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I am troubled by the military budget. Everybody is concerned about the recession, but the world will go on. I have been through five recessions. This may be the worst, but the world will not stop. This is a very wealthy country. According to Treasury figures, in 1987 we spent 4.3 per cent of our GDP on defence. Now we spend less than 2.6 per cent. Historically in a time of war one has always increased the spend on the military, and brought it down later-and we are in a time of war.
It takes courageous government, backed by a powerful military option, to make good foreign policy. I conclude by saying that, whoever is in power in future, if the military develops in a flexible manner, perhaps we will be able to reply to the lady who was on the BBC this morning by saying, "Your husband died to create a better and safer world".
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, this debate is important because it comes when the country has been at war in Afghanistan for eight years. The sacrifice of our troops calls for a sober assessment of what our expectations are of our Armed Forces when they are in theatre, and for honesty with them and the country about what the future holds. It is a sad fact that we have neither leadership to explain why we are fighting this war, nor honesty with the country about what to expect. We heard an unusual statement from the Minister today. He seems to be opening the door to a new era of honesty. I will confine most of my remarks to these two issues, because they are now critical.
Leadership in war requires that the political masters be clear to the military about the morality of war and the consequences of doing nothing to avert the dangers to the nation. I welcome the news that the Prime Minister is reconfirming his commitment to the Afghanistan mission, but, like many others, I do not accept the tone of the message. It is not sufficient to say simply that the sacrifice of our service men and women is to prevent terrorism on the streets of Britain. If it were so simple, we would not continue to have terrorist plots disrupted day after day in the UK, as our presence in Afghanistan would have ended Muslim extremism throughout the world. If it were so simple, the chairman of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee would have had logic on his side in his article in the Guardian the day before yesterday. Why fight in distant and inhospitable territory when it is much more comfortable, and indeed cheaper, to snoop on our own citizens at home?
The sacrifice of those who serve their country with valour places on politicians a duty to be honest. The honesty must not only explain why we are at war-and these reasons must be spelt out again and again lest the public memory be distracted-but also provide a regular assessment of where we are in the war effort. During the war in Afghanistan, we have sadly lacked both. This spring and summer, when Ministers should have explained clearly that the shortage of helicopters was due to the need for reconfiguration because the
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I will spell out what must comprise part of our compact with the nation if the Afghanistan effort is to succeed. First, there must be an explanation of what constitutes our national interest. The noble Lord, Lord Drayson, went some way this morning towards addressing that. I will add that this must include the possible consequences in Afghanistan, and more importantly in Pakistan, if those states fail. My noble friend Lord Ashdown detailed this succinctly during Questions in the House this week, and in his article in the Times yesterday. A regional conflagration could result not only in jihadis with fingers on nuclear buttons, but could also expand the conflict to the central Asian republics, to Iran and almost certainly, because of Kashmir, to India as well. The idea of two nuclear powers, with a long history of antagonism and war, engaging in increased hostility is certainly something that we in the UK would have to engage with. It is part of our national interest.
Our objective should be limited to securing stability such that the writ of the Afghan Government runs to the borders of that country. Our objective is to ensure that al-Qaeda does not have a country from which to conduct its operations. We have to explain that our objectives are not to bring about a western-style liberal democracy in Afghanistan but merely to contain problems that will not be containable if we leave them to fester.
Secondly, it is in our national interest that we continue to play our full role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Our obligation is to help to preserve international peace and security and we have a duty to live up to that. It is in our national interest that NATO, of which we are such an important component, is able to execute its mandate in Afghanistan. It was not designed for this kind of operation, so far from its traditional theatre, but it is vital now that it is engaged that it passes this test if it is to survive and be fit for purpose in the future.
The Minister touched on the importance of multilateralism. I would go further. In an increasingly insecure globalised world, working with others on defence and security is equally important as working with others in stabilising the economy or addressing climate change. Countries can no longer pick and choose from an à la carte menu of multilateralism and say, "We'll co-operate on this but not on that; we'll play our part here but not there".
Finally, I want to touch on the case that needs to be made here at home to the public for our engagement in the Muslim world. Many will question why our service men and women are putting themselves in harm's way to sort out the problems of people who seemingly do not conform to our values, our ideas of freedom and democracy or our respect for human rights. The answer is clear. We are all, irrespective of our religion or culture, enjoined in our common humanity. However, I do not make sweeping claims for our obligations under that banner. I raise this simply because there has been a failure to explain to our public the extent of the crisis that is engulfing the Muslim world and the ideological struggle over adapting to modernity or retaining an idealistic, pure vision of a kind of life that probably never existed. Our interest has to be to support the vast majority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims who form the mass of the community of nations. We need to explain that this trouble will take at least a generation to work itself through and that we will undoubtedly be affected by it here in the UK.
