Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

8.38 pm

Lord Owen: My Lords, it may surprise the previous speaker that, although I have vigorously opposed Britain's membership of the eurozone-and I thank our lucky stars that we are not members of it-I agree with almost everything that he has said. It is a great folly for those of us who oppose the eurozone to take any delight in the circumstances that it faces. If the eurozone continues with its present difficulty, it is bound to impact on the UK economy.

However, I do not think that it is quite so fair to single out the fact that we have a veto. There will, in my view, have to be treaty amendment. I think that Angela Merkel is right. Apart from anything else, there is the German constitutional court, which, although it has never done it yet, will, I believe, this time rule that it is not compatible with Article 125, which is against a bail-out, to take the measures that are being taken. Britain must not therefore stand against reform of the eurozone. However, this time we have a Government who will be fairly robust on some of those aspects of the Lisbon treaty on which this country was not consulted, and the Europeans will have to listen. I think it is perfectly legitimate to point that out. For that reason and some others, I think that we are now likely to see a rebalancing of our foreign policy, which I welcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, who has been paid many tributes, has been a long-standing and consistent advocate of a greater emphasis on the Commonwealth. That is not some romantic view. It is wise for Britain to work with our European partners, who are closest to us; it is also wise that we work with and can influence that substantial body of Commonwealth countries and bring the two influences together in our permanent membership of the Security Council. I hope that there will be no more closures of British missions abroad. I am scandalised by the number of missions we drop. If you wish to be a permanent member of the Security Council you must be represented, and I hope that we will go back to what I advocated a long time ago. One-member missions in a country is far better than no missions at all.

I also hope that there will be a real balancing of our relationship between the Foreign Office and DfID. It is sensible for DfID to operate as a separate ministry, but the degree of separation is almost to deny the existence of a foreign policy. Our development aid policy must reinforce, marry up with and work with our defence policy.

The Foreign Secretary in another place, in a Statement today, which is extremely important and which we should take account of, said that he hoped that there would be a greater degree of co-ordination of our foreign, defence and security policies than ever before. I come to the real nub of the matter. Much of this debate has been about spending money. Everybody has advocated their own foreign policy that they wish to protect. We have to face it. There will be a tough call on every aspect of expenditure, not least on defence.

26 May 2010 : Column 109

For that reason I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Astor, whose commitment to the Armed Forces has been very strong in opposition and I know that it will be in government. It will be very useful in this Chamber.

The Strategic Defence Review is like none we have seen in our lifetimes. There have to be cuts in the defence budget and I say that as someone who has advocated a 3 per cent increase in defence expenditure in the recent past. I know that projects that I strongly wish for will have to be cut. It was good to hear a robust speech from the noble Lord, Lord Burnett. Those who may think of the Liberal Democrats as the weaker partner can turn to his speech. There was not a single expense that he did not seem to advocate.

However, if we are to have that SDR, let me make a few suggestions. First, I hope that the Chief of the Defence Staff, seeing a new Government in place, will do the honourable thing and step down fairly soon. We need a new Chief of the Defence Staff who owns this review and will carry it through for the next three, four or five years. That is extremely important. The Ministry of Defence, to be frank, has not had a good reputation over the past four or five years. There have been far too many people advocating exactly what they desire and not what they can achieve. We have stacked up some contractual obligations that we can barely fulfil. The next people who I hope will own the SDR are, first and foremost the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as well as the Defence Secretary. This is not a review that can be pushed, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, as a purely internal review. It has to be a strategic review and I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, that it must take a longer view. If some policies have to be postponed, let us try to postpone those that do not impact on our longer-term future. On the question of blue water diplomacy, are we narrowed down to a purely European view of foreign and strategic policy? If we decide that we do not want that we have to back it with some resources. It would be a tragedy to go back on the aircraft carrier decision, although for the life of me I cannot see why it was necessary to replace our existing aircraft carriers with ever larger and even more sophisticated aircraft carriers.

I have spoken on the nuclear question before and I do not want to delay the House. I have published a book called Nuclear Papers, which examines the nuclear issues in 1977 and 1978. We needed an in-depth survey. The idea that you can leave aside that question and simply replace it with a ballistic missile system, with all the other cuts that will have to be made, is absurd. We have to look at all the options; we have to look at the review objectively and take as long term a view as possible. The review must consider that our strategic interests are not locked purely into Europe but are global and worldwide. As a trading nation we must marry up all the difficult decisions that relate to the defence budget, the Air Force and the Army. That will not be easy and the House will have to consider the review very carefully. It is also an urgent review but it must be owned by the whole Government not just the Ministry of Defence.



