§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Colnbrook rose to call attention to the case for adequate defence forces in view of changes in the world situation in the past 12 months; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to think that this debate is timely. It is nearly a year since we had the opportunity of discussing this country's defences. Much has happened in that year and is still happening. Furthermore, we have not yet had the 1991 defence White Paper and we have not been told precisely when it will be published save that it will be published before the House rises for the Summer Recess. If the White Paper is not published before next month, I guess that in view of the amount of government business still before us the chances of this House being able to discuss it before late into the autumn are fairly slim. Not only will that be much too late but by then this Parliament may have been dissolved and we shall never have the opportunity to discuss it at all.
§ In raising this subject today I make no claim to be an expert either on defence or on the world situation. There are many noble Lords who are experts in this House and I am delighted to see how many wish to take part in the debate today. In particular, perhaps I 1088 may say how much we are all looking forward to hearing the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, who is to make his maiden speech.
§ No, my Lords, I speak as one who, having fought in the Second World War, abhors wars of all kinds and sizes but who firmly believes that more wars begin because one side appears weak and unwilling than ever they do when a potential opponent seems well-prepared and stout-hearted. I do not know whether the Second World War could have been avoided if we and our allies had shown ourselves more determined and better able to resist Hitler's ambitions —perhaps not—but I do know of one that took place only nine years ago which could have been avoided; that is the Falklands conflict. It was not that we were not ready and willing to resist General Galtieri's aggression—we were—but that we did not appear to be. In the end, the announcement of the proposed withdrawal of HMS "Endurance" made him think that the lights were green for him to do whatever he liked. I hope to heaven we do not make that mistake again.
§ As regards our major potential enemy of over 40 years standing—the Soviet Union—the outlook is nothing like as certain as one would wish it to be. Two years ago, when great and welcome changes began in Eastern Europe, a wave of tremendous optimism swept over the western world. Some people felt that the risk of a major conflict had gone for ever; that peace and light would henceforth always prevail; that our defences could be dismantled and that the money saved—the so-called "peace dividend"—would be available to remedy all the domestic and social ills from which this country is supposed to be suffering. I shall have more to say about the "peace dividend" shortly. At present the main effect of curtailment of expenditure on defence is that a lot of people in and out of the armed services are losing, or are going to lose, their jobs. That is not much of a dividend for them.
§ While, of course, one can understand and, to an extent, share that optimism, I have been reassured to know that the Government tempered it with a lot of caution. In our debate last year my noble friend Lord Arran, opening for the Government, referred to all these developments and then said:
§ "However, we need to retain strong defences: history has not come to an end, and no one can suppose that either the Soviet Union, whose forces continue to be modernised, or, in the wider world, instabilities and risks will not threaten our security."—[Official Report, 17/7/90; cols. 770–771.]
§ That must be right. From all the news and comment that I read, see and hear, the message is clear. The Soviet Union is far more unstable than it was a year ago. All manner of questions arise. Will the Soviet Union survive as it is now? Or will it split into its constituent parts? If it does, what will happen then? For that matter, if it does not, what will happen? Will Mr. Gorbachev survive? If he does not, who will take over? Will it be a moderniser like him who wants to abandon the Marxist creed, including its aim of world domination? Or will it be the military, which believes that everything can be settled by force of arms? I do not know. Perhaps others who follow me who have spent their lives studying these matters will know. 1089 Perhaps the Government know. I strongly suspect that nobody knows, not even the Russian people themselves.
§ One question in regard to the Soviet Union is perhaps of immediate relevance to this debate. Over the past year discussions and negotiations about arms control and the reduction of weapons of war—nuclear, chemical and conventional—and men and materials have been proceeding between East and West, mostly with encouraging results. Following that, especially the CFE Treaty, NATO has been able to revise its requirements for the forces at instant readiness in Europe and we were all glad that the defence Ministers, at their meeting on 28th and 29th May, came to agreement, particularly as to the establishment of a rapid reaction corps under British command. In my view it is also of the greatest importance that the United States, in spite of its current financial difficulties, is to continue to play a leading, although reduced, role in NATO.
§ The Soviet Union also is in the process of reducing its forces in Europe. That is good news. However, it is continuing to modernise its forces with new weapons and systems. On the face of it that does not seem to be unreasonable; we are too. It is the scale of it that I find disturbing. My understanding is that the Soviet Union's military expenditure is higher now than it was six years ago, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of its gross domestic product. Some say that it is as high as 25 per cent. of GDP.
§ Only the day before yesterday there was an exchange in this House in answer to the Question tabled by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter in regard to the size of the Soviet Navy. It can only be described as enormous. No less than 1,145 operational warships and submarines are in the Soviet Navy. Of that number there are apparently no less than 285 submarines. If my memory serves me correctly, at the beginning of the Second World War Hitler had only 50 operational submarines, and they very nearly did for us.
§ Furthermore, the Soviet Union's shipbuilding programme includes more, not less, submarines than it did a year or two ago. According to Jane's Weekly of the 1st of this month, last year they built a new submarine every four-and-a-half weeks. What on earth for? Submarines are not defensive weapons—not that the Soviet Union has any essential sea-borne trade to defend, unlike this country, to which such trade is vital. They are extremely offensive weapons. I find that development inexplicable. It worries me and I must say to the Government that we ignore it at our peril.
§ In all this, only one thing is certain. It is best described in a favourite saying of my right honourable friend the Member for Finchley, whom I often heard say:
§ "In politics, the unexpected always happens".
§ The truth of that could not have been better demonstrated than it was last summer. I have read and reread the speech made by my noble friend Lord Arran at the beginning of our defence debate on 17th 1090 July last year. In all those columns of Hansard I can find only one reference to the Persian Gulf: he speaks of,
§ There is no mention of it at all in his winding-up speech, so it is safe to infer that no noble Lord raised any anxieties about the Persian Gulf during the whole of the debate. Yet, 17 days later Saddam Hussein marched into Kuwait, with the resulting heavy calls on our military resources of which we are all aware.
§ Perhaps I may pay a tribute to our military forces for their actions in the Gulf, though it has been done before and by better people than I. We all admire the way that they engaged themselves in very difficult circumstances and with enormous credit and skill. We owe them a great deal.
§ When will the next emergency be? I have not the faintest idea and I do not suppose anyone else has either. All I know is that there will be a next time somewhere, sometime, and we must be ready to cope with it. That is the Government's dilemma and the dilemma of every British government over the years. We are a peace-loving people and resent spending our money on soldiers, sailors and airmen and their expensive equipment unless we can clearly see a danger staring us in the face. The moment we think it has receded or disappeared we talk about a peace dividend, which either means keeping the money in our own pockets or spending it on some desirable cause whose advocates cry out that their whole operation will crumble about their ears—and ours—unless large amounts of the taxpayers' money are immediately injected.
§ There is nothing new in that. By chance I have been rereading the late Sir Arthur Bryant's life of Samuel Pepys. Exactly the same thing happened in 1667. The Dutch had been mauled in a naval battle the year before. That danger was felt to have gone; money was short and needed elsewhere; the fleet was paid off and laid up. What happened? Three months later the Dutch appeared in the Thames with an enormous fleet; they came up the Medway, captured and burnt our ships and landed troops at Sheerness. Time after time we do this, generation after generation. It always costs us dear in the end.
§ The Treasury does not help. It is always looking for ways to save a pound here, a million there, a billion somewhere else. I do not blame it. It is the Treasury's job. The trouble is that its Ministers' eyes and its civil servants' work are so firmly on its books, its ledgers and its balance sheets that it is almost impossible to expect it to lift those eyes and contemplate realistically the perils of the world. I know, I have had to try. For that we have to relyon my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the Cabinet as a whole. That is why I am grateful to my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal for taking part in today's debate. I know that everything your Lordships say will be faithfully and forcefully represented direct to the Cabinet.
§ So far we have only the sketchiest idea of what the Government intend to do, based almost entirely on the Statement made in another place by the Secretary of State on 25th July last year, setting out his broad 1091 proposals following his consideration of Options for Change, an exercise which dates back to February 1990. Certainly we had his Answer to a Question in the other place on 4th June this year giving his proposed figure for the size of the Regular Army but not the reserves. I view the figure with some apprehension, in that it is not only lower than that which he envisaged a year ago, but it is the smallest figure for the Army that I can ever remember. Certainly our commitments in Europe are less; but the proposed reduction is greater than that at a time when our other commitments, including those in Northern Ireland, show no signs of decreasing. I suppose that it can be said that the world is a safer place than I can ever remember it. I do not believe it.
§ The Secretary of State cannot be criticised for taking his time, especially in view of the Gulf war and the uncertainties in the Soviet Union of which I have spoken, and the absolute necessity, which we all accept, of reaching agreement with our NATO allies. But there are uncertainties here too. Over too long a period that is bad for everyone. It is bad for the Armed Forces; it is bad for the Civil Service because if the Armed Forces are to be smaller, surely so too must be the Civil Service. It is also bad for the hundreds of thousands of people who supply the services with their ships, tanks, guns, clothes, food and everything they need and who do not know whether or not they will have a job after the summer holidays.
§ I shall not go on because I know that others much more knowledgeable and experienced than I will put forward their assessment of the perils we face and of what size and shape of Navy, Army and Air Force we need to counter them; how those forces should be equipped and how we can get them to where they are needed. I shall simply close by saying that I am sure that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence and the whole Cabinet agree with me that the first duty of any government, over-riding everything else, is to ensure the safety of this country and all its people. This Government, I am confident, will dc that duty. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.31 p.m.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for initiating this debate. It may be helpful if I come in at this early stage.
The Motion under debate calls attention to changes in the international situation since my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced Options for Change nearly a year ago. And changes have certainly occurred—some immensely encouraging; some much less so. On the encouraging side is the continued growth of democracy and freedom in Europe. Soviet troops continue their withdrawal from the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, and will be gone from Hungary and Czechoslovakia by the end of this month. Germany has been unified as a sovereign state enjoying full NATO membership. With the recent dismantling of the military structure of the Warsaw Pact, the threat posed to NATO by the presence on its borders of a massive military force is gone.
1092 The meeting last autumn of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe established a permanent framework for more open and cooperative relations between East and West; and although there have been well-publicised difficulties over the interpretation of the CFE Treaty signed by NATO and Warsaw Pact nations, there is reason to expect that they will be satisfactorily resolved.
In May the intermediate nuclear forces treaty was fully implemented and we hope to see further progress in nuclear arms control with the signature by the US and Soviet Union of a strategic arms reduction treaty, and reductions in short-range nuclear forces. However, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological as well as nuclear, in the world is a matter which must concern us all. The Government will continue to seek comprehensive and properly verifiable global agreements to prevent their spread.
In spite of all the changes in Europe, the Soviet Union remains the largest conventional military power with a massive nuclear arsenal. As my noble friend Lord Colnbrook emphasised, its political future is uncertain. Furthermore, in Central and Eastern Europe there is a risk that the thawing of the Cold War will unfreeze old rivalries and tensions.
So we need to maintain sound collective defence based on NATO. The transatlantic dimension is crucial. European security without the US simply does not make sense. It is vital that a significant number of US forces—both conventional and nuclear—remain in Europe. It is also essential that we keep a sensible mix of nuclear and conventional weapons to provide effective deterrence.
But there is still scope for measured change—tempered, as my noble friend urged, with caution—with a stronger European input to the collective defence. It is right that the countries of Europe should be taking on a greater responsibility for their own defence, and that they should acquire a more distinct role within the alliance. But European defence should not be pursued separately from the alliance and the functions of the alliance should not be duplicated.
We believe that the best way of strengthening the European pillar of NATO will be by developing the Western European Union. It is an organisation well-placed to build up close links both with NATO and with the evolving political union of the Twelve, and to act as a bridge between the two. It has already shown its ability to co-ordinate joint European action in the Gulf. It therefore makes sense to retain and develop this capacity for possible use outside the NATO area. This will not undermine or cut across NATO's role or duplicate NATO's military structure.
NATO's review of strategy and force structures was set in train by the Heads of State and Government meeting at the NATO Summit last July, and a framework for future force structures has been settled. It has been agreed that the British Army's main contribution should be as part of a new multinational Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps under permanent British leadership, with the corps including two British and two multinational divisions, and other forces as made available by allies.
1093 Unfortunately, there are many sources of conflict in the world that will not disappear through a lessening of tension between East and West. The Gulf crisis has shown that regional instability may throw up danger affecting the whole international community. Happily, in the case of Kuwait, the world community was determined to see that aggression did not succeed.
Help for Kuwait came from all parts of the world; and British forces, demonstrating their ability to perform effectively far from their familiar environment, played a significant role in the coalition formed to defend Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and to uphold the authority of the United Nations.
The frigates and destroyers of the Armilla patrol, together with RAF Nimrod aircraft, played a major part in the enforcement of the trade embargo. The Royal Navy's mine countermeasure vessels were at the forefront of the allied naval campaign, with Lynx helicopters armed with Sea Skua missiles having considerable success in removing the threat from Iraqi patrol boats and other vessels.
In the land campaign, 1st Armoured Division was the largest British merchanised formation to see action since the Second World War. The division carried out its task of defeating elements of the Iraqi armoured tactical reserve both quickly and decisively. RAF Tornado F3 air-defence aircraft and Jaguar ground-attack aircraft—deployed rapidly to the area as part of the initial multinational response to the invasion—were joined by Tornado GR1 aircraft. They played an immensely important part in the allied air campaign with low-level night attacks on Iraqi airfields and precision bombing attacks on bridges and other targets.
The international scene, and the part played by British forces in the Gulf, confirm, we believe, the prudence of the Government's defence policy. Many of the positive changes in Europe are so advanced as to be virtually irreversible and we are confident that our future security can be maintained at lower levels of forces. But we are planning for cautious and measured change, convinced that we must retain a robust and flexible defence capability as our insurance against the unexpected—and the unexpected we have certainly seen, as my noble friend pointed out. Our experience in the Gulf confirms the need for this approach.