We need to remind ourselves of history. Just when we were recovering from the losses of the First World War, the unfinished business of the treaty of Versailles catapulted us into the Second World War. After 1945, when we thought that we could get on with peace and prosperity, we had the Cold War. A decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we had 9/11 and the spectre of jihadi terrorism. It is a sad fact of the continuity of world affairs that there is also continuity in an imperfect peace. We on these Benches will happily play our part in taking this message to our fellow citizens. I fear that the Government are bound to fail to do so.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I do not believe that the people of this country would think well of the House of Lords if we seek to truncate speeches of the quality that we have heard and are going to hear in order to go home at three o'clock.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I noted that the time limit is advisory, but it is the House that has made the decision about seeking to finish at three o'clock on a Friday; I am working only in the interests of what the House itself has decided.
Something has to be done about the mismatch between the MoD's procurement aspirations and available resources, but this problem has not suddenly arisen in the last six to 12 months. Mr Gray's report shows the massive and unsustainable scale of the expenditure bow wave way back in 2005, let alone now in 2009.
Thirteen months ago, some of my noble and gallant friends and I met Mr Hutton, then the Defence Secretary, to discuss the growing pressures on the defence budget and issues of procurement. I asked him directly, "Is it not time to have a defence review?". "No," he replied, "we know where we are and it is not necessary". In which case, why was the procurement budget being so cavalierly overloaded?
Now, over a year later, there is serious talk of a new defence review. The Minister has described the preliminary work. However, due to the timings of the electoral calendar, there is little hope for a further 18 months or more of a completed defence review emerging and enjoying firm government endorsement, with future funding levels, one would hope, approved. Meanwhile, there is no sound basis for procurement decisions or cancellations. UORs apart, defence acquisition is in limbo. Even UORs add long-term liability to the core defence budget.
If ever there has been a crying need for firm, determined, knowledgeable ministerial leadership on these issues, it has been in the past few years. I do not have to single out individuals, because what we have had in the MoD is institutionalised mismanagement. What organisation with a budget of well over £30 billion a year would seek to direct its efforts at decision level with individuals who hold appointments for a short time or on a twin-hatted basis? What organisation would attempt to resolve this with confusing additions and overlaps in responsibilities? The MoD's ministerial quartet bizarrely became a quintet a year ago; now it is a sextet. Surely this is institutionalised mismanagement, apart from sending all the wrong signals about overweight headquarters when we are at war.
Let me return to Mr Gray's informative and instructive review. If the MoD was all powerful, with a known and guaranteed level of funding, it might work. But how can his proposals deal better with things that lie without the MoD's control and are too often the root cause of its poor performance? The first and most obvious issue is whether any forecast level of funding will be allowed to remain from year on year for the 10 or more years that are perceived to be necessary to manage a large acquisition programme. All my experience since I was a wing commander in the CDS office in the mid-1960s has been that defence spend is always being challenged or squeezed. We have had a litany of reviews, cuts, savings, efficiencies, leanings and reductions in output costs, some compounded year on year.
In the past decade, following the SDR of 1998, there has been a series of reorganisations, changes in responsibility and wholesale moves and amalgamations of headquarters. Each new iteration has been hailed as a panacea. Bernard Gray's is but the latest and in many ways it is a persuasive and well presented case. However, it banks on a well preserved forecast of funding for a decade ahead. Is that realistic after all our experience in this field? Will other government departments allow it, let alone the Treasury? If not, Gray is dead meat.
My second concern is about the impact of collaborative programmes where, say, a change of government leads to reappraisal, and almost certainly to delay. Although
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My third concern is about the problems of reviews and change. After a year or more of deep discussion and consideration with staff at many levels, the plan is hatched and approved, and direction is given to get on with it. This will be complex, with adjustments made to ways of working, to chains of command, to relocation of staff and so on. To be effective, sound leadership and direction have to be maintained, unbroken, over a period of several years. However, too often a further "review" is started during the bed-down process. The attention of those who should be overseeing the progress of the previous change is caught up with and distracted by working on or contributing to the new study, sometimes with a loss of confidence in the earlier proposition. If this sounds abstract and theoretical, Ministers must read the horrific account in the review of the fatal Nimrod accident in Afghanistan. Perhaps I may quote one paragraph, which the noble Lord, Lord King, has already mentioned. Paragraph 21 reads:
"The MOD suffered a sustained period of deep organisational trauma between 1998 and 2006, beginning with the 1998 Strategic Defence Review. Financial pressures and cuts drove a cascade of multifarious organisational changes, which led to a dilution of the airworthiness regime and culture within the MOD, and distraction from safety and airworthiness issues as the top priority. There was a shift in culture and priorities in the MOD towards 'business' and financial targets, at the expense of functional values such as safety and airworthiness".
Although Mr Haddon-Cave's remarks are focused on airworthiness, the lesson to be drawn is clear. Prior to the Nimrod accident in 2006, there was a massive restructuring of single-service logistic support into the DLO and, almost without waiting to see how that would turn out, the DLO was thrown together with the DPA to form DE&S. To all that upheaval was added an unrealisable savings target of 20 per cent.
