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In a similar way, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, alluded to what could go wrong. We must either cut our commitments or increase our resources. Since the latter is unlikely and would take time to implement and take effect, we must cut our commitments. We have 4,000 troops in Iraq, a brigade plus, but the Americans have 160,000. We cannot affect the outcome in Iraq—only the Americans can do that. My noble friend Lord Marlesford said that the Iraq

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operation could sink or swim, but actually it is beginning to do rather better.

We can affect the outcome in Afghanistan, and to a disproportionate extent. However, we are severely hampered by having to split our military power across two campaigns. It would make a huge difference if we were to get out of Iraq completely. It is obviously beyond my pay grade to say that we should, but if we did, it would not be because of the rights or wrongs of the situation or the prospects of success, which as I have said are getting better, but because of a strategy of concentrating the physical, conceptual and moral components of our fighting power on one operation for strategic reasons. Moreover, success in Afghanistan is essential to the future of NATO, as pointed out by many noble Lords.

When the Minister comes to reply, she will no doubt pray in aid approximately £2 billion-worth of urgent operational requirements, but is it the case that there is no budget line for the support of these urgent operational requirements—a budget line for the maintenance of equipment? I refer to overhauls, spare major assemblies and new tyres to replace those already worn out. Of course, UORs will be supported and the funds will have to come from elsewhere, but I give notice that I may challenge the Minister if she boasts about UORs but does not state how they are going to be supported. The Minister may also use the “jam tomorrow” argument regarding the equipment programme, but is not the incidence of expenditure unsustainable because we have the carriers, the carrier aircraft system, the future rapid effect system and Trident all reaching their peak period of expenditure at more or less the same time?

There has been much talk about the military covenant. I am extremely concerned about the delayed inquests into operational fatalities, a point raised by my noble friend Lord Selkirk, but I shall take a slightly different view. In many cases, there have been delays of over three years. It is partly a question of resources at home, not in theatre. This means that a bereaved family cannot achieve closure, and a bereaved wife cannot possibly consider starting a new relationship until the inquest is complete. Not surprisingly, the lawyers do nothing to speed the process up. A court martial tribunal is comprised of serving officers who can put the events described to the court in their proper context. I frequently hear coroners severely criticising experienced officers. It is easy to be wise after the event and to adhere to the fiction promoted by lawyers and the media that casualties and fatalities on operations can be almost entirely eliminated. Another difficulty is that, in some cases, deceased servicemen or immediate comrades may be partially responsible for the death. This is a sensitive issue and no one in the MoD or the chain of command would want to point it out in an individual case. But I have certainly been invited, along with my comrades, to do something on operations that was toe-curlingly stupid. We just got on and did it, and fortunately we got away with it.

The coroners Bill will not make an appearance during this Session, and unfortunately there is insufficient time to pursue the point further today.



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3.22 pm

Lord Addington: My Lords, I am extremely nervous about summing up a debate that has featured quite so much expertise. One thing that has become apparent is that we as a political class are only just starting to wake up to the reality of the fact that we are involved in two wars which could last for many years, indeed possibly even for decades. Our forces are deployed to a level that was never planned for, and that is a historical problem which has affected all Governments for the past couple of decades. We did not expect this to happen and we have not planned for it. Moreover, we do not have enough intelligence—I use the word in the sense of information gathering—to enable us to decide what we can do successfully. We do not know how long these things may go on for, and that is the backdrop to the entire debate.

We have to square up to the fact that these wars we have chosen to become involved in have to be fought and won. That is certainly the case in Afghanistan, but I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that I do not think we should have gone into Iraq in the first place and that we could probably leave without affecting the outcome. Unless we back up our forces with sufficient resources and political capital, we risk encouraging the groups we have set out to confront. We have to ensure that we are there for the long haul. This, however, will lead to considerable attention being drawn to the way in which we have planned, the way in which we are prepared to spend money and the priorities that we in the political world give to this expenditure.

