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Can NATO be developed into something that will enhance that role? Having read some of the NATO articles, I have come to the conclusion that it thinks that to still be relevant it must take on much more this role of peacekeeping, monitoring and helping. This role will also probably seem more attractive to its newer members. We must make sure that we do not give nationalistic politicians in Russia an excuse for going clinging back to nurse, saying “We are still being persecuted”. We should try to move away from what is left of the confrontational structure.

I shall move on to talk about the support and care of our service men and women. Both noble Lords have spoken about combat stress, and I endorse what they have said. Let us not fool ourselves. Combat stress is only a part of the problem. We are discovering that those who leave the Armed Forces, particularly in the junior ranks, seem to be particularly badly prepared for civilian life. These people often join the Army young and then do not have to deal with the mundane difficulties of life, such as organising how to pay bills, where you go and what you do, and how to find accommodation. They might have low literacy skills and so on; I have discovered that the Army is one of the better employers of dyslexics. The Army gives them structure and help but they are then, after X number of years, effectively dumped on the street.

They are then told, as the noble Lord has said, that they can get help if they ask for it: “If you fill in form XBY, turn up on time, in the right place and say the right thing, you will get help”. That is a recipe for only those who least need it getting the best help; only those with parents who are capable of assisting them,

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for instance. Let us face it: these people will not be that young when they leave. The Ministry of Defence should have a good look at the experience of, say, the department for education in getting support and help for people. The Armed Forces should take on board the idea that only the middle class, who can probably subsidise these things, get the help because it is difficult to access through bureaucracy. They should make their help available to those who need it.

I hope that the Minister can respond to that. How well does he think that the Armed Forces are doing in ensuring that their support for ex-servicemen gets to those who need it most?

12.27 pm

Lord Bramall: My Lords, over the course of many debates on defence and the Armed Forces, I and a number of other noble, and noble and gallant, Lords have cautioned, warned and, when that was predictably to no avail, criticised the Government fairly and not unreasonably. It is now generally recognised that, among other things, we should not have charged into Helmand province of all places, in the south of Afghanistan. We had, at first, token forces and totally inadequate weapons, vehicles and munitions. We were still committed significantly in Iraq and in pursuit of an unrealistic aim and strategy. If anything, that made the terror situation worse, not better, and a price had to be paid in significant battle casualties.

Now, poised as we are on the brink of a new strategy in Afghanistan and with an all-embracing funding problem, this may well be an opportune moment to remind the Government to face up to realities and their responsibilities. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgewater, on this debate and on introducing it with his customary penetrating clarity bred from considerable experience, all of which I warmly endorse.

Noble and noble and gallant Lords have also made some, I hope, helpful suggestions in these debates. It is to the Government’s credit that, over the past two years or so, the Ministry of Defence has made strenuous efforts to get our Helmand force in better balance and provide the proper equipment and supplies to support, sustain and protect our land and air forces in that area, where they still have such a difficult job to do. However, it is equally clear that, as a result of the urgency of all this, and because of continuous cheeseparing over the past 10 years or so, they now have a fundamental funding problem on their hands, accentuated by the recent Budget, of which more in a moment.

However, we are now committed to Afghanistan and, for many compelling reasons, there can be no going back in the foreseeable future. Indeed, our best hope is wholly to support the United States, to the limit of our resources, in its new, more enlightened strategy, with a strong—albeit temporary, I hope—surge of forces to give people in that vulnerable area proper rather than fleeting protection, with less talk of democracy and more of stability. There must be meaningful negotiations and financial inducements which could help separate the moderates from the fanatics,

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who must then be isolated and dealt with. We must have better directed and more quickly implemented financial aid.

We must also work as closely as possible with Pakistan. It was good to hear the Pakistani president welcome the initiative of President Obama, giving us hope that we can, despite all of Pakistan’s very real internal problems, work together in some common cause, to our mutual benefit and for the benefit of the peace of the world. In conjunction with our well motivated, highly professional American and Canadian friends, and with others from a still somewhat lukewarm NATO, all of that will require our best shots. At the moment, we have no alternative but to provide and sustain them, fortified by the wonderful sense of duty and esprit de corps of our Armed Forces that the noble Lord, Lord King, brought out so well.

Finally, while the Secretary of State has a significant war to oversee and manage, he has another major problem: a virtual black hole between established requirements and the resources that the Treasury is likely to make available. If the Treasury is to get its pound of flesh, as it usually does, that will require some very hard decisions, particularly if our best-shot operations in Afghanistan are to be fully supported and sustained, and those personnel matters such as medical, housing and welfare—the ones that fall off the bottom when you try to squeeze a quart into a pint pot—are not to suffer in a way that would rupture the military covenant, now so generally recognised as essential for the well-being of our Armed Forces. That means that the higher-spending items of equipment will have to be looked at rigorously.