26 May 2010 : Column 110

8.45 pm

Lord Jones of Cheltenham: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Astor, on their new positions on our Government's Front Bench. I must say what a delight it is to be speaking from the Government Benches after spending the past 18 years on the other side of the House, first in another place and latterly in your Lordships' House. It is also a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who has been a giant on the British political scene for probably more years than he cares to remember.

I shall confine my remarks to probing the new Government's views in three areas; not a great deal about them was contained in the gracious Speech or in the coalition agreement document, but we have heard quite a lot today. First, I shall refer to the Government's attitude towards the Commonwealth; secondly, their policy towards Africa; and, thirdly, their plans for the overseas territories. In addition, I pay tribute to the commitment of the new Government to improving the lot of our service men and women who carry out their orders in highly dangerous circumstances. I particularly commend the promised improvement to mental health facilities for service veterans. I admit that the recent terrible attack on Stephen Timms MP brought back some horrendous memories for me so I know from my own experience the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder from which many service personnel suffer after serving in conflict zones.

Let me turn to the Commonwealth. This diverse collection of nations and territories represents a quarter of the world's population. We are immensely fortunate to be a member of such an organisation where we meet as equals and partners to work out solutions to difficulties and promote peace and democracy throughout the world. I hope that this Government will do more than the previous one in promoting the interests of the Commonwealth. In particular, I hope that there will be wholehearted commitment to the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the British Council to encourage parliamentarians in both Houses to play their part in improving relations with our Commonwealth friends.

Noble Lords may know of the splendid work that our branch of the CPA carries out, holding seminars here in London, to which Commonwealth Parliaments send delegates. I have been to difficult countries in the Commonwealth-for example, Sierra Leone-and know of the plans that the CPA has to help that fragile democracy develop following years of civil conflict. That work is important and I very much hope that the new Government will enable it to flourish.

Now I have a few words to say about Africa. Africa is not macroeconomic in world terms; it accounts for about 3 per cent of world trade but, as the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, emphasised today and explains very well in his fascinating book Turning the World Upside Down, Africa has far more than its share of poverty and disease. Helping the people of Africa to solve their problems in their own ways needs our support. The generous people of Britain support many individuals in Africa-for example, the Kambia appeal, initiated by doctors from Cheltenham General Hospital, has

26 May 2010 : Column 111

been in operation for many years, helping the people in an area north-east of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. The appeal has provided medical supplies and an ambulance, paid for training courses for local doctors and badgered the European Commission to fork out for the replacement of the small local hospital after it was looted and set on fire by mindless rebels during the civil war. Then there is the Gabane community home-based care project in Botswana, which provides help to families affected by HIV/AIDS. Generous donors, including Barclays Bank and Gleeds UK, have helped to build a classroom building, which is now also used as a community centre by villagers. Projects such as those make a huge difference to the people living in difficult circumstances, and I hope that the Government will encourage support for projects such as those throughout Africa.

Finally, I turn to the overseas territories-the last of the pink bits, as Harry Ritchie calls them in his book. Most, but not all of the overseas territories are or have been financially self-supporting. That situation has now changed because of the global financial situation. Do the Government intend to carry out a detailed analysis of each overseas territory fully to understand their opportunities and needs to determine what support each territory requires to become financially sustainable over the long term?

I think in particular of St Helena, the island in the South Atlantic to which Napoleon was exiled and where he died, which has never been visited by a UK Government Minister. The previous Government promised in 2005 to build an airport on St Helena. At the moment there is little economic activity there. An airport is the only way in which the islanders can become self-sufficient by developing a tourism industry. The current annual subsidy to St Helena from the Treasury is about £30 million and rising. That may not sound macroeconomic at a time when the Government are looking to cut billions of pounds from public spending, but if St Helena remains without an airport, the cost to the taxpayer over the next 20 years is likely to total £1 billion.

This morning, I received an e-mail from a senior journalist on St Helena. He points out that after 351 years of British rule, during which time very little tangible advantage can be discerned for the island's economy, an airport for St Helena will, in all fairness, provide the foundation from which economic opportunities can develop. St Heleneans are ready to act now; some have been ready for more than two years. Delays on the airport decision have been a considerable cost for the island's entrepreneurs. St Heleneans want to accept responsibility to develop the opportunities that an airport on St Helena will offer. They want the freedom to create their own wealth, create their own jobs and improve their standard of living. They await with anticipation the application of the Government's first priority: to restore economic growth. An airport on St Helena is the island's best chance for economic growth.

