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When I was Chief of the Air Staff 25 years ago, the RAF had almost 90 stations, including some 28 main flying bases. Uniformed personnel totalled around 100,000 men and women. Today there are just 30 stations, of which only 14 are operational flying bases. Manpower, too, has fallen dramatically, and is now less than 40,000. In 1985, the RAF had 1,450 airframes of all types. Today's figure is just 700. In particular, there has been a large net reduction in operational fast-jet aircraft since 1985. A total of almost 550 has been reduced to less than 300, even allowing for the still-to-be-introduced latest Typhoon. On the maritime side, nothing is left of the 29 Nimrod mark 2s held in 1985.
The reductions in defence budgets over the past 25 years-from more than 5 per cent of GDP to a little over 2 per cent-account in part for this large-scale retrenchment: but within this overall reduction, the cost of some of the critical support activities of the Royal Air Force has increased relative to that of fast-jet, front-line numbers. Additional, more capable support helicopters-Chinooks and Merlins-have replaced the old Wessexes and some of the Puma fleet. Air transport, while still burdened with old and unreliable VC10 and Tristar airframes, has benefited from the
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Those who advocate that there should be no further investment in Typhoon, for example, are taking the view that there is no call or need for adequate preparation to fight for and maintain control of the air. In the relatively benign airspace over Afghanistan and elsewhere on our recent expeditionary operations, the threat to our ground and seaborne forces of attack from the air has been negligible; but I and others who were in the services in the 1980s had a salutary reminder of the importance of effective control of the air. That salutary reminder was our experience in the Falklands.
While our air defences operated with great valour and determination, they were sorely tested by far-from-outstandingly equipped Argentinean air forces. Even though the Argentineans were operating from mainland bases at the extremities of their range, they bombed and sank four front-line warships and the "Atlantic Conveyor", which went down with war-fighting stores, and all but one of the Chinook helicopters sent with the task force. Other ships were badly damaged and put out of action-the noble Lord, Lord West, can bear personal witness to that. At Fitzroy, the Welsh Guards were bombed while about to disembark, suffering a large number of casualties and 51 killed. Naval and Army units suffered because we lacked effective control of the airspace over our forces.
With our experience in the Falklands and the ever-present Argentinean aspirations to acquire them, the key to our ability to protect them is the safety and security of the airfield at Mount Pleasant. If that were to be seized by an Argentinean coup de main, we would no longer possess the capability to return in force by sea. Indeed with the capture of Mount Pleasant, the Argentineans would deny us any reinforcement of our available forces in the Falklands, and their aircraft would have a large forward-operating base from which to repel us. The Typhoons at Mount Pleasant, and a demonstrable ability to reinforce very rapidly by air from the United Kingdom, are the key deterrents to such an outcome. Nor should we overlook the requirements of today and into the future to police the skies around the United Kingdom. RAF Tornados and Typhoons have been scrambled regularly this year and last to investigate Russian long-range bombers operating close to our national airspace; and 9/11-style terrorist attacks from the air cannot be ruled out, either.
So what contribution do air forces make to strategic defence and security, including to expeditionary engagements? While boots on the ground have had a vital part to play in most of our recent overseas involvements, the cost in blood and treasure of prolonged major deployments and their support, particularly by
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The contribution of air power-for some 17 years over Iraq between the two Gulf Wars-is an example of what can be done successfully and without being seduced into, or bogged down in, lasting and expensive operations on land. As we face the unpredictability and uncertainty of future threats, the inherent agility and adaptability of air platforms and their supporting systems should be treasured and encouraged.
Combat ISTAR is becoming one of the core competencies, providing assured intelligence and situational awareness not only to on-board offensive systems but to all types of operation by other joint forces. Indeed, the advantages can be spread to other non-military authorities and agencies caught up in an operation. Combat ISTAR is a fine contemporary example of how the inherent flexibility of air systems are re-rolled to engage in new defence tasks, giving greatly ongoing and added value to the original investment in these equipments.
In our more straitened circumstances, the case for reducing, rather than increasing, the number of ground forces, while maintaining an ability to contribute more widely and strategically by air and space, and by maritime, means to an allied expeditionary capability, should be weighed in the balance in the Strategic Defence Review. I look forward to learning that this Administration are taking such a structured and broad look at what options there are for our future strategic stance.
The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities, as I welcome the slender commitment in the gracious Speech-overshadowed as much of it was by a concern for economic survival-to "global collaboration" and to,
I believe we must all hope and pray that a new-found determination among Members of your Lordships' House to work together for the good of all will extend beyond the inshore politics of these islands and become again a model in tackling what I consider to be the most important question before us-how we are to live together in peace and uphold justice for all in this fragile and small globe.