I hope that Ministers pause for thought about further organisational turbulence until a new SDR is agreed and the subsequent tsunami of cuts and changes has erupted. Mr Ainsworth in his Statement referred to an ongoing wider acquisition reform strategy. It seems that the tumbrels of change are rolling down the corridors of the MoD at an ever faster pace. I hope that Ministers will heed the advice of the Chiefs of Staff on these organisational changes.
Lord Freeman: My Lords, as UK president of the Council of Reserve Forces' and Cadets' Associations in the United Kingdom, I start by paying tribute to those in the TA who have served both in Iraq and Afghanistan, some having made the ultimate sacrifice. Our reservists amount to, in certain circumstances, up to 10 per cent of the total forces. I agree totally with what my noble friend Lord King said earlier and I associate myself entirely with his remarks.
I want to make a brief contribution on something that concerns me and the TA, which is what we call combat stress-that is, the effect of soldiers serving
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The effects of the stress and horror of seeing your comrades being killed or injured are homelessness, far too many former soldiers, both regulars and reservists, being in prison, and suicide. This is not a new problem. After they came back from the trenches of the First World War, many hundreds of thousands of men-many of our grandfathers, including mine-did not speak about the war for decades as they were so traumatised. However, they were courageous enough to carry on their lives and look after their families.
Your Lordships will be horrified to learn that the number of suicides among soldiers who fought in the Falklands now exceeds the number of those who gave their lives: 270 as against 250 combat deaths. That is a tragic figure. I understand that between 2003 and 2007 more than 4,000 regulars and reservists who had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan were treated for mental illness by the Ministry of Defence. However, the MoD typically ends full responsibility when servicemen leave the service and return to civilian life, the responsibility being handed over to the National Health Service. Reservists, however, are not quite in the same position because, when they come back from six or nine months' service abroad, they do not have the support of their fellow soldiers-the companionship of the unit with which they have fought-or the family services support offered by the MoD. Therefore, they are in a sense forgotten. I do not mean that their sacrifice or effort is forgotten but that sometimes they personally are forgotten by the military.
I conclude with five suggestions. I am not asking the Minister to respond in detail but, if he will write to me, I shall certainly circulate his letter to those affected. First, I think that the nation is somewhat in denial about the horrors and sacrifices being made, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those sacrifices are somehow parked on the back pages of our newspapers. However, I pay tribute to the Prime Minister and other Ministers, who regularly take the trouble to report not only to the other House but to your Lordships on those who have made this sacrifice. None the less, the nation is in denial about the human tragedy that is occurring, particularly among our troops.
Secondly, although the NHS has done a lot to help to deal with mental illness, I do not think that general practitioners generally recognise the symptoms enough. We need more encouragement and training for them.
Thirdly, the Ministry of Defence should consider spending more money on treatment centres around the country for those still in service. As your Lordships may know, there are six pilot clinics around the country, but we probably need three or four times that number.
Finally, I pay tribute to the excellent work done by charities-particularly Combat Stress, the Warrior Programme and Veterans Aid-but we need to co-ordinate our activities a little better. When one thinks of the tremendous success of Help for Heroes, I believe that we can get our act together to help those who have suffered and are likely to suffer, because Afghanistan brings a great inheritance of mental illness for many years to come. We will shortly pay tribute on Remembrance Day to the dead; let us not forget the living dead.
Other noble Lords have spoken of the strategic and tactical military and diplomatic implications of the war in Afghanistan and of the wars in Iraq and the Balkans. They have not gone away any more than the threat from Iran and from an unstable Russia, which can only be countered by a strong NATO. In terms of defence, the EU is irrelevant, although it costs us money which can ill be spared from the defence budget. I want to review the human and social cost of the commitments that this Government have made without being prepared to pay for them. I believe it is utterly wrong that we should continue to pledge support for the operation of DfID, which far exceeds the Armed Forces budget. In so doing, we fail in our duty to the men and women, both soldiers and families, who serve our country.
The Government are to have a defence review in due course. Let us hope that next time we shall not repeat the mistake of committing our Armed Forces to a scale of war for which little or no provision has been made. In the case of Afghanistan, the recent murder of mentors must surely put an end to plans to remain there for many years. Let us give them aid but not the flower of our youth.
It seems to have become the norm for the covenant between the nation and the Armed Forces to be broken. Over the years, since a Tory Government allowed the Treasury to require the sale of the married quarters estate, many families, year after year, have lived in squalid and often unhealthy quarters. Every year the MoD intends to do something about it next year, because the money set aside has had to bediverted. The defence estate now intends to improve 4,000 quarters that are in the worst condition. The well-being of their families matters to soldiers, and the failure to observe the harmony requirement can only lead to broken homes-to children growing up without their father or mother. This is a major cause ofpotential broken marriages and social breakdown.
The Government, in Command Paper 7424, have written of the nation's commitment and of cross-government support for the Armed Forces, their families and veterans. It purports to meet some of the crucial concerns, such as the great disparity between civil and military compensation and the absence of provision for the adaptation of homes for men and women who have lost three limbs. We are told that there is to be a
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