Anguila has had to apply to the European Commission for loans to help to balance the budget. The Turks and Caicos Islands are in a peculiar position, because they were a prosperous overseas territory until just over a

26 May 2010 : Column 112

year ago, when the previous Government decided to impose direct rule following a report from Sir Robin Auld citing suspected corruption. I oppose direct rule. It has gone down like a lead balloon with the islanders and many CARICOM countries. Business confidence has collapsed and proposed developments have been abandoned. As a result, the TCI economy has run into deficit, costs are rising while a special prosecutor takes her time deciding whether any charges are to be made, and the many Haitian workers on TCI are living in dire poverty because no one can afford to employ them any more and there is no point going back to Haiti following the devastating earthquake there. What is the new Government's approach to TCI? When can the islanders expect elections and a return to democratic rule? Are any charges to be made against those suspected of corruption? If so, in what timescale? Who is going to pick up the tab for the catastrophic collapse of the economy?

Our new Government face many challenges in dealing with our service personnel, the Commonwealth, Africa and, not least, the overseas territories. I trust that they will carry out their duties efficiently and fairly.

8.54 pm

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I too welcome the new Front Bench and in particular the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Astor, for whom I have great respect in these spheres. I welcome the chance to speak in this debate. I have spoken previously on the mental welfare of our ex-service men and women and our duty, through the military covenant, to them and their families. I make no apology for bringing this up again: it is the single most important asset that we have in the military. I last spoke about it during the debate on the previous Queen's Speech, but on the health day. Today, of course, the subject is defence. I realise that we are addressing a new Government, and I am sure that noble Lords will be glad to hear that I shall not repeat everything I said previously.

The highest-quality care leads to good morale in our Armed Forces community and is vital to much of our foreign policy. That is why it is so relevant. Service men and women with physical injuries or mental problems while in service are already on the books, so to speak. I am addressing the problems of those who leave with no recorded symptoms and later develop mental health problems. I am aware that the NHS becomes responsible for veterans, but the responsibility to our service community through the military covenant involves all government departments, not one or two or slipping between them.

I have some later information from Combat Stress on this subject. The recent findings by the King's Centre for Military Health Research are clear. The psychological impact of deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan is being measured by the unit as a snapshot of a very long journey. One of the key points is that this is a study of, mainly, serving personnel, not veterans. It is important that we recognise that the roughly unchanged rate of PTSD and other common health disorders found by this study is still extremely significant to the nation, even if there is statistically no evidence of the rate increasing due to a short space of time, as I shall show in a minute.



26 May 2010 : Column 113

The high number of service personnel being deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan indicates that in future there will be a substantial increase in veterans needing support for psychological injury. A prevalence of 4 per cent probable PTSD, when applied to 180,000 personnel who have served in these theatres, means, potentially, that 7,200 will suffer from this debilitating condition. When we consider that the research findings go further, showing a prevalence of 19.7 per cent for symptoms of common mental disorders and of 13 per cent for alcohol abuse, the number of ex-service personnel needing help in future could be drastically higher than the number that Combat Stress, the NHS and other providers are currently supporting.

Of the new veterans who came to Combat Stress for support last year, the average length of service was 10.2 years, and the average period between discharge from service and first contact with Combat Stress was 14.3 years. The findings of the study are the first chapters of a very long story. Fourteen years is too long to wait. What is being done to decrease this time and make sure that effective care and support are never far from British veterans who have sacrificed their peace of mind in the service of their country? What sort of targets would the Minister like to set for this in future?

It should also be noted that the King's study had a low-56 per cent-response and could underestimate the true problem. It is interesting to note that there are differences between the US and this country. The US has higher PTSD but lower alcoholism, but it has a different culture about drinking while in the forces. We should not ignore the statistic about alcoholism as far as mental health goes, because people use alcohol to mask mental problems and it therefore tends to be the start of the trouble.

In Northern Ireland, we have the Ulster Defence Regiment and Royal Irish Regiment Aftercare Service, in which I declare an interest as a board member. It leads the way in this field, although only certain aspects apply to the rest of the UK. The MoD is to start interviewing personnel leaving the services and scoring them for future reference and attention. We did that years ago in Northern Ireland. However, we have outreach in the aftercare service and can follow up the findings and keep in contact with the veterans thereafter. The results of the scoring are useful only if there is outreach follow-up. In Great Britain, as opposed to Northern Ireland, there is no such system in place. The MoD has created a new mechanism, the Army Recovery Capability, using the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency and the Royal British Legion to track veterans through supported civilian life, the new term for post-service life. However, I believe that it has neither the manpower nor the funds, and the Royal British Legion is purely volunteer. From seeing the service work in Northern Ireland, I do not believe that that is adequate. We can monitor the movement of millions of farm animals within Europe, yet we cannot keep in touch with several hundred thousand veterans within the UK. That is an indictment of the systems that we have. When mentioning the aftercare service in Northern Ireland, will the Minister reassure us that future funding for that service will extend beyond 2012, which is where it currently goes up to? There

26 May 2010 : Column 114

is an increasing need for it, and it is recognised as being by far the most successful model in the United Kingdom.