Since last July, and against the background of events in Europe and in the Gulf, work has continued to cost and refine the broad proposals for change to frontline force structures which were outlined in the Statement by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. It has been a major and complex undertaking and I make no apology for the fact that we are not rushing to hasty conclusions. But some initial decisions have already been announced and it is right that I should mention a few of them now.
First, our plans for the Royal Navy reflect careful consideration of the Soviet naval threat. The Soviet navy is still introducing new ships into service but is declining in size as older vessels are paid off. However, as my noble friend said, it is still enormous. The force levels we envisage will allow us to honour our obligations to NATO in times of peace and war. We 1094 shall also remain capable of making a significant contribution to multinational operations outside the NATO area, like those in the Gulf. We will be decommissioning older, less capable vessels and bringing into service more modern, better equipped ones. For example, we have announced the decommissioning of the nuclear-powered submarines HMS "Warspite", HMS "Churchill" and HMS "Conqueror" as part of the move towards around 12 boats of this type. Several of the older diesel-electric Oberon class submarines have been decommissioned. They are being replaced by the Upholder class, the first of which is in service, with a second due to follow shortly. We are also decommissioning some of the older Leander class frigates.
As regards the naval estate, we have announced the closures of Royal Arthur, the RN leadership training school, whose functions will be relocated to Whale Island in Portsmouth, of St. Vincent, the RN accommodation centre in London, and of the Blackbrook Farm diesel repair depot in Portsmouth. Other announcements on the future of the naval estate will be made as decisions are taken.
I spoke earlier of the new NATO multinational rapid reaction corps for Allied Command Europe. In accordance with this new concept we shall move to a regular army some 116,000 strong by the mid-1990s—some 40,000 smaller than today. The reduction will involve change for many units, including amalgamations and disbandments. However, I can assure the House that the regimental system will remain. Consultation with the Army on how to achieve the new structure has now begun and as soon as this is complete we shall come forward with more detailed announcements.
As to the RAF, your Lordships may recall the changes to the front line foreshadowed in the July Statement. They included reducing the RAF presence in Germany from four bases to two; withdrawing from service the Phantom air defence aircraft; reducing the number of Tornado GR1 squadrons with nuclear conventional roles in Europe from 11 to six; and re-equipping a further two squadrons of dual-capable Tornado GR1 aircraft with Sea Eagle missiles to replace the Buccaneer force in the anti-ship role. A small reduction in Nimrod numbers was also envisaged.
As my honourable friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces made clear last November, in the long term RAF Bruggen and RAF Laarbruch will be the RAF's two main bases in Germany. RAF Wildenrath and RAF Gutersloh are planned to close as flying stations by the end of 1992 and 1993 respectively. The two Phantom squadrons at RAF Wildenrath begin to disband this summer, with the UK-based Phantoms following later.
More recently we have announced that the Tornado interdiction-strike force in Germany is to reduce from eight squadrons to four. Three of the squadrons at RAF Laarbruch are to disband, starting in September 1991, with the fourth redeploying to RAF Marham at the end of this year. These moves 1095 will pave the way for the redeployment to RAF Laarbruch of Harrier and support helicopter units currently based at RAF Gutersloh.
Turning to forces based in the UK, we have recently announced the withdrawal from service, from next month, of three Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft; and that the Buccaneer operational conversion unit at RAF Lossiemouth is to start to disband from October of this year as the first step in the programme to replace the Buccaneer force at RAF Lossiemouth with re-roled Tornados.
Like the Royal Navy and the Army, the RAF is not confining its attention to restructuring the front line. The service has also embarked on a major review of all areas of support activity, including flying training. We aim to achieve a cost-effective long-term level of support which matches front-line needs, taking into account the implications for local employment and local communities in any areas where changes are proposed. We expect this process of change and rationalisation in the support area and front line to lead to the closure of a number of RAF stations in the UK and a change of role at others; but it is too early to say what the implications will be for any individual station.
In conclusion, in a changing world some change in our response is bound to be appropriate.
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
My Lords, I ask the noble Lord's pardon for intervening. The noble Lord has reviewed the services. However, I am sure he will agree that there is no point in having adequate services unless they have the means of transport. Is the noble Lord going to mention the Merchant Navy this afternoon and tell the House the Government's policy on the calamitous decline that has overcome that service?
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, I was very conscious of the fact that this was the subject of a Question a few days ago, and again today. I have been watching the clock very carefully and I cannot embark on that now. I had to be selective. However, if the matter is raised again during the course of the debate I am sure that it can be dealt with by my noble friend Lord Arran when he replies to the debate.
I am sure your Lordships will all agree that in a changing world some change in our response is bound to be appropriate; and the changes we have seen in Europe in recent years have been truly staggering. They have not been unconnected with the robust determination of this Government over the years to meet the Soviet threat. But Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait shows that new threats to international peace can arise with dramatic suddenness.
We must therefore have adequate forces for the direct defence of the United Kingdom and for our contribution to the NATO alliance and which have the flexibility and capability to make our contribution to the maintenance of international law and the freedom of others.
Nothing in Options for Change shows any lack of determination in any of these directions. What would be inconsistent with our obligations would be a 1096 slashing of defence expenditure on the scale recommended by the Labour Party. Its 1989 and 1990 conferences voted for a cut equivalent to £9 billion in the defence budget—well over one-third of the entire defence budget and much more than the total cost of either the Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force. That clearly is ridiculous and irresponsible.
This country owes a great debt to its Armed Forces and has owed such a debt throughout its history. We shall continue to rely on their dedication and their excellence for strong and reliable defence.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, for bringing this Motion before us today. I join him in looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse. Not only is this the first occasion since the Gulf war and the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact on which we have had the opportunity to debate defence, but the Government have recently made the first of what may be several statements about the future of our Armed Forces. It is your Lordships' task today to consider the lessons that can be learnt from the Gulf and indeed from the continuing saga of events in Eastern Europe; and, in particular, in the Soviet Union. In doing so it is, above all, the Opposition's task to scrutinise both the Government's current position and what appear to be, although perhaps somewhat dimly, their future intentions.
To my mind, four questions arise from the events of the past 12 months. I state them broadly as follows. First, what has the Gulf war and the effective end of the Warsaw Pact taught us about our own defence posture—"adequate defence forces" in the words of the Motion? What lessons do we draw about the structure and nature of our alliances? How can we provide for the problem of surprise and of always having to expect the unexpected?
Secondly, given what we are told are limited means —we must recognise that we are obviously no longer a great military power—how should these means be allocated between the armed services, and by what criteria? Thirdly, what conclusions should we draw about the nature and character which security will take in five to 10 years' time? I put that question given that decisions taken now are not just decisions about tomorrow but, with the time lags involved in defence procurement and the disposition of human resources, will affect the nature of our Armed Forces for many years to come.
Fourthly, what will be the practical effects of the decisions that the Government have already taken in terms both of our own defence needs and of the needs, as the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, said, of those employed, either full-time or part-time, on a professional or voluntary basis?
It is a large agenda. I shall cover it as best I may, but it is the agenda set by the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, since the matter of what constitutes "adequate defence forces" for this country cannot be resolved without addressing all those four questions. On my first point, I state quite categorically that we 1097 believe that nothing that has happened diminishes our support for NATO. On the contrary, that support is now even stronger. The Gulf war clearly showed that the only effective military force that the United Nations was able to draw on was one which was American led; and that it was only possible to constitute the strong coalition that was assembled for that exercise because NATO had existed. Procedures were familiar and operational decisions were based on the familiarity of the NATO environment.
Furthermore, as the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, said and the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal reiterated, events in Eastern Europe reinforce our commitment to NATO. None of us know what will be the outcome of the political convulsions at present shaking the Soviet Union. But as the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, quite rightly pointed out, what we do know is that the Soviet Union is still a formidable military power and is actually increasing its submarine strength, in spite of its economic difficulties. That is just one reason, among many, why we should be careful, in NATO, about lowering our guard.
Now there is some talk in the European Community about an independent European defence policy, developed either through the European Community itself or through the Western European Union. Let me again make our attitude quite clear: we support the idea of a "European pillar" of NATO, but in no sense can that, or should that, be "independent". Europe will certainly have to contribute more to its own defence. After all, the US presence in Europe is currently under review in Washington, and troop levels may fall, as a result of that review, from some 320,000 to as low as 150,000, or even 100,000. Our response to that is to improve relations between the US, Britain and other NATO members in Europe, not to declare a sort of unilateral European independence.
For us, the force structure agreed at the meeting of NATO Ministers in Brussels on 28th and 29th May last marks an advance. The Rapid Reaction Corps will give much greater flexibility within the NATO area, and it may in the course of time be able to operate sensibly; not wholly "out of area"—that is not its role —but on the flanks of NATO, such as northern Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.
But the Rapid Reaction Corps raises its own problems in terms of the British use of resources; and that brings me to my second question. Given our limited means, if that is what they are, how should they be used? It is starting to emerge that the Government have instituted defence cuts, not just without consulting other political parties and Parliament, but, even more importantly, without consulting the US or our other NATO allies. That is certainly the view of the House of Commons Defence Committee in its report Options for Change: Royal Air Force which was published this morning. It states:It looks very much as if the United Kingdom has decided unilaterally the level and disposition of air (and ground) forces it proposes to make available, and left NATO to use them as it will".If that is the case—I ask the noble Earl, Lord Arran, to comment on this when he comes to reply it is the Treasury that is calling the tune rather than 1098 the Ministry of Defence. It is not our strategic requirements that are paramount, but our financial stringency. The tail is well and truly wagging the dog. If that is the case, the danger is that all our NATO allies will be encouraged to do the same thing and to follow their own national priorities rather than the priorities of the alliance.
But even if these suspicions are unworthy, are we still sure that available resources are being sensibly allocated? The Gulf war, to which the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal referred at some length, demonstrated that BAOR had to be virtually stripped—cannibalised—to provide an effective fighting force for Desert Storm. Ammunition supplies were wholly inadequate; whole units in Germany were reduced to a token presence. Now we have the announcement of a reduction in the British Army troop level to 116,000 by the mid-1990s. How was this magic figure arrived at? What is the rationale for it? Will this number be sufficient to allow us to respond to the unexpected, since the one lesson the Gulf crisis taught us, as the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, said, is that the unexpected will always happen?
Furthermore, are we not concentrating too much on reducing personnel levels? Should we not be thinking just as much in terms of improvements in equipment? For instance, what the Gulf war showed us was the value of helicopters, both in lifting troops and in an attacking role. But we have only about half the first line helicopters that the French have and that the Germans have. In the Gulf the Royal Air Force had to deploy half its support helicopters for one armoured division; and our most modern attack helicopter, the Lynx, is 20 years old. If the size of the full-time professional army is to be reduced, we surely need to improve the development of the Armed Forces reserve. The Rapid Reaction Corps, almost by definition, can only consist of regular troops. But the Territorial Army could, and should, play a useful and important supplementary role; it should not be relegated to the status of a second class bunch of amateurs. The only way to achieve this, and to avoid the besetting problem of the TA—namely, that of absenteeism—is to devise an arrangement in service personnel contracts to ensure that they continue in training once they are in the reserve. The reason for this is quite clear. If we do get involved in a conflict (which Heaven forfend) that requires numbers of troops on the ground, the TA will be the only source of those numbers. France and Germany have conscription, the US and Australia have large and immediately available reserve forces. Why should we be left with an army that will only be a fraction of the size of others? Alternatively, if we get involved in an air war, we shall need the capability to reconstitute our air forces, and that means, as the House of Commons Defence Committee points out, a regularly exercised flying reserve—not just aircraft kept in hangars in mothballs.
But if there are problems of allocation of resources in the Army and in the Air Force, the Navy—not to mention the Merchant Navy, to which my noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff has drawn attention —seems to have just as many. We are told that the 1099 Royal Navy will be cut to about 40 frigates and destroyers and 16 submarines. But are we sure that with these resources the Navy can carry out what are called its "assigned tasks"? After all, these cuts are coming at a time when there is no general progress at all, as was mentioned the other day, towards arms control agreements covering naval forces, in spite of Soviet invitations. Moreover, we seem now to be proposing a split between the Navy in the North and the Navy in the South. How the closure of the Rosyth naval base can be justified on defence grounds, let alone economic grounds, completely defeats me. It would leave the entire North Sea coastline exposed without a naval presence. It is not just a question of fishery protection, important though that may be; it is a question of the protection of North Sea oil platforms, and economically North Sea oil is at present our lifeblood.
So I turn now to my third question, which looks ahead to the character of the security problem in the late 1990s. It seems to me, as I think it would seem to all noble Lords, self-evident that in Europe, both in the West and in the East, there is the prospect—indeed, there is already the presence—of radical change.
In western Europe there will, willy-nilly, be a gradual, and perhaps not so gradual, movement towards political integration. As with economic integration, it will come when it is ready. The conclusion I draw from this prospect is that we should proceed with caution. We should not allow a defence community in Europe to precede a political community. That makes no sense at all; and a political community will come if, and only if, and when, and only when, it is ready to come and not before. Defence questions will have to wait until then.
But in eastern Europe the problem is one of disintegration rather than integration. The conclusion that I draw from that prospect is that the problems of the break-up of the Soviet empire, and possibly of the Soviet Union itself, are not going to be solved by force of arms. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that in 1914 they thought that the problems of the break-up of the Ottoman Empire could be resolved by force of arms, and look where that led them. The essential point that we must all grasp, whether on the left, right or in the centre, is that it is the political and diplomatic response to the crisis in eastern Europe which will determine whether or not there is another Sarajevo. It is whether we are, all of us, sensible enough to see that economic assistance and diplomatic support will be the key factors; force of arms should play no part.
