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Unquestionably, we are trying to do too much on the 2.4 per cent or so of gross domestic product spent on defence. Whichever party wins the next general election will face some difficult choices. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that the Official Opposition have for the first time acknowledged that the defence spend, as far as they are concerned, can no longer be regarded as a sacred cow and ring-fenced. Indeed, I would suggest that the debate on defence in the Conservative Party in the next 12 or 18 months will be crucial to defence in this country.

Of course, it would all be very different if we currently faced a major military threat. We would then have to put defence expenditure as a number one priority. However, this is not the case at present. On the other hand, we have a major conflict in Afghanistan, commitments in the Balkans and piracy off Somalia, all of which have to be properly resourced. It is particularly disturbing to hear that the Prime Minister is blocking the commitment, or the wish of the defence chiefs, to provide more permanent forces for Afghanistan and that he will sanction only a modest increase on a temporary basis. I think that we are letting down our forces.

We cannot ignore the terrorist threat to this country. I was interested in the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, regarding a department of homeland security. We have the nuclear threat from North Korea, an uncertain Iran, a fragile Pakistan and significant increases in Russian and Chinese defence expenditure. Russia is considering using bases in Cuba, Venezuela and pushing into the Arctic. It was announced earlier this week that Russia and China are planning something like 25 joint manoeuvres. That announcement was made by Defence Ministers from what is termed the Shanghai Co-Operation Organisation, which is seen as an emerging rival to NATO. The world is still a very dangerous place and we have to keep up our guard.

What should be the strands of our defence policy in the short to medium term? First—I believe the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, referred to this earlier—we must stay close to America, our number one military ally. I would suggest that we are all a lot more comfortable with President Obama’s approach of more talking, less sabre-rattling and less axis-of-evil language. Secondly—this came up at Question Time earlier—we welcome France’s return to the military structure in NATO. We must work to support greater European defence co-operation and support more joint procurement. We should try to encourage greater United Kingdom corporate activity in helping to consolidate the European defence industries. One looks at what BAE Systems has achieved in the United States. It employs significantly more people there than it does in this country. The lead towards consolidation can come from our industry.

Thirdly, we must work towards a reduction in nuclear weapons. The right reverend Prelate referred to that. There is increasingly a questioning of Trident. A number of noble Lords, including the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Ramsbotham, referred to Trident. Is it truly independent? Realistically, are we ever likely to press the button? Can we afford the cost of anything up to

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£100 billion in today’s money values over a 40-year period from 2015? Can that sort of expenditure realistically be justified? Could other delivery systems such as the Astute submarines carry a more modest nuclear capability, if we judge that to be necessary? I am increasingly undecided on Trident, and increasingly Trident-sceptic. Perhaps the time has come to set up a serious Future of Trident commission, involving senior diplomats, defence experts, naval specialists and logistical and financial personnel to look seriously at all the options, however radical.

Fourthly, it is increasingly accepted that we need more mobile and a greater number of special forces. The Secretary of State referred to that in a speech earlier this week. A littler earlier today, my noble friend Lord Burnett spoke of the marines and commandos in action in Afghanistan. He also acknowledged the tremendous efforts of the Gurkhas and the debt we owe them. The noble Baroness, Lady Park, also referred to the Gurkhas. In Written Answers to my good friend Nick Harvey in the other place, the Armed Forces Minister, Bob Ainsworth, effectively conceded that 30 per cent of parachutists in our leading airborne fighting unit are not sufficiently qualified at present. A total of 11 parachuting courses were cancelled in the past 12 months owing to lack of aircraft. So can we justify two new large carriers plus aircraft and escorts in our increasingly constrained circumstances? The suggestion in the other place made by Nicholas Soames and others was that perhaps we ought to be thinking about a number of smaller carriers—perhaps the development of HMS “Ocean”-type vessels which can carry helicopters. My noble friend Lord Addington also questioned the role of heavy armour. Fifthly, there is the whole question of our reserves.

We have to sensibly and intelligently handle the transition from being perhaps a superpower to being a very capable second-division player, all the while keeping up our guard and recognising that we need more mobile and lighter Armed Forces. Finally, and crucially, we have to honour the covenant with our service personnel in terms of length of deployment, training, pay, equipment, accommodation and aftercare. We must show greater awareness of mental problems that arise for those who have been in combat. We owe our brave service personnel nothing less.

2.36 pm

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord King for having arranged this important debate. I start by saying how delighted I am to see my noble friend Lady Park back in her place. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say how much she has been missed.