What we really need is a proper defence review, but that will clearly not happen before the next general election. Meanwhile, a similar intellectual rigour will have to be turned on the more expensive items in the current three to five-year spending cycle. Of course, what is kept in or left out is a matter for the chiefs of staff to recommend as they, chaired by the Chief of Defence Staff, try to find that difficult balance between the most urgent operational needs and what the longer term may require if our forces are to be capable of taking part in any wider and more sophisticated conflict. That capability cannot be produced from a standing start.

We must look again in more detail at how we spend our money in the context of, perhaps, a more flexible approach to our independent nuclear deterrent and what exactly follows Trident, and when, and, certainly, with the general recognition that, since the Cold War, the world scene and the scale of urgency of future threats have changed considerably. We cannot automatically feel bound by old Cold War cries and clichés such as, “You must have four and not three nuclear submarines, because there must always be one on station”. Indeed, I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, repeat that in an otherwise wide-ranging and flexible summing-up of a foreign affairs debate.

The same intellectual rigour needs to be applied to the carrier argument. The Royal Navy has tasks that fall upon it regularly in peace and war—some on every day of the week—while we should take into account

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the new dimension of piracy. In order for it to do those tasks, we should look at whether the Navy would prefer two less than fully equipped carriers with greatly reduced and, I would suggest, insufficient small surface ships and killer submarines or, perhaps, one fully equipped carrier with everything required to fly off it and to protect it and, perhaps, rather more ships for their everyday tasks.

There is no doubt, then, that the Secretary of State has some real problems on his hands. I hope that the Minister will give us some idea how the Government are facing up to those problems and how they are likely to be resolved in the near future, while ensuring a proper defence of the United Kingdom against a variety of eventualities, and proper support for our foreign policy and interests abroad—whether that involves peacekeeping, enforcement or something even more decisive and intense altogether.

12.34 pm

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord King, for enabling this important issue to be debated in your Lordships’ House in these troubling times. In this brief intervention I shall argue that, honoured and respected though the British Armed Forces might be, as the noble Lord, Lord King, indicated in his speech, they are presently so stretched in both personnel and resources that their effectiveness is close to being dangerously at risk.

Obviously, in the shadow of the financial crunch it is not easy to find ever more money for the Armed Forces but, following the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, I suggest that substantial sums could be released if Her Majesty’s Government were to decide not to proceed with upgrading the Trident nuclear weapon system. Nor is that simply a financial matter; I, like many of your Lordships, am of the generation that grew up under the shadow of the Cold War, and it is at least arguable that in those dark days the world was, through the nuclear deterrent, spared a horrific global war which would have been catastrophic even using conventional weapons.

As your Lordships are aware, toward the end of those deeply worrying times, in 1968, the United Nations sponsored the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The signatories agreed a three-pronged deal. The nations without nuclear weapons would not seek to develop them, provided that those with nuclear weapons agreed to progressively disarm, while knowledge for the peaceful use of nuclear energy would be shared. It was also agreed that the signatories would meet at the UN every five years to review progress; I understand that such a meeting is planned for next year. Her Majesty’s Government argue that they have honoured the treaty by reducing the total number of nuclear warheads and their delivery systems, but that argument lacks conviction if upgrading the Trident system results in the possession of fewer but more powerful and sophisticated nuclear weapons. The moral, and perhaps legal, case against countries such as Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and India developing their own nuclear weapons is subsequently weakened.

Some argue that the possession of nuclear weapons—whether or not they could ever be of practical use in

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the world of today and tomorrow—is a badge that a country like Britain needs, because it demonstrates that the nation is a world power worthy of respect. I believe, rather, that Britain is more likely to be respected if it is prepared to play its part in peacemaking and peacekeeping by supplying Armed Forces who are professional, disciplined, and well resourced with the personnel and equipment needed to respond quickly and flexibly whenever and wherever they are needed. Would the estimated £20 billion needed to upgrade Trident not be better spent in that way?

12.37 pm

Lord Sterling of Plaistow: My Lords, although I have had the honour of being a member of your Lordships’ House since 1991, I have rarely taken part in a debate as I was, until quite recently, the executive chairman of P&O. I have the honour of being an honorary commodore of the Royal Navy, heavily involved with the reserves over the past two decades, with the advantage of knowing and exchanging views over many years with the various Chiefs of Staff of all our defence services, particularly those presently in command.