Beyond the problems of Europe, serious as they may be, there are the longer run problems of the third world. Again, it is much more sensible to take a forward position economically than to commit ourselves to a military capability to deal with any possible explosions. As the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, said, there will certainly be explosions. Let me be quite clear about our position. Our ambition is that the United Nations should gain the authority that it was always meant to have at its inception after the Second World War; namely, to play the world's policeman. At present there is a 1100 chance, just a small chance, that with the ending of the Cold War, it might be able to play that role. If it can—and we very much hope that it can—we shall be the first to encourage it and will support it with enthusiasm.
I come now to the fourth question: the practical effects of what the Government are proposing by way of cuts. I do not intend to get involved in the dispute about which regiment will survive and which regiment will be merged with others. I am sure that many noble Lords will wish to express their views on that matter.
My purpose is quite different. It is simply to say to the Government—and I emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, said—that they cannot just throw people out of the Armed Forces and put them onto the streets. There must be a proper programme of retraining and reallocation for those who are made redundant. That is true not just for the Armed Forces, but also for those who work in defence industries. In other words, the Government must show greater concern for those whose livelihood is crucially affected by official decisions which are wholly beyond their control.
Let me illustrate this by referring again to the naval base at Rosyth which is threatened with closure. It is not too much to say that the impact of that closure would affect the economy of Fife and Dunfermline district in a disastrous manner. Overall, some 5,000 people, if we include the knock-on effects, would lose their jobs. That would be as a result not of market forces, not of strikes, and not of wage claims; it would be the result of a government decision. The Government must give more attention to the effects of their decisions on people's lives which are liable to be led into poverty and disaster.
Finally, it may be that your Lordships have been expecting me to give a precise account of how Labour in office would run a defence policy. The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal produced his usual party political blast from the other side of the House. I am afraid to say that I think noble Lords will be disappointed. I believe that the noble Lord referred to conference decisions. He had better wait to see what our manifesto says.
I see that the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal is laughing. However, he will learn, when the time comes, what the manifesto says. I shall quote from an Opposition policy statement which, I must admit, was published some years back:It is our repeatedly stressed intention to strengthen Britain's defences. It would be irresponsible, and anyway impossible, to say by precisely how much we will do this, and precisely how much it will cost. We do not have the advice which is available in government from professional advisers; we do not know what the world situation—or the domestic economic situation—will be when we come to office; and before acting we should want to consult our Allies. But our objective is clear. While we shall seek value for money in defence expenditure as elsewhere, we will not hesitate to spend what is necessary on our armed forces.Noble Lords opposite may perhaps recognise my quotation. It comes from a document produced by Conservative Central Office in 1976 entitled, The Right Approach. That was their view then. It is our view today.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him this question. I was not conjuring something up out of the air; I was stating to him what has already been declared to be Labour policy. Therefore, we are entitled to ask: does the noble Lord still stand by what was declared to be Labour policy in 1989–90; that is, only a year ago? That was the policy which I mentioned in the last phrase of my speech.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am quite happy to spend another half hour giving the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal a lecture on the Labour Party constitution. However, perhaps he will take it shortly from me that the manifesto with which the Labour Party will fight the next election will be decided by what is known as a "Clause 5 meeting"; that is, a meeting between the National Executive Committee and the Shadow Cabinet. That is the programme with which the party will fight the next election.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, I am bound to say that the noble Lord the Leader of the House was a little unkind to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. Deficient as Labour Party defence policy may be, it is a vast improvement on what it used to be. I recall the statement made last week in another place by a Labour Party defence spokesman, that Trident was an important and integral part of Labour's defence policy. If that is not progress towards truth, I should like to know what is.
Much more gently were the Government dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook. But he was undoubtedly critical of the Government's defence policy. No one can doubt that the careful wording of the Motion is an implied criticism of the Government's defence policy. It means that the events over the past 12 months call for a review of the planned strength of our defence forces. It can mean nothing else. It means that the experience of the Gulf war and recent developments in the Soviet Union call for a revision of Options for Change. That is not the view of my noble friends and myself. We did not oppose Options for Change when it was announced last year, and we do not oppose the greater reductions now put forward by the noble Lord the Leader of the House.
It must surely be common ground that defence policy must bear some relationship to threat. The threats are of potential nuclear or conventional aggression from the Soviet Union and threats out-of-area. Other speakers have already tried to assess those threats. I hope that I too may be allowed to do so. First, the Soviet nuclear threat is different from the Soviet conventional threat. We on these Benches recognise that the Soviet Government can still deploy a huge weight of nuclear missiles, and that therefore the future use of nuclear blackmail, although improbable, cannot be wholly ruled out. We therefore support the maintenance of a powerful Western nuclear deterrent to which this country should make a contribution. That is not to say that we support the huge increase in the British strategic nuclear capability 1102 which the Government plan. We believe that that is untimely and unnecessary. With the huge increase in the French nuclear deterrent, it changes the balance between the United States and the Soviet Union and makes it more necessary than ever that those two nuclear deterrents must be included in the later stages of START.
The threat of Soviet conventional aggression is a different matter. That is where the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, does not have a realistic picture of the Soviet threat. Everyone is aware of the continuing huge size of the Soviet army and navy and of the evidence of the resistance of the Soviet military high-ups to the Gorbachev reforms. As might be expected, there is resistance by the Soviet military high-ups to the one-sided disarmament concessions made by Gorbachev; to his withdrawal of troops from Eastern Europe; and, above all perhaps, to his acquiescence in the NATO membership of a united Germany. In any country, military high-ups would resist such vast reforms, so prejudicial to their own status and to what they have always believed, preached and worked for.
Where I would draw swords with the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, is in believing that the Soviet Union is able or willing to make a conventional attack on Western Europe. That was implied in what he said. He was not saying that we must not reduce our arms because something might happen in the Middle East or because there might be ethnic trouble in Eastern Europe; everyone can see that our forces are sufficient for such emergencies. The tenor of his speech was that the Soviet conventional threat still exists and that therefore Options for Change goes too far. What does it imply? It implies that a new Soviet regime—perhaps a vigorous military regime—will be able and willing to reunify the Soviet Union and to build up its economy, so as to be able to reinvade a hostile Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and East Germany in order to commit aggression against Western Europe.
If that were so, the consequence would be as the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, said: that Options for Change was a mistake; but it is not so. That is not realistic. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord the Leader of the House say that some of the political changes that have taken place in Europe cannot be reversed. To assess the Soviet threat, it is irrelevant to count heads of soldiers and submarines. What is a Soviet serviceman? Are all the servicemen who are today voting for Yeltsin Soviet servicemen? They would not think of themselves as such. They, and Yeltsin, consider them to be Russian servicemen. What about the Armenians, the Georgians, the Lithuanians and the Latvians? Are they Soviet servicemen? Let us take the Soviet military industrial complex. One half of the Soviet industrial military complex is located in the Ukraine. Mr. Antonov, the Ukrainian Minister of Military Industry the other day said:I believe 100 per cent. of the military complex located on Ukrainian territory will come under direct Ukrainian control, starting on 1st January 1992".It is not enough to count the Soviet forces. One has also to ask which side they are on. That is a question 1103 that we do not have to ask about Eastern Europe, because we know that it is now on our side. The whole balance of power in Europe has been transformed compared with the days when all of us were battling to strengthen NATO and our nuclear deterrent against the united powerful threat of Soviet communism. We must adjust to that change. NATO is adjusting to it slowly and cautiously; and the Government too are slowly and cautiously adjusting to it.
The NATO governments know that, without risk, substantial reductions in NATO forces are now possible, and they are being made. In the mid-1990s the French will be withdrawing all 60,000 of their troops; from Germany; and the Germans are reducing from nearly 500,000 to 370,000 armed men. The Americans once had 250,000 men in Europe. They are coming down to 50,000. The reductions put forward by the British Government are comparatively moderate, and in proportion are less. Moreover, in the past 12 months, the Government have increased the reductions, and I believe that to be right.
Let us take the Gulf war. What lessons did we learn? A good point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams: we learnt that we need more helicopters; we also learnt that Smart technology is dominating modern battlefields, and, although we are better at Smart technology than many nations, we are worse than the Americans and we need to make great advances. Again, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said, we also learnt that to field an expeditionary force as large as the one involved in the Gulf means stripping BAOR, and provision must be made to avoid that in the future.
However, the level of forces in the British expeditionary force was more than adequate for the job. We overrated Iraq's military capability. We overinsured, and so NATO's response to the Gulf war, and that of the Government, is sensible. It is not to slow down the reductions, let alone to stop them, but to reorganise the remaining forces by creating a quick reaction force, under British leadership, not primarily intended for out-of-area operations, but capable of quickly being adapted to them. That is the proper reaction to the Gulf war, not, as the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, seemed to suggest, to hold up the reductions or perhaps to get rid of them.
I must be particularly careful about the length of my speech because of the coming maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse. I end by noting an interesting point that has emerged from the debate. For 40 years the Opposition parties have disagreed on defence policy, sometimes quite bitterly. There is more common ground between the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and the noble Lord the Leader of the:House than either would like to admit. For 40 years there has been considerable divergence on defence between the parties. Agreement is now a great deal wider than it used to be. If, without sacrifice of principle, we can achieve a degree of bi-partisanship in British defence policy, my noble friends and I would welcome that very much. Therefore, we urge the Government not to be pushed off course by the well-meaning but mistaken pressure they receive from some of their Back-Benchers.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Lord Fieldhouse
My Lords, it is a privilege for me to speak for the first time in this House on this most important subject. I ask indulgence should I stray, quite unintentionally, into contentious areas. Through the tense years of cold war and the uncomfortable period of uncertainty that followed and that still exists today, I have learnt one lesson above all others. I make no apology for repeating the point, it is so important. We can with confidence only expect the unexpected.
For most of my time in senior command, the greatest threat has been from the Soviet Union, with its overwhelming military capability. However, there has, thank heavens, been a welcome change. A reduced level of tension and important arms control agreements have been reached. But I suggest that it is often overlooked that this situation has been achieved only through collective strength within the NATO Alliance. It has withstood the test of time and the self-interest of its member nations. It will, I believe, still pay us to be cautious over the speed at which we enjoy the so-called peace dividends, for, where capability exists, intentions can change overnight.
The greatest danger to peace now lies, I believe, outside Europe. There is a risk of conflict through political, ethnic, cultural and economic issues and there is absolutely nothing new about that. There have been 80 wars since 1945; over 15 million people killed and for only one year in this whole period have British servicemen or women not been killed in action.
The overriding lesson each time we have been involved has been the necessity to maintain a broad spectrum of forces, realistically structured, well equipped and properly supported. I cannot claim to be a prophet, but I foresee a continued threat to world order and hence the need to protect our vital national interests worldwide. We hope that this can be done through the medium of the United Nations, but I do not believe that that organisation can always be relied upon to act in our best interests, as has been the case recently.
All this leaves the question: on what principles should we build our own forces from now on? In the past, our forces have largely been structured to meet the greatest threat from the Soviet Union, but it has been apparent to all that they have also had to be capable of meeting sudden, unforeseen dangers arising elsewhere in the world.
My first conclusion is that it is vital that our forces maintain their mobility and flexibility and—that all-important third element—sustainability, so that they can respond effectively and at short notice, if required, to whatever threat turns up.
In recent months, we have heard much—perhaps far too much—about achieving economies through smaller yet better armed forces. However, in reality that may be difficult to achieve. It is particularly so in some of the special capabilities that we have developed and need to maintain. My own business highlights anti-submarine warfare and particularly our submarine force. But, while the Gulf campaign proved beyond doubt that quality holds advantage over 1105 quantity, it is, as always, a matter of balance, for there is a level of quantity below which we must not go if quality is to be maintained.
This philosophy applies across the spectrum of maritime, air and land forces. Perhaps I may be allowed to focus briefly on the sea. We are, after all, an island nation and will remain dependent on the sea for the vast majority of the trade which is essential to our continued prosperity. Recent experience in the Gulf has again demonstrated the versatility of our destroyer and frigate force and their helicopters. This is valuable in both blockade operations and combat. The mine counter-measure vessels had, and still have today, a crucial role in clearing the sea lanes. The amphibious capability, while not used in the Gulf, offered a potent threat through its mere presence. Supporting these forces from afloat was a vital capability. In addition, for the land forces, well over 90 per cent. of all stores, vehicles and equipment and almost all the 100,000 tonnes of ammunition needed had to be moved by sea.
I have a particular concern here and am happy that it became apparent earlier this afternoon that I hold it in common with others of your Lordships. In war, we have to rely upon merchant shipping to undertake dangerous military duties. The number of British-manned ships, sailing under the British flag and available for defence purposes, is now at a crucial level and may already be too few. We ignore this situation at our peril.
Our armed forces make a very large contribution to that most important of all the social services: the maintenance of peace. Without peace the other social services are largely devalued. I conclude by saying that in this uncertain world we must ensure that we retain an adequate war fighting capability of a high standard to safeguard our national interests. We must therefore examine our options with the greatest possible care, remembering always that the high quality of our armed forces can be reduced in a few months, but only regained, if at all, over many years.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I cannot express to your Lordships the pride and delight that I feel at being the first speaker to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse. Tradition forbids me to refer to him as my noble and gallant friend, but I am proud to say that that truly is the case. The noble and gallant Lord served in two incarnations in the Ministry of Defence while I served in that Ministry. The first was as First Sea Lord. At that time I was the Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces and among other things I was specifically responsible for our reserve forces. I shall return briefly to that matter in a moment. The noble and gallant Lord gave me superb support and encouragement in what I was then trying to do with the Royal Naval Reserve. Soon after that the noble and gallant Lord became Chief of the Defence Staff. In that capacity he was the principal military adviser not just to Ministers in the Ministry of Defence but also to the whole Government. I know 1106 that I speak with the agreement of all my right honourable and noble friends when I say that they very highly valued the advice that he gave.