I also express my deeply felt appreciation to all the men and women in our Armed Forces. Daily they perform extraordinary tasks in service to our nation. As demonstrated by the death of Lance Sergeant Fasfous of the Welsh Guards, they are willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, pointed out the vital role that the families of service men and women play. My sympathy goes out to them and the loved ones of

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those—all too many of them—who have lost their lives, and particularly to those who are injured, some with life-changing injuries.

In an eloquent speech, my noble friend Lord Sterling mentioned the Royal Marine who had lost both legs only seven months after passing out. We are doing much to help, but the questions remain. Are we doing enough? What more could we, should we, be doing? My noble friend Lord King mentioned the mental price paid because of the difficult nature of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to research published in the British Medical Journal, the longer military personnel are deployed, the more likely they are to be at risk of developing psychological disorders and experiencing problems at home. In light of continued deployments, what are the Government doing to better advertise help available to veterans suffering from PTSD, both to GPs and the veterans themselves?

We also remember the 179 British service men and women who gave their lives in Iraq. This is a timely debate, given today’s very moving memorial service and the withdrawal of British troops from Basra. While the Army may be coming home, the Royal Navy is still active there and we must remember the strong presence they still have in the Gulf. As my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew said, we also remember those service men and women killed in Northern Ireland.

We have had an excellent and authoritative debate with contributions ranging far and wide over the tasks which our Armed Forces are expected to perform. Putting all the views together it is clear that the situation is critical.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark both mentioned the Trident replacement. As was made clear in the defence procurement debate in the other place last week, we on these Benches welcome the decision to proceed with the Trident replacement. As the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, said, this is the ultimate peacekeeping weapon. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friends Lord Marlesford and Lord Attlee pointed out that there could be no satisfactory peacekeeping while there is such a wide disconnect between the MoD, DfID and the FCO. I went to Afghanistan a month after the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—I thank the noble Baroness’s department for all its help in putting the visit together—and I share the admiration of the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Burnett, for the Royal Marines I met out there, from Brigadier Gordon Messenger down. Many soldiers and Royal Marines I spoke to there wished that DfID could be less risk-averse and have a better understanding of the military outlook and culture.

The noble Lord, Lord Burnett, called for assurances on the two carriers and the JSF. He will be pleased to know that we on these Benches are publicly committed to both. My noble friend Lord Selsdon pointed out the important role the Royal Navy plays for this nation as a maritime nation. My noble friend Lord Sheikh pointed out that we owe members of the Armed Forces a duty of care. The military covenant has not been honoured fully during the two recent

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operations. My noble friend also mentioned the problems of the air bridge. The Minister is aware of my concerns on this issue and the number of service men and women who are being seriously inconvenienced and losing leave.

The noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, and my noble friend Lord Attlee mentioned the vital role that the Special Forces carry out. I agree and I give them all my support. The noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, mentioned the Defence Medical Welfare Service and I pay tribute to the very important work that it does.

Many noble Lords mentioned the Gurkhas. Having served in Gurkha brigades in Malaysia and Hong Kong, I was delighted, like the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, at yesterday’s decision. I congratulate Joanna Lumley on the incredible campaign she has fought with these brave Gurkhas, coming to Parliament again and again.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for her very important work in chairing the Lords Defence Study Group and to my noble friend Lord Lyell for the work he does as secretary.

Afghanistan has, naturally, been mentioned by many noble Lords, as has Pakistan, particularly in a very interesting speech by my noble friend Lord Marlesford. On preparations for the August elections in Afghanistan and the planned increase in troop numbers, we have said that we would support an increase for the elections, as long as it was clearly justified and backed up by extra equipment, such as helicopters, and adequate force protection. Will the Minister confirm that this will be the case?

Yesterday, the Prime Minister talked about our NATO allies sharing a fairer burden in Afghanistan, as was announced at the recent NATO summit. Will the Minister tell the House when this commitment will be delivered and how many of the extra troops will be based in southern Afghanistan? Will the Minister give the House her assurance that personnel withdrawn from Iraq this year will be given sufficient rest, in line with the harmony guidelines, before they are deployed to Afghanistan? The Grenadier Guards’ last tour interval, for example, between tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was only eight months.