I shall speak, first, of the dangers to this very high ideal. My fear is that preoccupation with the severity of budget cuts will divert attention from our proper concern for our ideals. First, there is the prevalence of failing states and the danger, in turn, of failing regions. This is not a local or European phenomenon but a worldwide one. Secondly, there is the changing character of conflict-to which the noble and gallant Lord referred when he spoke of the importance of our power-from conventional to irregular warfare. That undermines traditional military power and challenges
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Instead, it must be clear that we need a discussion that extends beyond considerations of national interests and the obligations of government to involve questions of national self-perception, international influence, national autonomy and moral purpose.
The Minister referred to the Sudan. The comprehensive peace agreement there has indeed survived the first elections and we await with bated breath the referendum early next year on the division of that country into two. The Minister also referred to China's increasing interests there and elsewhere. However, it is not just the lust for oil which has destabilised that region that we should be concerned about; it is the basic commodity for life and growth-water-and the emerging struggle over control of the Nile waters between the Sudan and Egypt, most of which we assigned to Egypt in the 1950s when we were a colonial power.
As well as referring to reasons why we might find regions of the world destabilised in future and people going to war over something that we see only dimly over the horizon, I hope to turn our attention to the difficulties that the Government will find as they get caught between two points of view. The Foreign Secretary has already committed himself to a certain extent to a pragmatic way of moving forward, as he talks about serving our practical interests. But he is also on record in a speech to the IISS last September as accepting that if Britain's ability to shape the policies and actions of others declines over the coming decades, it will become ever more important for Britain to set an example that can both inspire and challenge others, and that that may be a more significant contribution to make to the policies of the world. He said:
I am glad to see the commitment in the gracious Speech to 0.7 per cent from 2013. However, if we accept that Britain's approach to national security needs to be grounded in a set of values that define who we are and what we do, it is important to consider-when we are not driven so much by current emergency economic measures-the questions of who we are, what our dominant values should be and how they should inform our national security policy. The absence of clarity on those two related issues creates its own problems. In the absence of a values-based context, the default position when things get tough is likely to be fear-based. That crosses the very lines that we would have agreed not to cross if we had talked about values and identity first. It is easy to be driven by what seems to be an immediate threat, but only if we can step back and consider what we really think are the important contributions that we have to make are they likely to hold when we are under pressure.
I shall give a further example from the Sudan. I believe that in the future under government constraints, NGOs will find it increasingly difficult to obtain funding
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I urge the incoming Administration to work with their partners-including some unlikely ones-not just to make a coalition between two political parties in this country but to think of other agencies with which they can work to bring effective, immediate and value-based decision-making to the forefront of our common life.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, having been a Member of one or other House within this building for the past 45 years, I thought that the speech that we heard from my noble friend Lord Ferrers yesterday was undoubtedly the best speech from the mover of the Motion on the Address that I have ever heard, and I congratulate him on it. He used one phrase that I particularly liked. He said:
Having read the gracious Speech, I have a feeling that our coalition seems hell-bent on doing that. There was a very long list of future legislation. I really hope that they are not overdoing it so that we will find ourselves suffering from legislative indigestion before very long, because that has a big effect on the outside world. When, years ago, I found myself in charge of a department, I said to the Permanent Secretary on the first day: "Please remember: I am not interested in legislation except where it is vital". It may be that that is why I never moved on to take charge of another department after that.
Turning to today's debate, I add my warmest congratulations to my noble friend Lord Howell. It must be rare, I think, for one so expert and experienced in foreign affairs and government to become a Foreign Office Minister. I had the enormous pleasure to serve for 10 years in another place on the Foreign Affairs Committee under his chairmanship. Over the past 13 years here in your Lordships' House, I have admired his expertise on foreign affairs from the opposition Front Bench.
In particular, he has a great enthusiasm for the Commonwealth. I remember a study that we did on that down the other end of the Corridor many years ago. I have always admired his great enthusiasm for the Commonwealth, and I am glad to see that among his responsibilities is responsibility for Commonwealth
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To turn to my noble friend who will be winding up the debate, I want to make a few comments about defence, and NATO in particular. I hope that, when he winds up, he will be able to say something about our strategic defence and security review. It has already been delayed because the previous Government put it off until after the election-which is culpable. There are massive questions to answer, and a number of them have already been raised this afternoon. There is the huge question of whether in these straitened times we can afford both an updated Trident and new aircraft carriers. I do not know; I have considerable doubts as to whether we can. If my noble friend is able at this early stage to say something about that, that will be most helpful.
I am particularly concerned that as the strategic defence and security review proceeds in the months ahead, it takes place in conjunction with NATO's current moves to revise the alliance's strategic concept. The Albright committee has already reported with a draft of its proposals to the North Atlantic Council on the alliance's strategic concept. The new Government will have already considered this. I have a copy of it. It will clearly lead to consultation, with, I hope, the prospect of an agreement in Lisbon in November. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us an undertaking that it will be done in conjunction with our review. Can he tell us who will represent us after Mr Hoon's departure from the Albright committee? I imagine that the committee will continue its work, and it would be interesting to know who will represent the United Kingdom.