Having said that, I suspect that my noble and gallant friend —I hope I may call him that—derived the greatest satisfaction from the post that he occupied just before the two posts to which I have just referred; namely, that of Commander-in-Chief Fleet. In that capacity he was the overall commander of our military operation to recover the Falkland Islands. I remember how the noble and gallant Lord explained to me when I entered the Ministry of Defence how the operation was proceeding at that time. His explanations were most interesting and impressive; but perhaps the most impressive tribute that I can pay to the noble and gallant Lord in that capacity relates to what was said one evening at a dinner of the Admiralty Board. If my memory serves me right, that dinner was attended by the French contemporary of the noble and gallant Lord. That gentleman did not speak much English but I remember he said to those of us who were assembled, in what I think were the only words of English he knew, "You won". Your Lordships will be delighted that the noble and gallant Lord has now taken up his rightful place in your Lordships' House. Noble Lords will look forward greatly to hearing him speak often in the future.
The opening speech of my noble friend Lord Colnbrook accurately reflected the present serious situation in the world. It has become fashionable to think that the world is now an entirely safe place, that the threat has gone away and that we can progressively take advantage of the so-called peace dividend. However, a military threat consists of two elements. There is first of all the military capability —the men, the women and the hardware —and, secondly, there is the political will, or lack of it. I am easily persuaded that the political will in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union to perpetrate any aggression upon us is fast dwindling and may have disappeared, but the hardware and personnel have not disappeared. A change of political will among those who used to be our potential adversaries—and now claim not to be—could easily take place in that part of the world. We must take great care before reaping so vigorously the peace dividend as we have been rather tempted to do in recent times. I am bound to say that I was not wholly certain, after listening to the speech of my noble friend the Leader of the House, that we have yet got this matter entirely right.
However, we should reserve our judgment for the time being at any rate. I look forward to reading the defence White Paper when it is published later this year. I believe it is due to be published in July. I shall then be able to form a more considered judgment on the matter. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, is not in his place at the moment. His interesting speech was remarkable in a number of ways. I am sorry that the noble Lord did not feel able to tell us more about the Labour Party's policy in these matters than we have so far been able to learn. I was interested to hear the noble Lord's comments. I believe they were made in response to remarks made by my noble friend the Leader of the House on Labour 1107 Party policy that had been decided, I thought, at recent conferences. Apparently we are to ignore all that and to wait for what emerges from some smoke-filled rooms between now and whenever the election is to take place. I shall most certainly look forward to hearing about the Labour Party's policy, and I am sure the electorate will, too.
It is certainly the case that the problems with which Ministers have had to grapple in recent times have been considerable. Matters have been gravely complicated—if that is the right word—by the enormous conflict that took place in the Gulf at the beginning of this year. I believe my noble friend Lord Colnbrook said that even my noble friend Lord Arran with all the information at his disposal was unable to anticipate that there would be a conflict 17 days before the conflict broke out. However, I remember that in 1982 we certainly did not expect a conflict in the Falkland Islands 17 days before it broke out. Indeed, I do not think we expected a conflict seven days before it took place, let alone 17 days.
Be that as it may, a large degree of uncertainty now prevails. The Government are working to overcome that situation and I hope and believe that the Defence White Paper will do a great deal to alleviate that uncertainty. Some of that uncertainty has rubbed off onto the Armed Forces. The problem of retention has always been with the Armed Forces, but I am told that it is particularly acute at the moment when members of the Armed Forces are not certain what the future may hold for them. I dare say that even greater numbers would seek to leave the Armed Forces if the domestic economy were doing rather better.
I wish to speak briefly about the equally serious problems that face industry as a result of this uncertainty. The Ministry of Defence is far and away the largest single customer of UK industries. If one includes all the quartermaster stores and other such provisions, spending amounts to about £10,000 million a year. Those orders provide employment for more than half a million people in one way or another. One unhappy example of this indecision —I do not necessarily blame the Government for that—has been the Chieftain replacement programme.
A decision on that replacement programme has been repeatedly delayed in recent months. Your Lordships may recall that the decision to replace the ageing fleet of Chieftain main battle tanks was originally taken in 1987. A preliminary assessment of the available options was made at that time. Ministers eventually concluded that the choice lay between the Challenger 2, which is a new version of the Challenger 1 and incorporates a new turret, a new gun and a new fire control system; the American Abrams M1A2, which is an updated version of the Al—that tank was at that time being considered by the United States authorities, but had not been funded by Congress at that point—and, finally, the Leopard 2, which was an updated version of the old Leopard 1 which is currently in service with German and other armed forces in Europe.
It was decided in December 1988 to commission Vickers Defence Systems to carry out a demonstrator programme on Challenger 2, which included the 1108 construction of nine prototypes. If my memory serves me right, that programme alone cost in the region of £90 million or £92 million. The purpose of that programme was to show, by means of demanding milestones—and I know that they were demanding because I participated in setting them—that the Challenger was capable of meeting the requirements. As my noble friend Lord Arran confirmed in a recent Written Answer, that programme was completed and the milestones all satisfactorily passed.
Meanwhile, the other tanks continued to be evaluated. I gather that consideration was even given briefly to the little French Leclerc tank, which soon proved to be a very high risk solution and was, I presume, discarded accordingly.
I believe that the German Leopard option should be dismissed at once. Although that tank has many fine features its armoured protection is less satisfactory by our standards and could only be brought up to date by revealing information about our own capabilities, which is second in sensitivity only to our closest nuclear secrets. I believe that that would be wholly unwise and I hope that the Government will not pursue that course.
Therefore, the decision lies between the American Abrams and the Vickers Challenger. The first major consideration must be the gun and its associated fire control system. More rubbish has been talked about the gun than about any other aspect of this matter. There is no standard NATO tank gun so there is no merit in suggesting that we ought to buy the American tank because its gun is common throughout the alliance or that its ammunition is more readily available. Your Lordships will recall that the Belgians refused point blank to provide any ammunition in support of the recent Gulf conflict. Your Lordships may think, as I do, that that was a wholly regrettable decision which bodes ill for any future co-operation of that kind. In any event, I believe that the so-called "CHARM" gun to be fitted to Challenger 2 is superior to the Abrams in both long-range accuracy and penetration.
Furthermore, as the Gulf conflict demonstrated, there are grave doubts about the arrangement for the stowage of single-piece ammunition and related crew safety considerations. Ministers will bear a heavy burden of responsibility if they decide to accept arguments put forward in respect of the so-called bustle stowage facilities of the Abrams tank whose shortcomings have been so cruelly demonstrated in the Gulf.
Perhaps the greatest problem with the Abrams tank is its engine. It is fitted with a gas turbine which consumes between three and four times more fuel than the diesel-engined alternatives, a factor which could cause problems and which did cause serious problems in the desert. I am told that it was necessary for the American tanks to stop three or four times a day to refuel, with all the obvious dangers which that involved.
It is unhappily the case that the Abrams does not have a number of the important features fitted to the 1109 Challenger tank. I hope that the Government will be heavily influenced by those considerations when they take their decision.
The Government have recently said that they intend to take a decision on this matter in the very near future. I hope that when my noble friend Lord Arran replies to the debate he will be able to confirm that. I hope that the announcement when it comes before the end of this month, as has been promised, will not merely ask for more time.
I have gone into the matter in some detail because I believe that it is symptomatic of the difficulties that are facing the defence manufacturing industry at the present time. Of course great changes are taking place. Of course they are having a profound effect upon the Ministry of Defence. However, they are also having a profound effect on British industry, and I hope that the Government will take those points firmly into consideration.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, the noble Lord has much experience in the defence field, both as a Minister and as a former pilot. I hope that the Government will pay attention to the questions he asked.
Originally I intended to make only a few remarks about the air force. I am grateful to the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for the account that he gave concerning the number of aircraft which are to be cancelled. I should like to say farewell to one particular aircraft which is shortly to disappear—the Shackleton. It is nearly as old as I am. I remember quarrelling with the noble Lord, Lord Harvey of Prestbury, and saying that it ought to be called the Lincoln. I was accused of damaging the morale of the workforce by not calling it the Shackleton. However, I am grateful that it was called the Shackleton.
Although the aircraft did not see service in warlike operations it is in its way a miracle. It has gone on for ever. It has the same Griffin engines. Three old Shackletons are now sitting at RAF Waddington—nothing to do with the Lord Privy Seal. I am told that they are to be auctioned at Sotheby's. I hope that some will be bought and retained in this country.
It has been a very successful aircraft. Those of us who know it and who have flown it pay tribute to its sturdiness and to the Griffin engines, which go on for ever. It ended its life performing a useful role as an airborne early warning aircraft when the radar for the Nimrod aircraft failed. I stress that it was the radar which failed. There was nothing wrong with the Nimrod aircraft, which remains very successful.
I am told that Shackleton aircraft will fly over London during the Trooping the Colour birthday parade. Therefore, those who have not seen her will have an opportunity to do so. She is not a very striking looking aircraft. She looks old fashioned, like so many of us. There is more that we should like to know concerning aircraft, such as the future of the European fighter.
I have another farewell, to HMS "Endurance", if the Ministry of Defence has its way. We learn today 1110 —some of us were told at the weekend—that the crew of HMS "Endurance" will be informed when they return from leave on Monday that the ship is being phased out and that no replacement is being built. We had some discussion on the subject during a Question in this House. We were assured then, without much firmness of purpose—nonetheless, it served to get the Government out of an awkward position—that there was no question at the moment of a change in the programme which allowed for a replacement for HMS "Endurance". When we queried to what extent the Foreign Office had been consulted we were told that it had been consulted. The Foreign Office had not been consulted. The first official news the Foreign Office had was today.
I find that amazing. It reflects what happened in 1981–82 when HMS "Endurance" was cancelled without either the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, or Mr. Ridley knowing about it. Indeed, at that time the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, gave orders that it should not be cancelled. Now we hear that the ship will be cancelled without a replacement.
This is not purely sentiment—although Mrs. Thatcher said that "Endurance" or a replacement would go on for a very considerable period. That is on the record. The role of "Endurance" is very important to the British interests in the Antarctic. It is not necessary for the protection of the Falklands, although it has a symbolic purpose. It has a role possibly in the long term on the fishery side, but that is taken care of largely by the Falklands. It is important in hydrography and work in support of the British Antarctic Survey, already under discussion for the next season.
The British Antarctic Survey is able, through the helicopters of HMS "Endurance", to put scientists into areas to which they would otherwise not go. The hydrography side is of the greatest importance. The danger to the environment of the Antarctic does not come from mining—I suspect that there will be no mining in the Antarctic during the lifetime of any of the Members of this House, but from ships that go down there and the absence of good hydrography.
"Endurance" helps in that respect, and in doing so is following a naval tradition. Antarctic exploration has depended on the Royal Navy. The noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal referred to the outer non-NATO areas. This is a non-NATO activity. Many of us hoped that when the threat in the North Atlantic disappeared there would be further facilities for that naval tradition. Indeed, Operation Tabarin, which was the original source of information for, and the origin of, the British Antarctic Survey, was a naval operation. The navy has always played a part in the work, dating back to the time when Cook first crossed the Antarctic Circle and to Admiral Ross with "Erebus" and "Terror". Captain Scott himself was on a naval expedition. It is absurd to think that it is improper for the navy to give support to such scientific activity.
I know that now everyone has to be charged for use. That is the modern fashion. But the Royal Navy has played a very important role. I hope that a successor—I stress that it must be a successor because the "Endurance" cannot go on for ever—will be 1111 found. Furthermore, there are ships now available. We do not have to build an expensive ship such as the "James Clark Ross" which cost £40 million. There is a verb good modern ship at £25 million and other ships which are not so new immediately available. It is absurd to think that we can continue to play the role that we have played in the Antarctic and in creating the Antarctic Treaty unless the Royal Naval ensign is down there.
I hope very much that when the Government talk to the Foreign Office they will listen to the arguments that the Foreign Office put forward on this subject. I think 1hat withdrawal would be a tragedy. That is not because of the name "Endurance" but because this is a role which the British can fulfil in the world very successfully. I believe that it will be most successfully done by the Royal Navy, but with a new ship.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by congratulating my noble and gallant friend Lord Fieldhouse on a distinguished maiden speech. It was to be expected that he would bring authority and insight to any debate on this subject. Like many of your Lordships, I look forward to future contributions from him.
The House must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, for raising this issue in your Lordships' House at a most critical time for our national security. As we know, the Government are engaged in a review of defence arrangements known as Options for Change. That is clearly designed to bring about radical changes in the structure, equipment and order of battle of our Armed Forces. It is therefore important and right that we should examine very closely the assumptions upon which those proposals are based.
Right at the beginning I should declare that, as chairman of Vickers Shipbuilders, the constructors of Royal Navy submarines and artillery for the British Army, I have more than an academic interest in the equipment of our Armed Forces. But I can reassure noble Lords that today I shall not engage in any special pleading for submarines, howitzers or any other form of military equipment. Nor will my remarks deal with such important issues as the threat of international terrorism, stability in the Middle East, or the situation in Northern Ireland, all of which are relevant and important. However, I should like to say in parenthesis that, like the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, I have heard over the past two days from a senior naval source that HMS "Endurance" is to be decommissioned, that that decision has been taken and that it will take place in the very near future. If that is true—and if, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, it is true that that has been done without the full concurrence of the Foreign Office—I hope that when the noble Earl comes to reply to this debate he will throw some light on what seems to me to be a very disturbing development.
I intend to concentrate today on the military policies and procurement of the Soviet Union. I want to focus attention on that aspect of the problem for a number of very good reasons. Anyone with even 1112 rudimentary experience of the craft of military intelligence will know that, in assessing the threat from a potential enemy, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, said, two factors have to be constantly weighed: intentions and capabilities. What does a potential adversary intend to do and to what extent has he the resources to do it?
I advance the proposition today that, while Western military planners may have made a fairly shrewd assessment of current Soviet intentions, they have not paid sufficient attention to the military capabilities of the Soviet Union, in the not unlikely event that those intentions change. The military policies of the Western alliance so far as Europe is concerned are based upon a simple and apparently generally accepted proposition; namely, that the Warsaw Pact has disintegrated, that the Soviet Union has embarked upon a process of democratisation and disarmament and that the Soviet threat, as we have been accustomed to regard it over the years, has disappeared.