I have one more veteran subject to mention quickly. As a result of the Troubles, we have in Northern Ireland a Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, who is currently funded to the tune of £36 million. Within this is an embryonic memorial visit scheme for service families who were bereaved during the Troubles to visit Northern Ireland. The aim is to provide a measure of comfort and reconciliation individually, not to develop commemorative events or ceremonies. A parallel to this scheme is the World War Two Heroes Return programme. The MoD's support for this pilot scheme in Northern Ireland is required, and I ask the Minister to assure us that that will occur. The funds are already there, and a pilot project would indicate future need. The MoD funds will not be affected.

I hope that this Government will enable the country to fulfil its obligation to our veteran community by producing joined-up government to provide seamless support to it in the future.

9.01 pm

The Earl of Dundee: My Lords, in United Kingdom European policy just now, many of us will consider that our Government should focus on three separate yet related forms of security and their interaction. The first is defence and the aim of maintaining European peace. The second is the goal of effective political and economic delivery towards and within the European Union's nation states. The third is the task of building up the confidence and well-being of families and communities in Europe.

No doubt the common factor among those three aspirations is economic stability. That is so even though a purist might insist that by definition military defence can never be the same as economic stability. Nevertheless, since the formation of NATO in 1949, the two have become ever more closely connected. Nor do we have to look very far to find evidence that since then defence policy in Europe has borne the most fruit through a strong and healthy link to democracy and economic stability. NATO could hardly have been formed at all without the disbursement of Marshall aid the year before in 1948. The Cold War would not have ended as it did in the late 1980s had the arms race not come to exert unacceptable pressure on the economies of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact states.

Thus also at that time the Soviet bloc decided to elevate the concerns of its own economy above ideology and empire. By 2000, it appeared that the former Yugoslavia had done the same, in its case by putting economic stability before territorial acquisition and ethnic cleansing. In both examples, the change of direction had been precipitated by successful NATO containment or intervention; although it may be regretted that the international community, which through NATO in 1999 acted decisively at last, did not do so at the outset of the conflict in 1991, when it could have done so, and thus save countless lives.

Today, the priority which the former Yugoslavia's republics continue to give to economic stability is reflected on the whole by their constructive responses

26 May 2010 : Column 115

in the stabilisation and association process. Nevertheless, there are setbacks. Bosnia and Herzegovina are failing to carry out necessary measures of constitutional reform, and it is unlikely that they will carry them out before their elections this October. Recent international efforts by both the US and Europe-the Butmir process-have made hardly any headway. In the ministerial group of the European Union, therefore, what plans do the Government have, both before and after next October, to encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina to deliver constitutional reform?

Another setback is the slow pace of Croatia's journey of candidature towards full membership of the European Union. Here I declare an interest as chairman of the UK parliamentary group for Croatia. A current requirement is for Croatia to demonstrate its co-operation with the ICTY. Last December, the Croatian authorities correctly raided the location of concealed military papers of the civil war of the 1990s, which are germane to the current ICTY inquiry. Nevertheless, Croatia's EU journey is still held up. Will my noble friend the Minister say when it will be allowed to move forward again?

The second theme of European security is the desired aim of consistent political and economic delivery within the 47 member state Council of Europe boundary on which I focus as a Council of Europe parliamentarian.

However, within the 27 member state European Union boundary, we have the useful yardstick of subsidiarity. If that concept emphasises what nation states should deal with on their own so that the European Union can add value in other respects, from this nevertheless there is another positive inference.

Within the EU the practice of subsidiarity can greatly improve parliamentary democracy. My noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford has already referred to this. It occurs when national parliaments become involved with EU decision-making processes, and at an early stage. Although in recent years in Europe such sentiments have met with approval, while lip service has thus been paid to the so-called subsidiarity check, does my noble friend agree that as yet far too little progress has been made? What steps will the Government take to help strengthen the scrutiny of national parliaments over proposed European legislation?

The third theme is confidence and well-being affecting the families and communities of Europe. A recent Council of Europe parliamentary debate addressed the challenge of reconciling wealth, welfare and well-being in a changing Europe.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page