The case for a new Strategic Defence Review has become overwhelming. It has already been said that the attempt to take a peace dividend at the end of the Cold War has led to our Armed Forces being, if not cut, slightly whittled away and allowed to wither. We did not think that there would be any great long-term commitments so we became slightly more adventurous and thought that we could make interventions at a lower level. Ultimately, this policy has led to our troops being greatly stretched.

As to the covenant, I thank the Minister for replying to the questions I raised in the debate on 7 November. I am afraid I have not studied his reply in any great depth as I picked it up at two o’clock today. I have covered the situation of our troops at home. The second part of the covenant is to make sure that troops in the field have what is required to win a conflict with the minimum casualties. However, as has been proved, casualties will be an ongoing factor for the foreseeable future. Not only must we make sure that our troops have the right weapons in the field but—as has been pointed out by people who, if they do not know, no one does—the right training and equipment properly to prepare them to take the right action. This will in turn enhance the chances of a successful outcome and cut down on casualties. Our troops in the field should have this backing, this logistical support, and sufficient colleagues to call on to meet the challenges in front of them. It would be a positive note if we could have an assurance that this Administration will never undertake another military operation unless that back-up and support can be

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made available to those involved. These are wars of choice. We are not defending our own borders or those of our allies; we chose to take part in the action.

What options would be available to us if there were to be a Strategic Defence Review? We could carry on as we are, looking at the budget and trying to find a little more money to maintain a general cross-capacity; or we could pump more money in to make sure that we can do all the things we have traditionally tried to do. We could consider what is to be the role of the Armed Forces in the future. Do we have the capacity to fight the kind of war we are fighting in Afghanistan, the capacity to fight an armoured rapid movement war, the capacity successfully to deploy a fleet with the ability to wage war by itself—or do we withdraw from such operations? Do we decide that there are things we cannot do that we have previously said we should do? Do we decide publicly to admit that we can no longer take independent action?

These decisions would be enhanced if we could achieve a political consensus by opening up the discussion to those involved. This would require a degree of political courage by all concerned. Are we going to say, for instance, that we will take certain types of action only in conjunction with our primary ally, the United States? This is not an easy decision to make, especially for those on these Benches who have not liked the political decisions of the United States. However, it is a decision we have to take.

What are we going to do in the future? At the moment, the deployed forces are stretched and we are in danger of starving of resources the branches of the Armed Forces which are not under the spotlight. This may affect their capacity to engage in the future. We should not even contemplate leaving our Armed Forces exposed in this way and still give consideration to the possibility of future deployments.

We must remember the covenant. These are our service personnel. They are potentially not only in danger but that danger is enhanced and defeat may well be inevitable. We must grab hold of this problem. We have heard from all around the House that if we do not take a grip on this situation we will simply muddle on and through, constantly undermining and endangering our personnel. We must look at what is required to support them.

I turn to the matter of the covenant. Are we going to continue to ensure that not only do our Armed Forces personnel have sufficient personal resources to keep them involved and interested in the forces, but that it remains an attractive career in the future? The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, said that it was not just a question of pay. I have recently spoken to senior serving officers who said that their soldiers, on coming back from operations and covering for firefighters during the recent dispute, had said what an easy job it was and how much better paid firefighters were. There is a perception that they are undervalued compared with, for example, policemen. It does not matter that they are comparing chalk and cheese—and indeed a firefighter may have a distinct opinion on exactly how good a job the soldiers did—but the fact that they feel that way is the most important thing. It is not just a question of pay, but if

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your accommodation is not right, you are doing more service without the chance to do the right training, your wives and girlfriends—this is predominantly from a male perspective—are saying, “It’s either me or your job” and your children are not getting the right education or are having to move schools, the issue of pay will certainly be one of your grievances.

The idea that you are being undervalued is probably as important as any one action. The idea that you are held in esteem has historically attracted people to the armed services, and we should be prepared to take action that enhances that feeling. I forget exactly who mentioned it, but merely saying, “Aren’t our Armed Forces wonderful?” does not really cut it. There are only so many times a man can be put into a dress uniform and paraded around while people say, “Isn’t he wonderful?” before he starts wondering about his pay packet and his housing.