There is a great deal of truth in that. Certainly the Soviet Union's ability to mount a surprise—I emphasise surprise—land-air assault on NATO has been substantially reduced. Indeed, I agree that it has been reduced to a point at which it need no longer he regarded as a likely contingency for military planners. But I ask the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew to accept that that is not quite the same as saying that the threat of conventional attack as a whole has disappeared.
I believe that it is prudent and legitimate to conclude that there can now be changes in the strength, deployment, tactical doctrine and equipment of NATO's defensive forces. The assumptions on which we have been accustomed to base such cherished military concepts as forward defence, flexible response and the famous follow-on forces attack (FOFA) have all changed. They have been completely transformed. Therefore it is right that the Western alliance, and by extension our own Government, should examine how those changes are now to be translated into decisions about the shape, size and equipment of our Armed Forces. But that is very different from declaring the famous peace dividend, making wholesale cuts in our defence forces and sitting back content in the belief that a new world order will peacefully emerge.
The Soviet Union remains the principal imponderable factor in the security of the West. In the first place, as many noble Lords have said, there is no certainty that the Gorbachev experiment will result in the emergence of anything resembling liberal democracy in the Soviet Union. Some noble Lords may recall what the Chinese diplomat said to Henry Kissinger in 1975 when he was asked what impact the French Revolution had had on the political history of China: "It is too early yet to say". It is much too early yet to say what will happen to the Soviet empire. However, one thing is predictable. As anyone who has spent any time in studying these matters will attest, the powerful, intellectual and professional quality of the Soviet military establishment should never be underestimated. Nor should its remarkable capacity for survival. Soviet general staff and military 1113 establishments still believe with a profound conviction that what they call the correlation of forces—namely, the ability of the Soviet Union to wage war successfully—is a vital ingredient of a powerful Soviet state even in peace time. Their conviction on that, if anything, has been reinforced by the lessons of the war in the Gulf.
With the greatest affection and respect for the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, I believe that his analysis of the Soviet threat is to say the least over-sanguine. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind—and I hope that includes the mind of my friend the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew—that if the political intentions of the Soviet Union should change, and he admitted that they might, the Soviet general staff has the capacity rapidly to re-establish its power to make war against the West. We should never forget that. I should like briefly to offer some concrete evidence.
Despite the changes that have undoubtedly taken place, the Soviet Union still continues to spend at least 15 per cent. of its gross national product on defence. That is a conservative estimate. As the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, said, some reliable sources put that figure as high as 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. of gross national product. I should like noble Lords to compare that with the figure of just over 6 per cent. which the United States devotes to its defence budget, and just over 3 per cent. for the remainder of NATO.
The military procurement industry—the defence industry in the Soviet Union—is the only sector of the Soviet economy which recorded growth in 1990. Military research and development continued to grow in the Soviet Union in 1990. At the same time, the overall production of military equipment throughout the Soviet defence industry showed no sign of diminishing.
Those are not entirely assessments based on Western intelligence estimates. Marshal Yazov, the Soviet Minister of Defence, has recently published a 10-year budget for the Soviet armed forces which indicates that military expenditure up to the year 2000 is likely to remain virtually constant at 1991 prices. Last year alone the Soviet Union added 12 submarines to its fleet compared with nine in 1988 and nine in 1989.
Much has already been said about submarine construction, but it is not the whole picture. The procurement of anti-ship cruise missiles has been substantially increased. On the other hand, it is true that the production of tanks and artillery has been marginally reduced. But it is worth noting that in 1990, this year of perestroika, this year of arms control negotiations and peaceful developments, the Soviet Union was still manufacturing armoured fighting vehicles at a rate of more than 500 a month. It was manufacturing military aircraft at over 60 a month. As we have heard, it was manufacturing one fleet submarine every month.
To put it another way, in one year the Soviet Union added to its submarine fleet, already the largest in the world, the equivalent of the total manned strength of the British nuclear powered submarine fleet. Missiles 1114 of various categories from long range to short range, sea-launched, air-launched and ground-launched, are being manufactured at over 250 every month.
I could continue at some length. I shall say only that that is not, it seems to me, a picture of a country engaged in a massive programme of disarmament. It is a picture of a country changing the balance of its military expenditure to meet changing political conditions while at the same time maintaining a powerful capacity to wage war. That is precisely what we should be doing. There is a great suspicion among the officers and other ranks of our Armed Forces that Options for Change is indeed, as has been suggested, a Treasury-led policy in the sense that it is designed to produce armed forces within an arbitrary limit of resources and not armed forces necessarily designed to meet an assessed threat.
Before I conclude, let me give one example of what I believe to be the dangers of such an approach. There are many. I refer to the assumption being made of the reduced possibility of surprise attack. It is true that in current circumstances the warning time of a possible Soviet attack might be increased by as much as a factor of five. But if in response to that change, for financial reasons, we take steps which, however inadvertently, increase our own response time by a factor of 10, then we are in a much more dangerous situation than before that happened. That, I believe, is what is happening in NATO. Our time for response is being increased at a disproportionate rate to the reduction in the readiness of the Soviet armed forces to mount an attack.
That brings me to my final point: the difficulty of rebuilding military defences in democratic societies once they have been eroded. Countries such as the Soviet Union have relatively little difficulty in this matter. It is therefore dangerous for us to extrapolate future intentions from current policies; or, as Samuel Goldwyn once put it, "Never make predictions especially about the future". In democracies such as our own, such matters are not so simple. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, said, once our military defences have been contracted they cannot be expanded at will. Once the capacity to ensure our national security has been eroded, it cannot quickly or easily be repaired.
The logical way in an ideal world to carry out a defence review would be to make a clear, systematic assessment of the threat, and only then to decide how, within the available financial resources, to organise our Armed Forces to meet that threat. No responsible person believes that there should be no financial limit on our military capacity. But financial limits should not dictate policies to the extent that our military capabilities are disproportionately and perhaps dangerously eroded.
There are cynics who will say that that is always how we have conducted defence policy in this country. If that is true, then it is time that we changed our approach. As the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal said, this Government have an admirable record of standing firm on defence. I profoundly hope that that will continue.
1115 Let me leave noble Lords with a quotation from the 19th century Russian poet, Fyodor Tyutchev. Translated into English it says:Russia cannot be understood with the mind and measured by a common yardstick. She is a special case. Russia one can only believe in".That may well be true for Russians, but we cannot afford the luxury of such a Slav romanticism. We must understand such things with our minds. Belief in Russia is not a safe foundation on which to build the defence of the realm.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that we are greatly indebted to my noble friend Lord Colnbrook for introducing this subject, and for doing so with such splendid timing. It has given a great many of your Lordships, who have vast experiene of defence problems in their different aspects, an opportunity to express views and, frankly, their apprehensions before the Government White Paper appears, and therefore before the Government have finally committed themselves on what they will do about defence provisions. I hope that my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal, who has most conscientiously been present throughout the debate, will report to his colleagues that, in a House where there is enormous experience of such matters, genuine anxieties have been expressed.
I wish to add to those anxieties. Twice during my lifetime this country has entered a major war which it has nearly lost and from which it emerged after years of struggle and heavy casualties. On both occasions the situation was made infinitely worse because the governments of the day had failed adequately to provide for national defence. Mercifully and thanks to the fact that Sir Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty we had an adequate Navy in 1914. However, our Army was in a most unhappy state. It was ill-equipped, small in numbers and was made battle-worthy only after years of recruiting and training.
In 1939 we were hopelessly provided with defence in all directions. I recall that when my battalion was posted to the outer London perimeter in anticipation of a German landing in the South of England it was informed that, although entrusted with that not unimportant role, it possessed one anti-tank rifle. The warrant officer who explained the situation said, "This is the anti-tank rifle. When I say 'the' that is exactly what I mean; it is the only one we have". Yet if the Germans had landed that battalion would have had to cover a considerable distance of the outer London perimeter and by then we had been at war for about nine months.
Therefore the one lesson that my generation should have absorbed and be prepared to preach is that, although one believes that the situation has become easier, it is folly to run down one's defence provisions to dangerously inadequate levels. We have done so twice and have escaped only at a considerable price. I hope that your Lordships' debate today will help to prevent us doing so for a third time.
The USSR is still most powerful. The fact that the Warsaw Pact armies have disappeared does not 1116 fundamentally alter the situation. I return to a Question that I asked my noble friend Lord Arran on Monday, referred to in part by my noble friend Lord Colnbrook at the beginning of the debate. I asked:How many warships are presently operated by the navy of the USSR; in what categories these warships belong; and whether the number of warships has increased or decreased over the last five years".My noble friend replied:the Soviet navy currently has a total of 1,145 operational warships and submarines, including 210 major surface warships and 285 combatant submarines".—[Official Report, 10/6/91; col. 887.]He then gave figures for the previous five years which were slightly larger. He explained them on the grounds that the Soviet Union has been disposing of obsolescent craft.
One simply asks the question: why do the Russians make that provision? Unlike ourselves, Russia is not vulnerable to blockade or attack from the sea. It occupies a great land mass stretching from Europe to the Pacific and has little dependence upon maritime movements. Why then does Russia spend the enormous sums of money involved in maintaining a navy of that size? Why does it do so at a time when it is complaining of its bad financial position and is asking for aid from the West? One simply asks the question: what is all this for?
The answer might appear to be obvious; it provides Russia with an effective means of aggression if at any time it decides to indulge in such activity. But without assuming that it has so decided, the fact that it wishes to keep open that option at such great expense is a matter that those deciding the defence policies of this country must have carefully and fully in mind. Until Russia reduces its navy to a size similar to ours or those of other European countries surely the case for reducing our naval forces is non-existent. The idea of reducing the number of destroyers and frigates to a pathetic 40 against the figures that I have quoted must cause one considerable apprehension. I wish to pass quickly—
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I entirely agree with his view that the Soviet Union's navy is absurdly large. He said that Russia was invulnerable to attack from the sea but, rightly or wrongly, a great deal of modern construction in the Soviet navy is directed against the British and American Trident fleets. He would be wrong to suppose that the new submarines being built by the Soviet Union have an offensive rather than a defensive purpose. They are aimed against the British and American Trident submarines. I repeat that the Soviet navy is absurdly large but I believe that there is a certain defensive element in Soviet naval building.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, because it is the noble Lord's birthday today I shall wish him many happy returns. I hope that when he reflects on his intervention it will not substantially diminish the pleasure of his birthday. It is perfectly obvious that the submarines have an aggressive role. To say that Russia has built a large number of submarines because America has a number of Tridents is quite absurd. It does not fit with the facts nor does it fit with the 1117 enormous number of submarines—285. That is a fantastic amount—does the noble Lord wish to celebrate his birthday again?
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. In order to enjoy my birthday a little more perhaps I may point out that he is mistaken. The submarines are anti-nuclear submarines; they are defensive submarines for attacking our Trident submarines. I do not believe that the noble Lord realises that.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, it is all very well for the noble Lord to say that but why should a great land mass with no dependence on sea communications find any need to protect itself from other countries' submarines? It is perfectly clear to those of us who are less naive than the noble Lord that this is a potential aggressive instrument. I hope and believe that Her Majesty's Government will not relax in any degree our naval preparations unless and until we see a substantial reduction in the enormous number of warships which the Soviet Union is maintaining.
I diligently support what was said earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, about the British Merchant Navy. Without an adequate Merchant Navy, our naval defences and our capacity to intervene in various parts of the world will be very feeble.
My noble friend the Lord Privy Seal very adroitly said that he would delegate my noble friend Lord Arran to answer that point. That only shows the advantage of political experience. However, I hope that we shall receive an answer because it is a serious question. It is serious on its merits and serious because it comes from the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who, after all, has been Prime Minister of this country; what is even more relevant and even more a cause for respect is that he served at sea with the Royal Navy during the war.
I wish to ask two other questions. So far nothing has been said about what is proposed for the regimental structure of the Army. There is wild talk in some quarters of the closing down of a number of regiments, and I understand that recruitment is being deliberately checked. I hope that the Government realise that it is not possible to create a regiment by suddenly deciding to expand again defence forces. It takes years and years to bring men together in the same spirit of loyalty and co-operation with each other and a willingness to face death and destruction in each other's company. If any number of regiments are destroyed, it will make it permanently difficult to expand our Army again, if it must be expanded. I am deeply concerned about that.
As one or two other noble Lords have mentioned, I am also anxious about the proposal to reduce our Army by, apparently, some 40,000 men. I believe that that would be running down our Army dangerously. However, I hope that the point has been taken about the long-term effect if regiments and regimental spirit are done away with. It will take many years for that to be restored and rebuilt, and the work which devoted men have done over the years in building up the spirit and unity of those regiments will be thrown away.
1118 Finally, I wish to raise the question of whether in those reductions it is proposed to limit or reduce the number of Gurkhas. They have served this country splendidly as fine soldiers. If we were to eliminate their recruitment or reduce their numbers to very small levels, it would probably be all but impossible to start their recruitment again. Those of us who have seen the Gurkhas in action know what splendid soldiers they are and what a terrible mistake it would be if we said that, because we are leaving Hong Kong in a few years' time, we shall not bother to recruit any more Gurkhas.
I illustrate that by way of personal experience. During the war in Italy we had some Gurkhas with us whose night patrol operations were the terror of the Germans. In the Italian mountains they used silently to move in and kill the German patrols. The Germans had a proper respect for them.
The Gurkhas also have a very high sense of honour. I recall an occasion when a Gurkha sergeant, who had been on a night patrol, reported to the intelligence officer of the brigade that his soldiers had been out the night before and had killed three Germans. The young intelligence officer tactlessly asked him how he could prove that they had killed three Germans. The sergeant saluted and went out; the next morning he turned up in the intelligence officer's office where he placed three severed German heads on his desk. There was his evidence. That is an example of their strict sense of honour. The Gurkha sergeant was furious because his word had been doubted by a young British officer.