I also have the pleasure of being chairman of Motability, which, some 25 years ago, took over the responsibility of providing adapted cars for all our disabled servicemen. At the moment some 17,000 recipients are eligible, of which today many thousands have Motability cars. I want to share an experience that I had last year, at Motability’s 30th anniversary celebrations at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Her Majesty the Queen was handing over keys to newly disabled servicemen. The Queen then spoke to a young 20 year-old Royal Marine; he was accompanied by his carer and was recovering at that marvellous hospital, Headley Court. Both his legs had been blown off above the thigh. A fine athlete at school, he had passed out only seven months earlier in front of his proud family. For me it was a most poignant moment. What of his future? He could have been my grandson. This, I suppose, is the cost of war, or perhaps a more correct way of looking at it is that this is the cost of peace. I could not support more strongly the views expressed by my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater with regard to casualties in the armed services and their families. There has been some improvement but it is still shaming for all of us that there has been such reluctance to get the proper support for these brave young men and women who serve their country with a total sense of duty and pride, putting their lives on the line at our behest.

In recent times our armed services have been actively engaged in conflict for some 25 years, and for its size we probably have the most battle-hardened, experienced and professional defence force in the world. Apart from our deep involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Royal Navy is leading the European Union naval force, whose operating headquarters is at Northwood, where it also runs the Maritime Security Centre (Horn of Africa). At this very moment oil tankers and LNG carriers are traversing the Gulf of Aden en route to our shores. Energy security is critical and a natural role for our Navy. Protecting our trade routes has always been, and will continue to be, crucial to this country.

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Our Chiefs of Staff and senior officers of our defence services are highly talented and experienced, and the present Secretary of State for Defence is deeply committed to their strategic needs and is strongly supportive of their endeavours. Nevertheless, as has been said, they can do only so much with limited resources. Defence reviews have pretty well become shorthand for cuts. The most recent will have the effect of our not being able to fulfil our present undertakings and certainly will not meet the needs of the procurement programme already agreed.

Should we be Treasury-driven or policy-driven? We have reached a critical crossroads at this time and there is no way we could seriously engage in another area of conflict without reducing forces in other areas. Of course, I am more than aware of our present financial challenges, but the world moves on and in my view these cuts are hugely short-sighted and we are putting our heads in the sand. Not to play with words, I say that it is no less than appeasement. There are still many in this House who not only remember the dangers of appeasement but risked their lives in active duty because of it, of which the noble and gallant Lord, Field Marshall Lord Bramall, knows better than most. My own company, P&O, suffered huge losses in both world wars. Before it is too late, this great country of ours must have a major strategic debate on the role of our defence forces for the future—a key part of our national security. It must be a debate which I sincerely hope will come to a rapid and positive conclusion.

I believe that we have a moral duty, if that is not an outdated expression in this day and age, to have a response force of a size and flexibility that in time of need is both a deterrent and has the capability to help, for example, members of the Commonwealth. It is too easily forgotten how they flocked to help us in the past two world wars and other conflicts. Many small countries throughout the world still look to us for leadership, help and protection in these uncertain times. Sadly, the world is not only unlikely to change in the near future, indeed it is likely to become even more dangerous. If such a debate concluded that this was the right way forward but that it would take, say, 3 to 3.5 per cent of our GDP, I for one would say so be it. It is our duty. As the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said, it is vital that everybody in this country fully understands the reasons for such a decision and is strongly supportive of it.

The defence of the realm and our future role in the international world is the first duty of Government, and therefore their key priority. I hope noble Lords will agree that it is very much the responsibility of this House, and indeed of Parliament itself, to ensure that the right decisions are made. Time is not on our side.

12.44 pm

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I, too, welcome this timely debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for initiating it. It is a pleasure to see the noble Baroness, Lady Park, in her place and taking part in this debate.

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This is a busy week for the Armed Forces. Many of us will have seen on television this morning the moving ceremony that took place in Basra, which was a timely reminder of the price that our service men and women pay day in and day out for carrying out our foreign policy. Yesterday, a decision was made in relation to the Gurkhas. I have no doubt that that will come up in the debate. I think that the right decision was reached in the end. I look forward to my noble friend Lord Brett repeating the Statement made in another place. I hope the Government do not become too defensive and that the Opposition do not crow too much, as I recall that when I was chairman of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body the Gurkhas were treated appallingly as a result of government policy. It was good to see the new Labour Government improve the Gurkhas’ pensions and the conditions for them and their families. Earlier, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, mentioned Hong Kong. I was in Hong Kong just before the handover. The Gurkhas were extremely worried then about their and their families’ future. It is not surprising that many of them did not come here, because the conditions imposed were such that they were not encouraged to do so. I am delighted at the decision reached yesterday.

