|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I was asked whether it was sensible to have the carriers before the strategic defence review. You could argue that on a whole range of equipment, but we can never stand still in making those decisions. We have to make sensible decisions and try not to pre-empt the final outcome of a strategic defence review.
Lord King of Bridgwater: It is certainly not before time to have a defence review after 12 years. I notice that the Americans are once again embarking on their four-year defence review. I welcome that change, particularly because the circumstances have changed enormously since 1998, when there was no involvement in Afghanistan or Iraq as we have now. There is no question that the current financial situation of the Ministry of Defence is the worst mess it has ever been in anybody's recent experience. So the challenge is very great.
I agree with one thing very much. When we have our forces engaged in dangerous circumstances, they must have total priority. That is a welcome change after eight years in which they were not given the priority for the equipment. The Secretary of State's Statement mentions the helicopters for which we have placed an order, but they will not be available for the next two years, when we urgently need them now.
On the Minister's last comment, to say that the decision on the carriers and the fighter aircraft does not pre-empt the rest of the defence review does not make much sense. The following paragraph in the Statement to the paragraph that describes the issue of the carriers being determined appears to reopen the subject. I should be grateful if she would clarify that.
In the kindest way, may I say that, when somebody comes to consider the results of this review, it would be very helpful if we did not have an annual change in the Secretary of State for Defence, as we have had in the past five years? Whichever Government are in power, I hope that the person in charge will be someone with some real experience in defence and will be allowed to stay there for a reasonable length of time so that they can carry this thing through. It is simply not fair to our Armed Forces or to all those involved in the defence of our country to have this continual change at the top.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, it is indeed 12 years since we had a defence review. I looked at the statistics on the gaps between defence reviews in the past and that is not dramatically unusual. There has been an update as well, from time to time. When we were involved in such operations as Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps that was not time to take a full defence review, which is why we had the updating papers on that. Certainly the circumstances are very different from 1998, although I noticed that there is a paragraph in the defence review published in July 1998 that says:
"There is an increasing danger from the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical technologies. As Iraq has amply demonstrated, such regimes threaten not only their neighbours but vital economic interests and even international stability".
I am glad that the noble Lord acknowledges the priority that I referred to for equipment. We should all welcome the reports that have been made about equipment on operations. Members from this House and the Select Committee in another House have talked about the very significant movement on equipment. It is not a question of buying equipment off the shelf; it has taken a great deal of effort on the part of everyone involved, industry included, to upgrade and make the changes that have been made.
In terms of carriers and equipment, we have a dilemma. I can either stand here, take one project at a time and say, "Yes, we are going to do that after the review, no we are not going to do that", or I can say, "I am not saying anything about any of them". The whole point of the review is to consider what you need for the future. The statements we have made have been on the basis of our assessment at the moment. If, as I said in repeating the Statement, there was a radical change of approach as a result of that review, then it might be that other changes would be necessary.
In terms of the annual change, as the noble Lord called it, of the Secretary of State for Defence, I do think it is unfortunate that we have not had the level of continuity that perhaps would have been liked. However, the current Secretary of State for Defence has been a Minister in that department for a considerable time and has the respect of all those who work in it.
Lord Bramall: My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement on the Government's Green Paper and for the sensible things she has said about co-operation, partnership and a fully joined-up security policy.
I should like to be clear on one thing. Although the Minister may be technically correct in saying, "not a penny will be cut from next year's budget", is it not true that because of the current Ministry of Defence overspend-caused, largely unavoidably, by overspill from operational requirements in Afghanistan and the inclusion of certain items of equipment, some for political reasons, for which proper strategic decisions on capability have not yet been made-at this very moment the Treasury is clawing back from defence's cash flow no less than £1 billion in this first year? This money has to be found from somewhere, and usually involves considerable penalties, particularly in the longer term.
Finally, as economy of effort is one of the principles of war, how would the Minister actually measure affordability, much mentioned in the Green Paper? Presumably with defence of the realm and security, this country can afford what it believes it truly needs. Is the intention merely to leave it to the Treasury to come up with less money than the year before?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I acknowledge the deep experience that the noble and gallant Lord brings to this debate and I am flattered that he thinks that some of my comments were sensible. He was right when he used the word security as well as defence. These days, it is extremely difficult to draw a line between defence and security, and the Green Paper makes it clear that much of what we have been thinking about looks to the national security strategy which has been drawn up recently.
However, I disagree with the noble and gallant Lord about the money. It is a straightforward fact that in 2009-10 the ring-fenced budget from the Treasury to the Ministry of Defence was £35.4 billion. The ring-fenced budget for 2010-11 is £36.9 billion. There are no cuts, and the Treasury is increasing its contribution from the reserve for operations in Afghanistan.