I hope that when he winds up my noble friend will give a reassurance about the Gurkhas. If we are to forfeit them, we shall forfeit a permanent element in our defence forces which has served this country extremely well for a great many years and which it would be impossible to restore.
I know that the noble Earl has a great deal to do and say in replying to the debate, but I ask those questions of him because I know how conscientious he is. I shall await his replies with immense interest.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, with great diffidence I propose to make a few long-term observations on the way in which we may be tending as regards the defence of Europe, and indeed of this country. As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, no one can predict the future with any certainty. But we should have some idea of the way we are now apparently going and perhaps adapt our policies accordingly.
No very radical changes in present defence arrangements in the West should be contemplated until the all-important negotiations for arms reduction—both conventional and nuclear—are successfully concluded and we have a rather clearer idea of the way in which a new Russia is likely to go, and notably whether it can afford to go on spending vast sums on armaments, which is questionable. The present new arrangements in NATO are no doubt satisfactory for the time being. However, if, as we 1119 must hope, all goes well in the various respects which I have mentioned, then what will be the likely effect on defence?
Surely, the first thing to expect is that an American armed presence in Europe will fairly quickly reach vanishing point. There will simply be no need in the circumstances contemplated for an American army to be in Germany since Europe will be fully capable of providing initially for its own defence.
However, that does not mean that the North Atlantic Treaty will lapse, or that the United Nations may not have an important role to play. On the contrary, the treaty must continue, all members being obliged to go to the assistance of any member which is a victim of aggression in the area defined. Not only that, hut the Americans, although absent on the Continent, may still offer some naval and air assistance in the defence of the two "flanks"—northern Norway and Turkey—even though the treaty does not necessarily involve US military intervention in Turkey except as regards any attack on Turkey in Europe.
However, while remaining a great power and no doubt the only really great power in the years ahead the United States cannot, in view of obvious obligations in the Pacific and Latin America and in view of her increasing and vast indebtedness, be responsible for maintaining indefinitely large forces abroad
It seems to follow that we may look forward to the eventual conversion of NATO in Brussels into a European defence centre controlling, in close liaison with the Americans, a European force. That will consist of the German army and air force with French and British participation together with the already projected rapid reaction force for deployment either in Europe or elsewhere which the French would no doubt be very willing to join if the Americans were no longer physically present in Europe. The French and British would of course form the bulk of the naval forces available.
This new European force could gradually develop out of Western European Union, but would preferably consist of all present members of the Community with the exception of Ireland, which, while remaining a member, would not be bound by any military decisions. The Commander-in-Chief of the land forces might well be appointed for a term by those nations contributing the most to the joint effort. The whole organisation would naturally fall under the political control of the Council of Ministers.
But would not the departure of the Americans leave Europe at the mercy of Russian nuclear weapons? It would not. Even if the continuing North Atlantic Treaty were not in itself a sufficient deterrent against the first use of a Russian bomb, the possession by the United Kingdom and France of indestructible nuclear weapons for possible use on a "second strike" would certainly suffice. In the circumstances—and in this I agree with my noble friend Lord Mayhew—a nuclear offensive against Europe would be inconceivable, and if a conventional attack by Russia back in Russia were ever seriously contemplated we and the United States should have ample time to take the necessary steps.
1120 It remains to be considered how such a scheme could operate in the event of an enlargement of the Community. Clearly the present EFTA countries could join whenever they liked. Of those Norway would probably be a party to the new defence organisation: the remainder, including Sweden, Switzerland and Austria, could well (like Ireland) be non-military members. The Eastern European States can certainly not join the Community for many years —the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, suggested at least 10—though it is to be hoped that they will all form some sort of association as soon as possible. But I feel that in any case, they should never be part of any European defence organisation. Indeed, I believe that even now they would be well advised to say that they will never willingly allow foreign troops to enter their territories except in conformity with some valid decision of the Security Council of the United Nations.
In that way we might get a belt of some 10 "neutral" states extending perhaps from Riga to Costanza which could remove from the Russian mind any fear of a fourth invasion of their motherland by European armies, as well as providing the Community with some assurance that any conceivable Russian invasion of the West would be met with resistance as far East as possible.
Paradoxically—and here I venture to differ from the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel—I feel that the sort of defence project that I have suggested may promote some real measure of European unity before successful efforts to do in other spheres, essential though I consider those to be. At any rate, I make no apology for drawing your Lordships' attention to a sort of blue-print for future defence which need not alarm even those who see a "loss of sovereignty" in almost any attempt to achieve that European union which must surely come about if the Community is to be a powerful and stabilising factor in the dangerous and potentially anarchic years that lie ahead.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord Glenarthur
My Lords, an underlying theme of caution has so far run through this well-informed debate; a theme which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, so ably addressed in his excellent maiden speech. I have to say that I share every concern raised because I too believe that there is no subject of greater importance to any of us than the matter of our defence capabilities. That surely, and sadly, has been the lesson of history; one that to a greater or lesser extent we have had to relearn all too often, as my noble friend Lord Colnbrook so graphically illustrated.
I share the worries expressed by many noble Lords regarding the fundamental basis of Options for Change. When my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence made his announcement in July 1990 about Options for Change, he referred to the possible future size of the Army; and it is on the Army that I shall concentrate today. My right honourable friend then described possible reductions of the Army strength to around 120,000. We now know that the actual figure is to be 116,000. I am 1121 bound to say that I am unclear how such a comparatively precise figure could have been calculated at that time. How was the measured change to which my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal referred, actually measured? One is bound to ask what the assumptions were that led to such a precise intention and calculation. After all, encouraging and even exciting though the changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were at that time, there was no hard and fast guarantee that any more certain and predictable world order would emerge. I would argue, as did my noble friend Lord Colnbrook, that it has not emerged even yet.
NATO restructuring to meet the new world order had certainly not been concluded at that time; it had hardly even begun. The role of Europe within a modified defence alliance and the posture of the United States in the face of that uncertainty was then undetermined. Therefore, like my noble friend Lord Colnbrook and the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, I am forced regrettably to conclude that the whole exercise stemmed from, I suppose, an understandable but I believe misplaced public spending Treasury-led exercise based on the so-called "peace dividend".
In saying that I do not intend to imply that no change is necessary or desirable; quite the contrary. I believe that it most certainly is. But history may conclude that, to use a different metaphor from that used by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, the cart has once again been put before the horse with no thoroughly thought-through defence review based on all the strategic and geo-political factors involved to form the basis for what now looks as though it might just result in some sort of disjointed effort.
Having referred to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, I am bound to say that that is the only metaphoric theme of his that I shall share. I found his speech curiously foggy and vague, certainly from the point of view of his party's current defence policies, which seem to chop and change with the wind and which have a rather depressing historic perspective about them.
So much for the macro issues; let me turn to something narrower. One is bound to look at where the announced cuts will fall. We have seen announced their numerical effect on the serving Army and to a looser extent on the reserves to which I shall return later. Even if restructuring and reduction is necessary, I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Arran will consider this: the teeth arms, and to a lesser extent the supporting arms, always seem to be required to bear the brunt of these changes. What about the mammoth administrative and bureaucratic tail which lingers in Whitehall and elsewhere? My noble friend Lord Waddington referred to a review of support activity. I am sure that he has looked at the Civil Service Year Book 1991. Under the entries for the Ministry of Defence he will find no fewer than 109 columns of tightly-packed print which describes the elements under which the Ministry of Defence,controls, administers, provides equipment for and supports the Armed Forces of the Crown, and arranges for research, development, production and purchase of weapons systems and equipment".1122 Taking an average of eight names per column, the elements produce about 870 very senior or senior staff, both military and civilian, within the Ministry of Defence. Generals and senior officials are literally two a penny. What the total central Ministry of Defence staff figure is goodness only knows. Perhaps my noble friend can tell me the answer to that and how it has grown or been reduced since the last major reform of the Ministry of Defence, which was in the time of Lord Mountbatten.
Perhaps my noble friend can also tell me whether any really thorough analysis has been undertaken in recent years into the structure, organisation and staffing of this leviathan. If not, perhaps he can say whether one is planned and, if it is, when it is likely to be complete. I hope that my noble friend will accept that it is a little hard for the loyal serving soldier—let alone sailor or airman—to stomach reductions which always seem to fall hard on him without seeing corresponding reductions in this hugely bureaucratic if well-meaning organisation which somehow always seems to escape the axe. In saying that I do not in any sense denigrate those hardworking individuals who work there.
Frankly, I hate to think of the duplication and blurred lines of responsibility and accountability which must exist there. Perhaps if they were clarified first it might prove possible to devote much more by way of resources to the Armed Forces proper rather than to the tail which is supposed to nourish them. What creature on this earth is nourished by a tail of that size and complexity? On the other hand, I am delighted that my right honourable friend has decided to maintain the regimental system. That will be widely welcomed because the true regimental system, as my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter described, is the foundation on which the Army conducts itself.
Officers and men do not so much join the Army, but rather they join their regiment. Having said that, I also believe that my right honourable friend is quite right to leave the regiments concerned to work out among themselves their own destiny as regards amalgamations and possible disbandments. The results of such decisions must be properly manned, properly equipped regiments so that thorough training can be undertaken and a proper sense of motivation continued for the future. That will be a difficult and often distressing task. I remember all too clearly the sadness with which I, as a young officer, and my brother officers, heard the news of my own regiment's amalgamation when it was announced in 1967 to take effect in 1969. I also remember the very real spirit with which that forced marriage was embarked on. When 21 years of the amalgamated regiment were celebrated with the presentation of a new guidon last year, the spirit of both former regiments—the 10th and 11 th Hussars which had come together to form the Royal Hussars—was still alive and as strong as ever but bonded in a way which I hope will be the case wherever it is required to be repeated in the future.
It is perhaps difficult for those who have not had the privilege of serving in a regiment to appreciate what that family spirit means. I can do no better than to say that at a church service following the 1123 presentation of my regiment's new guidon last year the right reverend Michael Mann, in his address encapsulated the meaning of a regiment when he quoted the words of a Canadian writer, Farley Mowat, describing the spirit of a Canadian regiment in Italy in the war. He wrote:The regiment became the one thing in a world that must grow darker with continued disillusionment. It became each man's home and sanctuary, and its spirit grew large with the need for faith and a belief".Perhaps I may touch lastly and briefly on the reserve forces. I hope that my noble friend will resist the temptation to make proportionate cuts to the Territorial Army equivalent to those already announced for the regular Army. I said in your Lordships' House before that, having worked alongside the Territorial Army when I was a regular officer, I found them to be thoroughly versatile and competent soldiers and that they have always provided excellent value for money. Over the past 10 years I know that much effort has been expended in re-equipping them and trying to bring them more fully up to strength. I know that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, when he had responsibility in that direction, did a great deal to help.
For heaven's sake let us not fall into the same trap as we did in 1967 or thereabouts when those dramatic cuts resulted in expensive replacement and re-equipment later. I hope that my noble friend will bear in mind that the civilian skills of the members of the reserve forces are enormously wide-ranging and relevant to very many military and what I might call "aid to the civil power" types of activity, such as disaster relief and the like, which they could be well equipped to undertake if called on so to do.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, I am glad to follow a number of very distinguished speakers. Few, I believe, have disagreed with the need for a restructuring of our defence in the light of the changed situation. My criticism is founded on the fact that this restructuring started very early last year, was announced in July and, rightly or wrongly, appears to be driven mainly by the Treasury. It is certainly not sufficiently related to the threat nor does it appear to have been tailored to meet the fantastic changes in the past 18 months. Since it is believed to be Treasury inspired, I start with a summary of the expenditure changes in real terms which hive occurred in the past decade. They are very startling.
We are being forced into restructuring because other government departments have become very big spenders. Changes in the past 10 years in real terms, and adjusted to 1989–90 terms, are as follows: in the health service expenditure is up by 37 per cent. That is the biggest of any increase in any part of the Government. Social services' expenditure has increased by 35 per cent. Expenditure on defence has increased by 21 per cent. These other services have overtaken defence expenditure. In actual sums, defence expenditure is £5 billion below that for health, and also £5 billion below expenditure on education. Defence expenditure is £34 billion below expenditure on social security. I have named the top four spenders.
1124 Action in restructuring our forces started in early 1990 in the wishful belief, so I believe, that these strategic facts, supported by disarmament agreements and treaties, would be honoured by the Soviets. I shall now go on to show the way in which they have not been honoured. Sadly, these hopes have not been fulfilled. For the six years that President Gorbachev will have been in power (from July of this year), Soviet military expenditure has steadily increased. It is now higher than it was both in absolute terms and as a proportion of Soviet GNP in 1985. As others have said, Soviet defence costs are between 15 per cent. and 25 per cent. of their GNP; this appears at a time when we are cutting ours from 4 per cent. to 3.25 per cent. The United States is cutting back from 7 per cent. to 3.5 per cent. over a period of years. The US forces in Europe are to be run down from 300,000 to 100,000; and our own by 40,000. Do these facts of life warrant the cuts which we are now discussing?
I turn now to arms control. Britain and NATO have been working for many years for balanced and verifiable arms control measures covering nuclear, chemical and conventional forces, but not yet naval forces. I urge that we be more cautious. There has been no treaty that I can trace since World War II that has been honoured by the Soviet Union. The current phase of disarmament started with the Helsinki Agreement on which work began in 1973 and which was finalised in 1975. The Soviets largely disregarded all sorts of minor issues included in the framework of the Helsinki Agreement and just disobeyed them. They even arrested people who honoured them in their own countries. When perestroika and glasnost started, we all hoped that the Soviet military power would be somewhat reined back and treaties would be honoured. The CFE treaty looked hopeful. The Soviets started circumventing it almost immediately. The most glaring example that we all know about was the transfer of tanks to the Russian navy. The Russian navy now has more tanks than the British Army.