During this busy week the Prime Minister made a very welcome visit to our Armed Forces in Afghanistan. He then travelled to Pakistan. Certainly, Pakistan has to be at the centre of our attention regarding what we do in the future. I am not someone who believes everything I read in the press, rather the opposite, but I was somewhat concerned to read a little paragraph this morning which said that the Prime Minister had rejected the advice of the Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of State for Defence to send 2,000 more service personnel to Afghanistan. Instead, 700 will be sent on a temporary basis. It would be helpful if the Minister could comment on that.

I wish to concentrate on the enormous contribution that our Armed Forces have made to the interface with civilians not just in a peacekeeping role but in operational theatres. I have seen this for myself and have never failed to be amazed at the work that they do. Unlike people from other international organisations and, indeed, services, who stay safely in their vehicles, clearly marked with a big cross, or whatever, British troops are out on the street with civilians, talking to them and getting to know them. I was particularly struck by our troops’ attitude to women. When I went to the Balkans I coincidentally met some local women. I saw 18 year-old servicemen confidently talking to young women who were ignored by the men in their own community because they had been raped. It was an enormous privilege to observe those young soldiers comforting those women and their children.

In Afghanistan, General McColl and his soldiers protected women attending the Parliament. Now 25 per cent of its members are women. That is a substantial contribution to peacekeeping for which the British Armed Forces deserve credit. Anyone who meets them cannot fail to be impressed by them. However, words do not mean very much unless we do something. Following a service that was held in the abbey and a reception in the Palace of Westminster, I was surprised

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by how many Members of this House said, as if they were astonished, “Aren’t they wonderful?”. It was as if noble Lords were not fully aware of what our Armed Forces do. That leads me to the point made by my noble friend Lord Robertson about the disconnect. We have to do something about the disconnect between what we are trying to do in Afghanistan and, I hope, Pakistan, and how we get that across to the British population because they are not swinging around in support of it. That is understandable, but we have a responsibility in that area.

Much needs to be done and more resources are needed, but let us be objective in our debates, as this House is. Headley Court was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sterling. How right he is. I was privileged to take members of the House of Lords Defence Group to visit Headley Court about 18 months ago. Headley Court’s limb provision had come from being appalling, relying on the National Health Service, to being the national winner of limb provision for service men and women who had lost arms or legs in the defence of this country. At the end of that enormously uplifting visit the Defence Group said as a whole that we were quite happy to support Headley Court, and we asked what it would like us to go back and lobby for or raise. The answer was that it did not want us to ask for anything because the money that it had asked to be spent on Headley Court had been spent, as we could see. That is an area of progress.

I certainly welcome the additional resources for Armed Forces housing in the Budget, and the improvements in pensions and medical services, although I exclude entirely the support for Armed Forces personnel with mental health problems. We really have to get to grips with that issue. Perhaps we need to discuss it more than we do.

I believe that our services are overstretched. The last Strategic Defence Review was absolutely first-class. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, is in his place. I remember well not so much the debates but the consultation about it. It is easy to say that we need more resources. They may well come through a new Strategic Defence Review, which is direly needed now. If we had another, it could raise the issues and the challenge that we need more resources for our Armed Forces and the defence budget. I would support that. Where would the money come from? It would mean less for other areas. We need that debate, which will be helped by the more overt presence of our Armed Forces in our community, such as the marches when they come back. We can see how the general population respond to them. I very much welcome this debate and support entirely the call for a Strategic Defence Review. That will help us to take the necessary steps for our service men and women and their families, who deserve our support and without whom we could not do what we are trying to do.

12.52 pm

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I must apologise to the House for the fact that you are about to hear a speech about the Gurkhas, because I was quite unaware of the wonderful events that were due to happen last night. I want to speak about them to urge on HMG to make a real reappraisal of their

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policy. I do so not only out of a profound admiration of and gratitude for the Gurkhas’ loyal and courageous service but also because it is in our national interest to encourage settlement of Gurkhas in this country and to use their skills, not least in the area of civil defence.

The Command Paper The Nation’s Commitment, presented by the Secretary of State for Defence in July last year, recognises that there is an important Armed Forces constituency and speaks rightly of the Government’s duty not to legislate without taking,

Have the Prime Minister and the Treasury remembered that? I think they need to do so before they take decisions on troops for Afghanistan, and I hope the defence chiefs will be listening.

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