There is still, and there always will be, a question of affordability. That is one of the reasons why it is important that we have a discussion about the Strategic Defence Review in the context of the challenges we face throughout the world. That is also why it is important that the Green Paper sets out those changes and trends that are taking place in the international arena and refers to the specific threats we are facing. At the end of the day, we will as a country have to make decisions about affordability.
Lord Robertson of Port Ellen: I, too, associate myself with the tributes paid by my noble friend to those who have fallen and been injured recently in Afghanistan. Their losses are not in vain. I am glad that today's Green Paper makes it clear that success in Afghanistan remains the abiding priority of the Ministry of Defence, and indeed of the nation as a whole.
I welcome the Green Paper. In particular, I welcome the innovation of inviting members of the opposition parties to join the Defence Advisory Forum that the Secretary of State, with great enlightenment, formed in order to consult widely. I was part of that Defence Advisory Forum, but bringing in members of opposition parties sets a good long-term precedent. The non-partisan
3 Feb 2010 : Column 212
Much will be made about resources, and none of the potential governments looking for support in the coming general election will find it comfortable to make those choices in the Ministry of Defence. But it is important to bear in mind that, since the last Strategic Defence Review that I supervised in 1998, the defence budget has increased in real terms by 10 per cent, and if one takes into account the money devoted to operations, by more than 24 per cent. Every single urgent operational requirement has been met by Her Majesty's Treasury. That is an important component part of where we are, but where we are going to be will depend on a number of tough decisions that have yet to be made.
I want to make two points to my noble friend. First, we must re-emphasise constantly the fact that in future this nation will not be able to deploy a full spectrum of capabilities. In future, in dealing with myriad challenges and threats, we will have to do things with others, especially with our European allies in NATO and the European Union. That must be seen as part of a practical policy going forward.
Finally, I disagree with the Government in one respect in this exercise. I do not believe that we should have a Strategic Defence Review in isolation. We need a strategic security review that looks at the security of this nation and involves the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development, the Home Office and elsewhere in order to establish what the priorities really are and what important part defence will play in that overall strategy.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: First, I repeat what was said in another place and thank my noble friend for his contribution to the Defence Advisory Forum. My noble friend's credentials in this matter are well known and important. He is right when he reminds us of the priority of Afghanistan. That comes out of the Green Paper and from the Statement made in another place earlier today. The work that we have done there has been quite remarkable in terms of getting everybody to work together, including other government departments. This country probably invented the term "the comprehensive approach", and bearing in mind my noble friend's last point, it is important that we keep that in mind in all discussions. I agree that it has been beneficial for the Defence Advisory Forum to take a long view and act in a non-partisan way. One of the Green Paper's strengths is that it is analytical and not partisan. That is one of the reasons why I am hopeful that we can have that kind of long-term approach. This is extremely timely because other countries are thinking about what they should be doing and NATO is undertaking its strategic review. I am sure that there will be a lot of interest in what we have been saying.
We all acknowledge that decisions about resources will not be easy. Nobody is talking about committing to increasing spending, but it is important to recognise, as my noble friend did, the significant contributions from the Treasury on top of the core defence budget. He talked about not deploying across the full spectrum of capabilities in future and always working with
3 Feb 2010 : Column 213
My noble friend mentioned a disagreement about the actual wording and asked whether we should not have a Strategic Defence and Security Review rather than a Strategic Defence Review. That was something that we picked up on rather late in the day. As I said earlier, the distinction these days between defence and security is extremely blurred. Throughout this document we make reference to the national security strategy because we have made the psychological leap that the two are so well connected. However, we have not put it on the front of the document. I assure him that the point has been registered and is well understood by many people in the department.
Lord Burnett: I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. Does she agree that, if we require our Armed Forces to protect our interests often in foreign parts-I am quoting from the Statement, and a quick look at Annex A provides graphic justification for those words-then it is imperative that we retain elite specialist amphibious troops, embarked in commando ships with carrier-borne aircraft, surface vessels and submarines in support? This sort of task force, often working with allies, provides our country with its greatest flexibility. Using that platform, we can run the gamut of operations from humanitarian to all-out combat.
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I am not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, given his background, makes this special case. It may well be justified. There will be a lot of people who want to make points about specific groups and tasks. He chose one that is well recognised as having a world-class capability. It is something that we appreciate.