The Government’s neglect of the defence industry has been mentioned. The industry has become so concerned that the National Defence Industries Council plans to undertake a lobbying exercise to persuade the Government that this sector does matter. Not only does the defence sector provide some 305,000 jobs—10 per cent of Britain’s manufacturing workforce—it also contributes enormous revenues to the Exchequer. The United Kingdom is gaining a reputation as an unreliable partner. We hear that the Treasury will not sign off the order for the 16 tranche 3 Typhoons for the Royal Air Force at a cost of £1.44 billion. What implications will there be for the maintenance of key technology skills in this country if this deal does not go through? The Government cannot presume on the continued presence in the UK market of the international investors they want to see here if they are not given work. Maintaining design teams and preparing bids is not a

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cost-free exercise for industry; equipment does not get cheaper if programmes are delayed or reduced in numbers. Industry must recoup its costs.

Will the Minister say something about the assessment work on the FRES Scout reconnaissance vehicle? Not stalling on this, but replacing the antiquated CVR(T)s quickly, would send a positive message to our troops. With all the add-on equipment, they have now become totally unfightable.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, have called for a Strategic Defence Review. If my party comes to power next year, we are committed to carrying this out at an early stage.

It is right that we debate the big issues of defence and security policy, but it is fundamental that, in so doing, we should always keep in mind the demands that such policies make on the people who carry them out.

2.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord King, not just on initiating this debate but also on choosing a topic on which so many Members of your Lordships’ House wished to contribute. I add my welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Park. We did—perhaps surprisingly to some people—agree on one issue some time ago when we mounted a little campaign together. We will not, I am sure, agree on everything, but I welcome her back to the House, having admired her resolution and determination during my presence here.

As has been said, this is a very appropriate time to have a debate on defence. Mention has been made of events in Iraq, quite rightly, but there are also some anniversaries which we might perhaps take a moment to recall. Some of your Lordships may recall that it is 40 years to the day since HMS “Resolution” set ready on 30 April 1969, beginning the continuous at-sea deterrence. I know that we have had different views in the House today on the replacement, views which have been robustly countered by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, and the noble Lord, Lord Astor. Interestingly, the Prime Minister also touched on this yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions and talked about hopes for non-proliferation and hopes for progress, but also the need for us to be careful about our own defence.

Earlier this month, we had the celebration of NATO’s 60th birthday. Very few people who were present at NATO’s creation would have thought that this alliance would not only outlast the Cold War conditions that brought it into being, but successfully oversee the redrawing of the map of Europe and arrive at the new situation, the post-9/11 situation, and the dramatically different security environment that we now face. I have just returned from talks with people in Croatia and Albania, NATO’s newest members, and they, of course, come from an area that, only a decade ago, was actually at war.

Mention has also been made today, by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and others, of the decision by France to return to NATO’s integrated military structure, something that I hope we can all welcome. Mention

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has been made of the need to make progress in NATO on burden sharing. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, quite rightly drew attention to the challenges facing the new Secretary-General—no doubt with some sympathy on his part—with regard to the need further to develop the transformation and reform agenda within NATO.

On 6 June, it will be the 65th anniversary of British and allied servicemen coming ashore on the beaches of Normandy, and there will quite rightly be an international commemoration. These anniversaries are important in their own right, and because they underline some of the themes that have been raised in the debate: the variety of threats that we face; the crucial importance of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan; and—a unifying factor—the support that we must provide to those who are serving or who have served our nation with such distinction in so many ways.

Mention was made of the events this morning in Iraq, where the Defence Secretary attended what has rightly been described as a moving and important ceremony to mark the successful completion of the British combat mission and the transition to a close and, we hope, enduring bilateral relationship with Iraq. After a commitment lasting more than six years, British forces will now start to leave southern Iraq, with Basra transformed from how they found it six years ago. The commanding general of the coalition forces said:

“The accomplishment of the British forces across Iraq, and especially in Basra, has been nothing short of brilliant”.

Brigadier Tom Beckett, commander of 20 Armoured Brigade, said today:

“We leave knowing we have done our job and done it well”.

The importance of this should continue to be in our minds, which is why the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary have made a commitment to bring the Basra memorial wall home to a fitting resting place in Britain at the National Memorial Arboretum, which is an appropriate venue.