That takes me to the matter of parliamentary oversight of defence issues. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly does a thorough job in this field. It so happens that this weekend I shall be presenting to the assembly in Riga-I am rapporteur of one of the committees-a report entitled Maritime Security: NATO and EU Roles and Co-ordination. I have spoken to your Lordships before about the problems of NATO and EU co-operation. I know that some people blame it on the Turkey/Cyprus problem and that other people say that things are improving. However, the issue needs very firm direction and I hope that the new Government will provide it. The Albright committee was pretty firm on this. I was glad to see that it said:
Lastly, in their final days the previous Government did something that ought to have been done a long time ago: they decided to wind up WEU. It was rather like deciding to put to sleep an old dog that had been useful in the past but had withered away to skin and bone. For the past few years the parliamentary arm of WEU floundered about trying to find a new role for
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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I, too, warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, on his appointment and on his opening speech. Of course I wish my party were still in government; but given that we are not, it is a real pleasure to see him at the government Dispatch Box and to know that his experience and wisdom will be brought to bear on the coalition's policies. He is a sensible and good man with a real gift for insightful observation.
I also look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, at the end of the debate. He has demonstrated great commitment to the Armed Forces and was a very faithful opposition spokesman. The original omission of a Lords defence Minister in the government list of Ministers appears to have been remedied, but the coalition's apparent reluctance to appoint a Lords Minister for defence was unfortunate, especially given the unequivocal statement in the coalition document that, "We"-
I note, too, that so far there is no Lords Minister for the Department for International Development. Perhaps that is another omission that is later to be remedied. I hope so. DfID has a huge budget that is ring-fenced and, we are told, likely to grow, unlike that of most other government departments. Ministers have to be accountable, and the fact is that there is greater expertise and greater experience in international development across all parties in your Lordships' House than in another place, and we can if necessary hold Ministers to account every day at Question Time.
I will make one other point about the ministerial composition across the FCO, defence and DfID. There are six Ministers in the FCO, five now in the Ministry of Defence and three in DfID: 14 in all, and not a single woman. That is a record to outstrip even the Senior Salaries Review Body, but it has far more serious implications. There will be no single woman Minister talking on these subjects to our interlocutors overseas. For a Government who want to lead by example, this is really appalling.
We know that work is already under way to review the defence and security policies, and we look forward to hearing of progress there. We also know from the coalition document that Tory plans for Trident have survived and that Liberal Democrat plans for reinvigorating wider Franco-British defence co-operation have disappeared. There are no surprises there, but the defence passage of the document says nothing at all about NATO. NATO is mentioned once, and only then in a very short list of organisations with which the Government want to work over foreign affairs. Will the noble Lord, Lord Astor, when he answers this debate, tell us whether NATO will continue to be the cornerstone of our defence policy?
Will the noble Lord also tell us whether we will continue to deploy our service men and women to common security and defence policy missions? There have of course been 23 so far. Finally, will we continue to act independently in matters of defence procurement in delivering the 25 per cent cut in MoD running costs that is provided for in the document? I am really not asking him about Typhoon, the A400M, the Joint Strike Fighter, the aircraft carriers or anything else. I accept that those are matters for the defence review, but the points that I have raised here are points of principle that should underlie the way in which the defence review is carried out.
I will say a word or two about security as it appears in the foreign policy parts of the document. Will the Government continue to be committed to building strong national institutions in countries of concern to target al-Qaeda's activities in, for example, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and the Middle East? Dr Liam Fox may think that the education of girls in Afghanistan has nothing to do with security in the United Kingdom, but the unbridled and unchecked message of hatred and extremism that lies at the heart of the al-Qaeda movement manifests itself in killing defenceless, uneducated and unprotected Afghan women as much as it does in killing our own soldiers in Afghanistan and our own nationals on our streets at home. The opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, certainly show that he understands that very well, and I hope that there is some straight talking with his less experienced colleagues in another place.
People want our Government and our security forces to be vigilant and to keep them safe, and they want their children to go to school in safety and to be able to go shopping in safety, but the same people also want the freedom to live their lives as they wish: to travel, to meet their friends and to have access to the media and international communications. They want government to be transparent about how security is dealt with, and they want government to be accountable for what actions are taken to protect them. That is a potent and contradictory mix of expectations and it lies at the heart of the unavoidable dilemma that the Government, like all Governments, face in balancing security and civil liberties. It is all the more difficult for coalition government. It is a real dilemma and at times a personal one.
Frankly, another piece of advice which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Howell, will give to his less experienced colleagues is on personal security. The Prime Minister's no doubt well-intentioned decision to do away with his personal security is completely misguided. It is wrong both for him and for the country he leads. It will enhance the chances of his becoming a terrorist target and, as importantly, may put in jeopardy those who are meant to protect him and others around him.
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