Other arms above the CFE limit were not destroyed as required, but were moved behind the Urals. This is why neither the USA nor the United Kingdom have yet ratified that treaty. Soviet military production throughout all these years was marginally decreased in some areas, but it always remained at levels which seemed totally unnecessary for pure home defence. Jane's Defence Weekly, dated 1st June, which is available in the Library, where I obtained it, contains a table showing rates of Soviet production during the years 1988, 1989 and 1990. Those rates far exceeded those of NATO in similar weapons. The most remarkable increase, as has been said, is in Soviet submarines. I shall not expand on that as the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, is not in his place—we might get into an argument on his birthday! The majority of these submarines are nuclear, and the conventional ones are far more formidable and much quieter than their predecessors.
Are we right to be planning to cut back our submarine force from 32 to 16 boats, while the Soviets currently have 285 combatant submarines? I checked on the submarines available to NATO and that number is 195—a difference of nearly 100. We are a 1125 seapower deeply dependent for our survival, for our food, and much else, on the sea and the sea lanes. The Soviets are not so inhibited. Surely this huge submarine force is a serious threat to the military and civil bridge between the USA and Europe?
My noble friend Lord Chalfont said that the production of anti-ship missiles has now gone up from 1,400 to 1,900. That is a huge increase. They are not running things down. Soviet production of fighter-bombers is now 700 a year—they are very formidable machines with a very formidable weapons system.
In the face of these facts and the instability in Central and Soviet Europe, surely we are taking some risks? We have deep obligations to monitor the movement of Soviet arms and personnel. Will the 340,000 Soviet troops in East Germany really be withdrawn over the next three years? We must monitor this and much else. When the Minister comes to reply will he give an assurance that if this pattern continues we shall go into reverse and step up our own expenditure?
I turn now to the repercussions on our arms industry and particularly on aerospace. I should like to have included a more detailed comment on the Royal Air Force, in which I served for some years, but time and the number of speakers will inhibit that. The Gulf war showed vividly what air power can achieve to prepare the way for ground forces. Unless air superiority is achieved, the Army and the Navy will be limited as they approach the battle zone. If the air force starts to cut R&D it will not survive. It has a highly sophisticated weapons system, as we saw demonstrated on our own television screens during the Gulf war. We must keep our R&D going.
The air force must play a big part in getting initial firepower and forces to out-of-area conflicts. I hope we shall get some agreements about out-of-area conflicts, as it seems that our forces may have to be deployed in three important areas: first, in Europe; secondly, substantially in Ulster, sad though that is; and, thirdly, in other out-of-area area conflicts. I endorse what other speakers have said that the urgent need for helicopters in support of our Rapid Reaction Corps and other restructured forces is of supreme importance. I hope that some action will be taken there.
Having studied Soviet production, I turn now to our own defence manufacturing industry. It is absolutely essential to the effectiveness of our forces and to the continued development of sophisticated arms that this remains a strong industry. Prime defence contractors currently employ a staff of 320,000, while their sub-contractors employ a further 260,000. This area employs 580,000 people. The British Aerospace Company alone—one of the biggest employers in this country—employs 129,000, of which 23,000 are graduate engineers. That is a huge improvement over the past 10 to 20 years.
Since Options for Change was announced last July, 40,000 people have already left the defence industry. The longer-term repercussions on our forces and our exports is truly alarming. I urge the Secretary of State to start one or two dialogues between all the 1126 departments of government which are concerned. The Ministry of Defence itself controls our arms exports; but the Department of Trade and Industry comes into this and so does the Treasury. We must start communicating with the people most affected to make sure that we preserve the maximum capability for the future of our defence industries.
I shall add a small point for consideration by my noble friend the Minister when he winds up the debate. The big boys are generally the slowest payers, and the many sub-contractors become deeply dependent on getting prompt payment, or they will not be there. They play a very essential part—nearly as big as the prime contractors. If the prime contractors are paid on time—and I hope they are—will the Government make certain that they pass those cheques on to the sub-contractors on the same day, otherwise cheques seem to get stuck on deposit. I can mention personal experiences of this which seriously affected a company of which I was chairman.
The country is entitled to know where the Opposition stand in this respect of defence. The Opposition have often shown tremendous enthusiasm for a Freedom of Information Act; nothing should be secret, it should all be out. As we seem to have been in the run-up to the next general election for at least the past three years, according to the media, I do not think that the time can long be put off when we know where they stand. Of course, in this House we are all loyal and almost a coalition in support of defence, but I do not think we are representative of the other place. We have a duty to point out that despite Mr. Kinnock's assurances there is a formidable body in the Commons, strong in conviction and greater in numbers than any political majority that they might squeak home with at the next election. This applies not only in Parliament but throughout the country.
A recent report by three academics funded by the Economic Social Research Council found that more than two-thirds of local Labour Party members in the country believe that Britain should have no nuclear weapons whatever. This viewpoint is reflected on the Opposition Benches in the House of Commons. In the run-up to the 1983 general election, CND, which is dedicated to the destruction of all nuclear weapons, published a list showing 120 Labour MPs as members; by 1987 this had risen to 133: CND now refuses to publish any figures, presumably for fear of embarrassing its friends among the Labour leadership. Mr. Kinnock and his chief defence spokesman, Mr. Martin O'Neill, are still both members of CND. Mr. Kaufman, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, has always refused to give a commitment to keep our nuclear deterrent while others have nuclear weapons. The Labour defence policy is not clear on this aspect even today.
I do not pretend that Mr. Ken Livingstone is typical of Members of Parliament on the Labour Benches but he is representative of the Left-wing. He said of one of Labour's recent defence policy publications:Nobody believes a word of it … it is a complete miasma of half-truths, deceptions and lies. The time for that sort of politics is gone. People can tell when politicians are lying".1127 Those are his words, not mine. Those who believe in freedom of information should give some thought to whether their aim might not be achieved by some rather more determined and clear defence policies. The Labour Party has also promised massive conventional cuts. However, as those cuts have already been mentioned, I shall not refer to them now.
Finally, the United Kingdom together with NATO will be negotiating with Soviet Russia. We are told that President Gorbachev may try to negotiate from the West a huge loan amounting to hundreds of billions of pounds. We should also negotiate toughly and tell him that those negotiations should not even start until he slows down his country's gigantic arms production, which is far greater than can possibly be needed for self-defence. We should also tell him that we want the treaties that he has signed and the obligations he has undertaken honoured not just in the letter but in the fact. If there is no change by the Soviet in their actions and if they go on building up their armaments we should certainly consider slowing down all the cuts proposed in Options for Change and if necessary putting them into reverse.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, I do not propose to join the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, in starting to fight the neat general election today. We shall have time enough for that. I congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, on his contribution to our debate on defence. I should like to say how fortunate we are to have so many experts on this subject. We had a debate on NATO two months ago in which two other noble and gallant Lords made most important contributions. Unfortunately, very little notice was taken of the debate. The Times gave it precisely 57 words. We are also fortunate to have in the Chamber the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. He always gives us a well documented warning in defence debates and has done so again today. I agree with a good deal of what he had to say.
One of the difficult truths we have to accept is that defence has been largely internationalised. The first question we have to ask is whether our contribution to the international force is of the right size and quality for its agreed role. Next, we must ask: what do we then have left to deal with national contingencies of an unforeseeable kind? And a harder question still: how do we protect our national interests outside the NATO area? These questions of size and quality are outside my field of experience and knowledge. However, this Chamber is richly endowed with people who have that knowledge. What I am concerned with is the development of international arrangements for our security in Europe.
I would be hesitant about intervening in the debate today if I had not been fortified by the studies of the North Atlantic Assembly of the political, economic and military problems of our collective defence. The vast changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe led to many political flights of fancy. It was recognised that the Cold War was over and that the catastrophe which NATO was formed to deter or repel—a mass onslaught on the West—could not now take place. 1128 The question was asked: so why not scrap NATO? Why not pool our defence into the 35 nation CSCE which includes both the United States and the Soviet Union? But people soon recognised that this was a dream and that the CSCE's valuable role was not in defence. As someone said, it could not stop a fight in a four ale bar. Its job is not to stamp out trouble but to preserve peace by political persuasion, by arms control, by building confidence and by developing techniques for crisis management and the avoidance of conflict. And a new role might now be found for it if countries with nationalist disputes within their frontiers were to ask for use of its good offices.
So NATO was to stay. Or was it? People asked: should it not share its role now with the European Community? After all, 200,000 of the 300,000 American troops in Europe will soon be going home and Europe will have to make a bigger contribution to its own defence. Everybody agreed that it would have to have, in the jargon of today, a more visible and coherent approach towards defence. But the European defence identity could be either in NATO or in the Community. And so there has developed a conflict between the Atlanticists and the Europeanists. Of course, nobody thinks that the Community could take over NATO tomorrow. That could not happen very soon even with recourse to WEU. But, as people said, it surely is something that could be planned for the future. That should be the eventual goal.
I strongly disagree, as I believe do most of the members of the North Atlantic Assembly. The Community in an intergovernmental conference is now aiming at political union, and such a union cannot avoid discussing security alongside foreign affairs. But defence is another matter. It requires firm and constant political will and leadership. Europe has yet to show that it has either of those qualities. It also requires structures and mechanisms. NATO has them and over the years has become a highly developed and efficient organisation. Now, like the European Community, it is undergoing almost revolutionary change. It has not yet completed its plans for the strategy and politics of the new era, although it is well ahead with plans for its new military role. I imagine that it cannot complete its strategic studies until the Community has agreed its own political future. All that should happen within the next few months.
I am an ardent European. I am also a lifelong Francophile. Yet the very last thing I want, even though the argument is led by Monsieur Mitterrand with whose party my party is in communion, is that Europe should have defence aspirations. I do not want NATO to be supplanted by the rich and populous Community because I think there are great limits to its unity and to its will. I do not want the Americans to be driven from Europe, which could happen. Above all, I want a defence regime with which the Soviet Union, still a potential great power, can live easily and at peace.
We have to ask ourselves this question. If we had a European Community defence, which would be the leading power in it? I think that the answer must be Germany. And, no matter how democratic Germany has become and how pacifist its social democrats are, 1129 it cannot yet deny either its geography or its history. A defence community led by Germany would not create the climate of peace and détente in which arms control would be an easy option for the Soviet Union.
Even now, we feel that we must be very careful of Soviet susceptibilities. The Czechs, the Poles and the Hungarians would love to be in NATO as a proof of, and a spur to, their democracy and as an insurance that the Kremlin will never attempt to overthrow them again. But we have to say "Sorry, your presence among us would make us look too threatening". Moreover, if the European Community were to take over defence, it would make it impossible to admit them to the Community. We cannot both broaden the Community and give it a defence dimension.
The new strategic concept of NATO will be endorsed at a summit sometime in the autumn. It is said that its defence force must be preventive but not provocative. Even then, the alliance concept will have to accommodate a wide range of national interests in which contentious issues, such as the role and location of nuclear weapons, will have to be decided.
The change in posture of the defence forces is likely to include main defence forces, plus reactive forces and the rapid reaction force about which we have heard so much today. The question is asked: could this force under the leadership of the WEU be a force to deal with events outside the area? I believe that it might be, and that it probably should be. But it will still be very difficult.
Of course, we are to play a conspicuous role in the rapid reaction force. That seems to have aroused both hostility and envy among the French. Indeed, some French people see it as a consequence of their 24-year absence from the NATO integrated military command and their attachment merely to the political side of the alliance. A distinguished opponent of France's limited role in NATO said the other day that France's foreign and defence policies were lying side by side in the bed, but head to toe. He concluded by saying that Descartes must be turning in his grave at such an illogicality.
NATO can say that although the great threat has disappeared, we are left with a risk. That risk has become more manifest in recent months as we have watched the declining central power of President Gorbachev; the breakdown of the Soviet economy; the eager desire for autonomy among the states of the union; and the outbreak of nationalistic or ethnic conflicts in some of those states. Our greatest immediate risk is caused by the possibility of turmoil; that is, turmoil in a great arsenal equipped with nuclear weapons of enormous power.
I should have thought that the way to minimise that risk would be for us to do all that we can to stabilise the Soviet economy and with it the Soviet political system. Things looked at their worst a few weeks ago when, in trying to balance the conservative forces that can keep order with the liberal forces that can sponsor democracy and a market economy, Mr. Gorbachev seemed to reveal a soft spot for the old communism.
However, things have improved since that time, particularly with his winning support from nine major 1130 states. He is now to attend the G7 meeting in London and ask for help. Much doctrinaire rubbish has been talked about this, as if he were looking for money to restore Stalin's Soviet Union. People have even objected to the vagueness of his description of creating a mixed market economy. Yet he was speaking in Sweden, a country noted for its freedom, its economic efficiency and its world conscience. I should have thought that a mixed market economy was exactly what Sweden is. If that is Mr. Gorbachev's goal for the Soviet Union, I do not think that he could have a better or more peaceful one.
Of course, if Mr. Gorbachev is to be aided, it will not be done out of charity. It will not be done out of love or pity. Any aid will have to be given on conditions. And it will have to be a gradual process that can be stopped if promises are not kept—in other words, a package of Western aid firmly linked to the economic liberalisation of the Soviet Union.
Our best security seems to lie in Gorbachev's success in carrying through what is a revolution and a very difficult one, as can be seen from the problems that the efficient Germans are experiencing in their regained communist land.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, following, as I do, so many distinguished speakers, especially the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, I shall try to concentrate on what has happened inside the USSR. In the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1990 for the UK—Options for Change—the following words were used:It is as evident and as welcome to defence planners as to everyone else that what we are witnessing is the breakthrough of freedom".In that same paper, President Gorbachev was quoted as saying in January 1989 that future weapons procurement would be reduced by about one-fifth (apparently by 1991) and the Soviet Minister of Finance was quoted as saying that defence spending in 1990 would be 8.2 per cent. lower than in 1989, including a 14 per cent. cut in spending on military research and development.