We have to try to address the situation. We have to admit that we are fighting a war and asking our servicemen, when they don a uniform and go on operations, to risk their lives as the direct result of someone else wanting to kill them. We cannot get by on the policy that was described to me as “jogging along” as we did during the Cold War. We have to take more assertive action, such as identifying targets and establishing what the Government think are the minimum standards of support for servicemen. Unless we achieve these two things and marry them together, we will have a failure at some level. It may not be this time around and it will probably not be dramatic or even obvious at the time, but we will build up a great probability of failure at some point in the future.

3.33 pm

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, it is a well established convention in debates on defence at a time when the lives of our Armed Forces are at risk that the Opposition should seek to find and express consensus with the Government. Sadly, that cannot be the case today. On every one of the specific points picked out by my noble friend Lady Park in the Motion she has advanced with her usual skill, we are strongly critical of the Government in their actions and, even more so, in their omissions.

I do not criticise the Government for their words. From the Prime Minister to the Secretary of State, the words are often admirable. In his recent speech in the City, the Prime Minister said,

Laudable words, but the speech was seriously inadequate in its proposals for action, particularly in the light of what my noble friend Lord Marlesford said: the defence of the realm is the first priority of government.

On Sunday, in an article entitled “The Armed Forces are safe in my hands”, the Secretary of State wrote:

and,



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me—

Mr Browne’s words of reassurance will sound hollow to many service men and women.

I am sure that all noble Lords will have seen elements of General Dannatt’s staff briefing team report. The bleak reality, based on interviews with thousands of soldiers, is an Army at the end of its tether, with troops feeling devalued, angry and suffering Iraq fatigue. There is a profound level of dissatisfaction with the conditions under which the soldiers have to live and serve. It notes, for instance, that,

that leave is often cancelled or constrained because of operational overstretch and that housing is often inadequate. We are sending soldiers out to Afghanistan to fight pretty much 24 hours a day. They then come back to what my noble friend Lady Park described as disgraceful housing. How can one sustain an Army like that? On housing, I hope that the Minister will answer, if necessary by letter, the question of my noble friend Lord Selkirk about the Treasury and the financial windfall from the sale of Chelsea barracks.

The report to which I referred earlier strongly criticises the “pay-as-you-dine” policy of making soldiers pay for what they eat, which many in the Army call a “disaster” and is creating a Pot Noodle-and-sandwich culture among junior soldiers. If the Government had asked those who have the interests of their men and women most at heart, their commanding officers and their senior non-commissioned officers, they would have known from the start the disastrous effect that these policies would have.

I echo the gratitude of my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, to the Chief of the General Staff for the outstanding briefing that many of us attended in Portcullis House.

Many noble Lords and many noble and gallant Lords, including the noble and gallant Lords, Lord Guthrie, Lord Boyce and Lord Bramall, have argued that these conditions are largely the result of a decade of underfunding by this Government. It has not been lost on the armed services that the Government are willing and ready to risk more on bailing out the financially inept bank, Northern Rock, than is spent on the entire defence budget.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, asked me about a future Conservative Government’s approach to defence spending. A constant choice needs to be made between commitments and resources, but we will spend what is required to guarantee the security of the United Kingdom. We agree with the noble and gallant Lord that we must get our existing battalions up to strength.

Many noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords have mentioned the military covenant, which the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, said had been broken. The fundamental relationship that must exist between a country’s Armed Forces and its Government has been continually undermined by this Administration, leading to the final insult of a part-time Secretary of

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State who doubles up as Scottish Secretary. I am sure that the Minister has listened carefully to what all ranks of the Armed Forces have said to her about the downgrading of this great office of state—we hear it all the time. I hope that she will bring her substantial political experience to bear on this undesirable development.

The Chief of the General Staff is clearly unhappy with the ragged state of the military covenant. He says that it is “clearly out of kilter” and that the effect of trying to mount ambitious campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq with insufficient manpower is,

Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal, the commander of 3 Para, reflected the mood of the rank and file when he resigned last Friday in protest at the troops’ poor pay, the lack of equipment for recruits to train with, the state of Army housing and the lack of dedicated facilities for injured soldiers. Colonel Tootal led his men in some of last year’s most intense fighting in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, for which he was awarded the DSO. During his six-month tour between April and October, Colonel Tootal had to contend with lack of food, water, ammunition and insufficient helicopter support.