I am very pleased that the noble Lord was able to draw attention to Appendix A, which I recommend that people look at. It explains the whole range of operations that our Armed Forces have been involved in. It does not list them all but it does, as he says, go from armed conflict to humanitarian. The range is vast. People may well be surprised by the number of operations because very often they are carried out very quietly and they do not get the public acclamation that perhaps they deserve.
Does the noble Baroness agree-how is that?-that we are all very proud of the men and women of the Territorial Army who have served in these recent conflicts, giving up their civilian jobs to take time to train and work so hard to defend this nation? We should always make funds available for the Territorial Army. Never should it be that the soldiers of the
3 Feb 2010 : Column 214
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I am very grateful for the question. Everybody acknowledges the work of the TA. We have seen from operations recently that it has very often been in the front line. I am afraid we have had casualties and deaths among the TA. Very often it has been able to provide niche capabilities where there might otherwise be a shortage. We acknowledge the work that goes on. We do think that if TA soldiers are to be deployed then training is absolutely essential. We welcome and have been looking at the links that the TA have with the mainstream, full-time Army. It is important that we continue to do that.
Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement. I very much welcome the Green Paper and suggest that perhaps the most important point in it concerns bipartisanship. This is a great breakthrough and, given the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Astor, Lord Lee, Lord King, and others, I think that she has buy-in from this House. I wonder whether my noble friend could take this a stage further. I have long felt that defence should be much more bipartisan, but I find it strange that the Executive take the decision and that legislators, who really are able to represent bipartisanship, are often excluded. In moving forward, can my noble friend think of ways in which we could involve parliamentarians in this process because the buy-in of parliamentarians would help the buy-in of citizens and would help our military forces?
Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, my noble friend raises a very interesting point. I know that he has been involved in defence for many years, having been our spokesman on this issue when we were in opposition. He is right to emphasise the need for bipartisanship on an issue as important as this. He asks how legislators could be more involved. I think that it is up to the House to make that decision. As I said earlier, as a former Chief Whip I would hate any Minister to make a commitment about debates, but were there to be a debate on this topic, it would be very welcome. If it cannot be in this House, perhaps we can have some elsewhere.
One of the aspects of the paper that we have produced on acquisition today is that it opens the way for greater consideration by parliamentarians as well as by anybody else because it involves a higher level of transparency given the annual publication of an assessment of the overall affordability of the defence programme. That is new and is something in which I think parliamentarians will take a great deal of interest.
(a) if M does not hold an office within subsection (9A), no salary is payable to M under this section;
(b) if M holds an office within subsection (9A), the salary which would otherwise be payable to M under this section is reduced by the appropriate amount.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, in moving Amendment 1, I will speak also to the other government amendment in this group. This amendment deals with the issue of dual mandates, which was clearly a matter of concern on Second Reading and in Committee. I am sure that the debate this afternoon will give another clear indication, if one were needed, that this issue remains important.
I think it would be appropriate if I briefly mention the political process before turning to the detail of the amendments before us today. The Hillsborough talks established by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach last week have now continued for eight days. With good political will, we believe that the parties should soon be able to reach a reasonable agreement.
Turning to the amendments, I listened carefully to the debate in Grand Committee and undertook to reflect on the issues raised by noble Lords. Since Grand Committee we have drafted two amendments that I believe are an appropriate way of using this Bill to address the issue of dual mandates and that offer a reasonable compromise.
The amendments tabled in my name would mean that if a salary is payable to an MLA as a Member of either House of Parliament or as a Member of the European Parliament, he or she will not receive a salary as an MLA. This would mean that politicians are unable to benefit financially purely as a result of being elected to two legislatures. The reduction in salary would take effect as soon as the Bill's provisions are commenced: it is not predicated upon the establishment of the independent body. The amendments would also have an effect on pensions. For any period when an MLA's salary is reduced to zero, he or she will not accrue pension benefits. The amendment would apply only to salaries, not allowances.
I believe that consensus is of particular importance today. It is important in relation to the talks that will continue this afternoon at Hillsborough and it is important in relation to the issues that we are debating in this House. As I said at the outset, the Government believe that these amendments offer a basis for consensus. Sending a message that we in this House are able to reach agreement on this sensitive issue of dual mandates would be most valuable. I beg to move.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that brief introduction to the Government's amendments. She indicated in Grand Committee that she was listening to the mood of the House. The mood then, and before that at Second Reading, was clear. The issue of double mandates-or double-jobbing as it is known in the Province-is a potent one. Of the 18 MPs who Northern Ireland constituencies send to Westminster, 15 are also Members of the Assembly-16 before Strangford became vacant. The problems inherent in such a doubling-up of roles are well known, and the noble Baroness has rightly taken account of them.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|