago but which has yet to appear, and which is the single most necessary and urgent ingredient in defence expenditure.

3.12 pm

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth for introducing the debate. It is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, whose contributions I always enjoy. I am relieved that he did not fully accurately describe the A400M. I remind the House that I am a serving officer in the Territorial Army. I am also the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on maritime and shipping matters, but I speak from the Back Benches today.

I have a bit of good news. Our Armed Forces currently seek to maintain a comprehensive and balanced capability, and they do. Unlike many other countries, we do not have several hundred main battle tanks and a similar number of fighter aircraft, but no ISTAR or deployable logistics system. Only a few other countries—the United States, France and possibly Russia—can deploy at brigade strength far overseas. We also have the political will to use our military capability for the greater good. What a pity we are not yet using the comprehensive approach at the strategic level in Whitehall.

Almost every problem that we have talked about today derives from operating far outside defence planning assumptions. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, mentioned the problem, as did many others, but he did it particularly well. To recap, our current defence planning assumptions

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allow us one medium-scale enduring operation and one small-scale operation that is possibly enduring. Medium-scale means a brigade; small-scale means a battalion. What we actually have is double medium-scale plus; the plus refers to such assets as ISTAR, special forces and everything else that we need to support two very difficult operations.

This is not just about the tour intervals—the aspiration for 24 months between operational tours. At all levels, we are training for the war, not for war. We are becoming very good at fighting this counterinsurgency operation, while neglecting the capability of operating on a large scale—in other words, at divisional level—on a proper war-fighting operation. Essential battle training exercises in Canada are being cut back, and few are experiencing the Medicine Man exercises. A very senior officer explained to me in a presentation that combat power could be expressed as kit times personnel times leadership to the power of TEE—training, education and experience. We are developing an officer cadre with a gap in TEE. This is not just about training, however, but about the kit, the platforms, the tanks, the protective ability and the helicopters, which are all being worn out far faster than planned for because we are operating far outside the defence planning assumptions.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, touched on his SF role. Only a small percentage of our Armed Forces have that innate incredible skill set that makes them suitable for service in the Special Forces. We cannot easily train more SF without diluting their capability, but we are using them far too much and we cannot go on like this. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, talked about robbing equipment. On the land side, the current euphemism is “cross-servicing”. Again, this is just another symptom of operating far outside the defence planning assumptions. We are also extremely vulnerable to another military challenge appearing from nowhere—where else do they appear from? I take it that the Minister agrees that we cannot deploy on large-scale—division-level—exercises or operations. Until 2015, there is no possibility of engaging on Exercise Saif Sareea.

We might have enough strategic aircraft to support one medium-scale operation, but we do not have for two. The aircraft that we have are the VC10 and TriStar aircraft. These are extremely unreliable, they are not used anywhere else in northern Europe, and they have a very serious effect on manpower when they disrupt rest and recuperation flights. We cannot continue to operate outside the defence planning assumptions for so long. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, we can do so for a short while but we cannot do so for years. If we do, we must expect to have our posterior kicked at some stage.

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