Two hundred and fifty-seven British military personnel have lost their lives since combat operations began in Iraq and Afghanistan six years ago, but those fatalities tell only part of the story. Many soldiers have returned with life-changing injuries and for every soldier killed or injured in action scores more return home traumatised by the horrific scenes that they have witnessed. I join the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, in paying tribute to the two soldiers from the SAS killed yesterday. I also pay tribute to the courageous work that the SAS is doing and to the work of the Special Boat Service.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and my noble friend Lord Selkirk mentioned coroners’ inquests. Service men and women rightly expect the Government to look after their families, whatever happens to them. How are Her Majesty’s Government addressing that area? They are doing so by withdrawing the promised Bill to improve the coroners’ courts.

Several noble Lords mentioned procurement and, particularly, the defence industrial strategy. My noble friend Lord King and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, pointed out the very good work that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, did in that area. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, the Minister, told the Defence Select Committee yesterday that the second version of the industrial strategy, which was to be published next month, will now be delayed. I hope that that is not an indication of future drift in this area. Can the Minister give a rough timescale for publication?

My noble friend Lord Selsdon mentioned the Defence Export Services Organisation, whose abolition has no supporters outside those who want to hobble Britain’s defence sector. According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, President Sarkozy is now taking personal charge of defence exports in France and is clearly setting up a structure very much based on DESO. Can the Minister give the House an update on proposals to reallocate DESO functions to UKTI? What interim arrangements

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are in place to assist defence companies during this reallocation of DESO’s functions and which Minister is currently responsible for defence exports?

On the Navy, my noble friend Lord Luke asked whether all eight Type 45s would be built and how much co-operation there would be with French yards over the carriers. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, mentioned previous commitments. The budget for Trident will not be coming out of the conventional defence budget. On the Army, my noble friend Lord Marlesford mentioned FRES. Will the Minister give some assurance on this vital piece of equipment? On the Royal Air Force, my noble friend Lord Selkirk asked about the Tornado front-line squadron and Nimrod.

Various questions were asked about ongoing operations. Equipment attrition rates need to be actively recognised and compensated for by the Treasury. My noble friend Lord Attlee mentioned UORs. Equipment attrition rates are in competition with the long-term equipment programme. There is a shortage of equipment in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Minister will, we hope, update the House on progress in Iraq and what planning assumptions there are for any commitment of the Armed Forces to Afghanistan beyond 2009-10. We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, that the operation in Afghanistan should not be allowed to fail. We are also disappointed that other NATO member states are not prepared to commit troops or equipment that would ease the demands on our front-line troops and those from Canada, Holland and Denmark.

The noble Baroness mentioned problems with recruitment and pointed out the unacceptable numbers of all ranks that are now leaving the services. The Public Accounts Committee in another place is concerned that the MoD lacks a suitable long-term strategy for personnel recruitment and retention. What is Her Majesty’s Government’s response?

I have a real fear for the well-being of our Armed Forces. I am fearful that too much damage has already been done to the fabric of their lives. I am fearful that cuts that have curtailed their training will reduce our operational effectiveness in years to come as well as cost lives. I am also fearful that all this will continue unless this Government make a real commitment and start to address their responsibilities seriously. There can rarely have been a Government who are held in so much disdain or are so little trusted by those serving on operations.

The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, said that this has been a passionate and one-sided debate. It has highlighted the dangerous world we live in and what a heroic job our Armed Forces are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do not our Armed Forces deserve better than, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, said, a Defence Secretary with only a part-time interest?

3.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on securing the debate. I am sure that she is very gratified by the number and

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quality of the speeches that we have had and by the serious way in which this debate has been addressed. I was very pleased that she put her concerns in context and acknowledged that there have been problems for a very long time, including under her Government. We should not forget that many of the problems that we are addressing are historic in nature, as is a great deal of the problem that we have on defence expenditure.


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