Noble Lords have talked about some of the challenges that we face, and we have had calls, not for the first time, for a defence review. Rightly, the Prime Minister has made it clear on more than one occasion that no one could have foreseen the sheer scale of the new global challenges that our growing interdependence brings; their scale, diversity and the speed with which they emerge. That is why the Government have launched the national security strategy, a new approach which is important for various reasons. It brings home the range of the threats and challenges and makes it clear that the distinction between defence and security is now more difficult to define than ever before. Security is not just about our forces in the conventional way that people think, but about the critical roles that they have to play all around the world.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friend Lord Judd also mentioned the importance of the role that we play in conflict prevention, helping other countries to tackle some of the serious security challenges that exist around the world which could have implications for us as a nation. That is why we in the UK have trained more than 12,000 African peacekeepers since 2004-05. We should acknowledge

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the contribution that they make, as well as that of those who are involved in other operations. It is important work.

I will now say a little about the work going on in operations. I have mentioned the events in Iraq today, which were important and impressive. It is right that we now move on to a new relationship. United Kingdom forces still have, as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, suggested, an important role to finish there. They are now focusing on completing the task of mentoring and training the 14th division. Importantly, the Royal Navy will continue to help to provide security for Iraq’s offshore energy infrastructure, as well as trying to help to train the Iraqi navy. The Royal Air Force provides essential support for Iraqi security forces as part of the coalition effort. We should commend what our troops have done in Iraq and recognise the continuing role that some will have to play.

Mention was made of the work on piracy around the Horn of Africa. The United Kingdom is at the forefront of the EU mission, with the operational headquarters at Northwood. The noble Lord, Lord Sterling, acknowledged the work that goes on there. It is important that we also acknowledge the United Kingdom’s lead on international co-ordination through the international contact group, which brings together civil, maritime, NATO and EU missions going on in that area. It is a United Nations-sanctioned approach, because it is important that everyone works together in that way.

When it comes to operations, our main thoughts at the moment are with Afghanistan. Mention has been made of the importance of the Afghanistan-Pakistan dimension, of which we in this country were always aware because, as was said earlier, we have to learn from our history. Yesterday’s Statement made it very clear that our main responsibility is to provide security for the area. We have to train the Afghan police and army. We have to establish the rule of law, and we have to help Afghans to tackle corruption and then to move on to economic development.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, mentioned other important issues, such as the rights of women. He had horrific statistics. That motivates us to help in many countries where there are problems of that kind. It is important to remember that we do not have a military operation there because of that. We have a military operation in Afghanistan to underpin our own security, because of all the threats that have emanated from there in the recent past. The noble Earl is right that we need a comprehensive approach to these issues, and we need to have joined-up government both here and on operations to maximise what we can do.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, suggested that our Armed Forces needed to know the answer to the old question, “Is our country behind us?”. I think that the country is behind our Armed Forces, but the noble and learned Lord is right to suggest that sometimes we have to remind the public of the dangers of not participating, not taking control and not re-establishing security in that area. The origins of 9/11, the Madrid bombing and the London Tube bombings can all be traced back to that area, and we have to make progress in our own interests.

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Equipment, training and support are all extremely important. On numbers, this is never a static situation, because we always keep these under review. We intend to go up to 9,000 for the election period, of course with the kind of support and force protection that is required to do the job properly. As the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday, in the region of 5,000 other troops from European NATO countries are being considered for that kind of role. Some people are looking to provide extra police training through the gendarmeries that exist in some countries, which could be very important. It is now generally agreed that we have done well when it comes to delivering equipment to operations. The £10 billion that we have spent has produced very dramatic results, and our operational experience has been an important driver in terms of making sure that we are at the cutting edge of new equipment, and it has brought new ways of working.

On the Armed Forces security commitment, we have made progress with Kestrel and Osprey, but we do not stop there. Now we want to improve that to make lighter equipment of that kind to make movement easier, especially in that climate. The subject of vehicles, on which we have a good story to tell, has already been raised. More than £1 billion of new money has been approved for new vehicles for operations, including £350 million for more than 400 new light and medium vehicles: the Coyote and the Husky—the ones with the exciting names. We also have the experience of some of those which we have developed so far, such as the Mastiff, which has been a tremendous success. They are getting into the field very quickly; I was asked about that earlier. However, I remind the House that we are not simply buying these vehicles off the shelf. They often have to be developed to meet the challenging conditions we face in Afghanistan. We must commend industry and those in the MoD working in this area. They have turned the speed of development around, which is important.

We have also made significant progress in the air. We have managed to maintain extra flying hours: helicopter flying hours in Afghanistan are now 84 per cent higher than in November 2006. There are a whole variety of initiatives for upgrading helicopters and working with other countries on them. It is significant that real progress has been made. Of course, we could always use more helicopters on operations, but it is important to realise that those in charge in the field have sufficient resources for their requirements.

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