Of course, it is only too easy to make cases through statistics. In any case, the Soviet authorities are well able to redistribute and hide their defence spending under other heads. But there is no doubt that the Soviet defence budget went up, not down, last year. Several noble Lords have given us chapter and verse on that aspect, so I shall try to omit it from my speech whenever I can because they spoke about it so well.
Similarly, there is no doubting the fact that whatever the official political statements of intent are, the Soviet Ministry of Defence's latest planning document—A Concept for Military Reforms, which was released late last year—envisages that no major reforms should take place until 1996. A review of that concept in the journal Kommunist quotes an increase of 25 billion roubles in Soviet military spending in 1991. Clearly, they are envisaging that more, and not less money should be spent. The concept envisages further major increases in 1991–95. Of course, that is the armed forces plan only. But we must recognise that in the Soviet Union the armed forces and the 1131 KGB, backed by the communist nomenklatura, still exercise the real power—the more effectively because it must seem to many that the immediate alternative may indeed be chaos and a destabilised society. That is how they are presenting it.
We all hoped, as did the peoples of the Soviet Union, that a real break with the past was being made. But has it? Speaking at the all-army party conference in March of this year, President Gorbachev answered the question, "What is the party's ultimate goal—Communism?" as follows:I remain a communist on the basis of a profound belief which I am not likely to change after 60 years. I am dedicated to the socialist idea and I believe it is a fruitful one".Incidentally, in November 1990 Mr. Gorbachev said that military R&D expenditure would not be cut, thus likening it to seed corn. Despite his very real and major contribution to the initial moves to freedom, he is behaving more and more—whether under constraint or not—like an old-style communist.
Meanwhile, Soviet armed forces are also running true to form over the CFE Treaty. Moiseyev has tried to pretend that there was no cheating over the transfer of units to naval command. Moreover, according to a paper emanating from the Centre for Policy Studies, to which I am much indebted, the Russians declared only 800 rather than 1,600 objects of verification which were expected by the simple expedient of ensuring that the rest contained only 29 treaty-limited items, instead of the 30 which would have qualified them as an OV.
According to Jane's Soviet Intelligence Review of May this year, the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) has been expanding in the past 18 months, adding perhaps as many as 65,000 to 100,000 men to the internal troop force, many of them being transferred directly from the Soviet Army. An airborne division and motor rifle division were also resubordinated for the KGB/MVD headquarters in 1990. In that year, according to Tass, the MVD is to be increased again and has been given priority over the army in the autumn 1990 draft.
Another twist is the difficulties which the Soviets profess to be having in liquidating military hardware. A RAND/UCLA seminar on Soviet studies at Berkeley in April of this year was told that the Soviets lacked the physical capacity and technical capability to fulfil their treaty obligations: there were too few plasma-cutting machines or cranes to break up 120 tanks a day, and legal restrictions prevented the Soviet Ministry of Defence from getting the hard currency required to pay the civilian ministries for their machinery and equipment.
Each of those matters in themselves would be small if we were able to believe that the general and firm intention of the Soviet Union was to reduce rather than increase its formidable military power. But they are also, alas, straws in the wind that we cannot ignore. When Edward Shevardnadze said in May of this year that Gorbachev had only three to four weeks to put through reforms and that he and Yeltsin must co-operate, he added:The democrats must organise themselves properly to salvage democracy—otherwise reactionary forces and the danger of dictatorship would seize their opportunity".1132 Yeltsin, in a speech on 25th May, confirmed that and said it was not for nothing that Shevardnadze had said that a dictatorship was possible; the forces of the right were pulling President Gorbachev in their direction and he, Yeltsin, had had to threaten to resign to give a warning that under no circumstances would they turn back from the road upon which they had embarked for the democratisation and renewal of society—at least Russia would not. Yeltsin said the President understood that he had to lean on the left shoulder, too.
The undertone from the nomenklatura is, however, very strong. It knows how to defend itself. In May of this year, General Yazov ordered that officers and warrant officers who had left the party should be the first to be made redundant when staff cutbacks were required. The MVD Minister, Puge, can with impunity sidestep every attempt to pin down the responsibility for the activities of the OMONs (special units) in the Baltic states. In the same speech in May, Yeltsin said that Gorbachev had claimed that no commands had gone out from him or from the MVD Minister. It appeared to be some kind of local affair. Puge, confronted with video coverage of the burning of customs posts, took refuge in the need for "objective checks". He said the central leadership had nothing to do with local actions and tried to represent the incidents as provocation mounted by the three republics to aggravate tension. One of his deputies, Gromov, said that all 30 OMONs—which are very active in Georgia and Armenia—carry out their tasks in strict accordance with orders from the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs and according to regulations, while another, Trushin, said that the MVD (the very same Ministry) issued no orders to the OMONs and were not subordinated to the MVD internal troops, but the internal troops were giving them material technical supplies.
At best, we are looking at a Soviet Union where the political intent—to apply anti-crisis measures, move from a state monopoly to private enterprise and create a free society—is not yet matched by either sufficient will to change or the infrastructure capable of providing an effective alternative management of the existing structure. The nomenklatura is established, as are the army and KGB, and it is scarcely reassuring to note that the RSFSR has now created its own KGB which will work closely with that of the USSR. The RSFSR administration, according to its security committee,has no intention of carrying out any purges as in 1917 and subsequent years, because the majority of KGB officers are decent, honest and highly professional and will not serve the interests of any party".To that the interviewer retorted that it was common knowledge that the USSR KGB had been energetically protecting the interests of one party, the CPSU.
We are looking at a society where fear and repression are, alas, still potent factors. Sakharov once said that an essential prerequisite for the cure of Soviet society was the abandonment of political persecution. In April of this year the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow said that it would consider asylum for former senior communist functionaries in East Germany and Eastern Europe as victims of political persecution. 1133 One wonders whether that includes Frau Honecker who promoted the kidnapping of the children of dissidents.
Meanwhile, do we really believe we can safely lower our guard and make major and irrevocable cuts in our defence capacity? Should we do so after so short an experience of possible change? Unless there emerges in the Soviet Union a determined and capable body of men able to smash—in Yeltsin's phrase—the ferroconcrete bureaucracy and the mould of suspicion of the West, with some degree of experience of management other than through the state, we are at best looking at a fragile, volatile, chaotic and potentially fissiparous situation in which the whole position, including military intentions, could be reversed overnight. A strong capability allied to an unfriendly disposition is still a dangerous threat.
I suggest that it would be wiser to make no major decisions on defence cuts until the situation becomes clearer and meanwhile preserve intact our defence/ industrial infrastructure. Meanwhile, I suggest we can put what resources we have to spare into supporting and advising those Eastern European countries where (as this House's report on the European Communities shows) there is recent memory of how to manage a free rather than command economy. Those countries can by no means have been reassured by the volatile situation in the Soviet Union—a loose cannon if ever there was one. They deserve to be able to count on someone with the power to hold the ring while they develop their economies anew. Properly developed, they could provide stability to balance the inherent instability which still threatens the USSR.
It is not the fault of the Russians that they have virtually no independent management structure, poor accounting systems and no experience of making decisions outside the framework of state policy. But it is a fact that freedom in the USSR is largely confined to freedom of speech—itself a wonder, but not enough. As Yeltsin also said, independence and truth are still in short supply. It is painfully clear that trouble lies ahead. It may be reassuring that a Member of this House—the noble Baroness, Lady Cox—was fully quoted by Tass when she recently advocated at a conference in Moscow that,all countries should refrain from attending the CSCE Conference in Moscow until the Soviet Union shows real progress in protecting human rights and carrying out democratic reforms",which is something we could not have imagined happening even three years ago, but I still submit that leopards do not change their spots overnight. Let us wait a while longer. If we are thinking of giving Mr. Gorbachev the money he wants let us apply the usual donor country rules we have long applied to debtors in the third world.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Viscount Ridley
My Lords, I am sorry I was unable to hear the first part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook. I hear of its excellence and I look forward to reading it in the morning. Nobody envies the Secretary of State the task he now has of making severe cuts in our defence forces. Their magnificent 1134 performance in the Gulf will make that task even harder. Popular approval of the role of our armed forces and the need for them has probably never been higher.
On the other hand, we must all recognise that inevitably there will be some reorganisation and the country, perhaps illogically, expects an immediate peace dividend as a result of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. Sadly, in those circumstances the peace dividend seems to be paid first by those working in the armament industry with the loss of their jobs, which is an unfortunate but perhaps inevitable development. One hopes it will not be forever.
The dilemma we are in can perhaps be best illustrated by two headlines adjacent to one another in the Sunday Times of 2nd June. One said:Army to be cut by 20,000 men".The other said:Calls for more troops in Ulster".The first seems to me wildly out; I hope the second one is, too. I hope that all the necessary reductions we are debating are being carefully thought out as part of an overall review of our defence needs, not as a piecemeal attempt to find short term savings. I hope the Minister can assure us that every aspect of defence is being looked at because it is as significant a milestone in the history of the Armed Forces as the Cardwell reforms of 1881, the reforms of Haldane of 1908 or anything that happened after the last two world wars.
I am sure that everyone in the House hopes that the decision will shortly be made to buy the Challenger main battle tank which is made in Britain. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, spoke eloquently about the need for that decision to be made. If the number of tanks is severely reduced, the job losses in Leeds or Newcastle will be unpleasant for those involved, never mind the effect it will have on the prestige of the firms.
Nearly 50 years ago as a young soldier I was involved with the British Churchill tank and the American Sherman tank. We debated hotly, as young soldiers will, the advantages and disadvantages of both tanks. I have to say with regret that we came down in favour of the American Sherman tank because there was more space inside it in which to brew up a cup of tea. As we were keen on our tea, that convinced us of the necessity of having an American tank. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, told us that the technology has advanced considerably since then. Will he tell us whether it is possible to make tea inside the Challenger II tank, because that is an important point.
I shall add a serious point to what the noble Lord said so well. If we decide to buy a foreign tank there may be a serious reaction towards anything to do with our forces. There is a real risk that people might say that we must cut down the numbers in the Army at all costs because it has let us down by deciding to buy a tank which is made abroad. That is a real danger of which I hope the Government are aware.
Any review must be total and not look just at manpower. There has to be a serious look at all MoD establishments. Is it true, as has been reported in a newspaper, that there are over 3,000 separate defence properties? I have seen some of them. Valuable land has lain unused for years. Could not some be sold? 1135 The snag seems to be that the Treasury will not allow the sale proceeds to revert to the Army and so there is no incentive for it to sell. That may be one of the factors that a review should examine. Do we need so many buildings? At the same time, there is a shortage of outdoor training areas. Some, such as Dartmoor and Otterburn, are under great pressure from the National Park lobby to be returned to civilian use and to exclude the Army. That would be an unwise step. It must never be forgotten that the Army has been a better guardian of the wildlife of this country than any department of state or quango.
I wish to turn—not for the first time, although your Lordships may hope that it will be the last—to the future of the reserve forces. Last July, the Secretary of State said that greater reliance would be placed upon them. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, also mentioned those forces. They need all the friends they can get at the moment. The Territorial Army is the larger of the reserve forces and therefore the most under threat. The Naval, Air Force or Royal Marine Reserves are so small as to be almost invisible. I hope that they can be expanded in due course to help with the commitments of their regular colleagues.
Your Lordships may not be aware that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force has not one aeroplane. The TA establishment at the moment is 86,000, but the actual figure is 72,000. Whatever figure may be decided in the future—we believe that has yet to be settled—it must be accepted that we shall probably not reach 90,000, and that 70,000 may be a more realistic figure at which to aim. That compares with the figure in 1909—one year after Haldane's reforms—when the TA reached 300,000, and 1939 when it reached 500,000.
The figure of 50,000 has been mentioned. I do not know whether it is a rumour or a leak. It would be far too low a figure to provide a viable nationwide force. It would be a blow to all those who have served for so long and have volunteered to continue. More important, it would be a reversal of several years' hard and expensive work persuading employers and industry to support the theory of the reserve forces.
It is most important to set a figure which is achievable, and then to set about ensuring that those people who volunteer are properly paid and equipped and given all that they need to do the job. This year's endless trivial cuts in things such as pay, ammunition and petrol, which the reserve forces are now suffering, save relatively little money but irritate almost everyone. That results in an even higher turnover and less efficiency, with higher costs than normal incurred in continually training recruits who walk out shortly afterwards.
We could perhaps phase out the Home Service Force. It is a sort of "Dad's Army", and does not carry the image which our forces should now have. It consists of only 3,000 men. The savings achieved might be minimal, but it does not project the right image and is not cost-effective. If the Government still have to make up their mind about the size of the reserves, I hope that they will consider carefully what they need of them before they do so. The need for home defence has not disappeared. With a smaller 1136 regular army, there is a strong argument for increasing the TA. In the light of the certainty that there will be further unexpected crises, the need to provide reservists to fill gaps in the regular army as happened in the Gulf, whether as individuals or as units, is something for which we must always be ready. With a smaller regular army that may be even more important.
In the Gulf the Government failed to provide immediate guarantees that volunteers' jobs and salaries would be protected if they were sent suddenly to war. The commitment those volunteers sign includes a liability to serve in a total war, but it is important to be certain that those who volunteer, or who are called up, in a partial or limited war, will not suffer. That must be a priority. I happen to know that the Secretary of State also believes that. Let us hope that that matter can be put right.
It should be possible in the future for officers and soldiers to move between the regular and reserve forces in either direction without difficulty. The bureaucracy at the moment is absurdly difficult and sometimes that takes much too long. I know of a regular officer who waited eight months for his commission to he transferred from the regular to the TA. We talk about one army. Let us make one army in practice, and ensure that people can move about within it.
I have spoken previously, as have others—notably the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, this afternoon—on the need to use our reserve forces more often when civil disasters call for emergency action. That becomes more important with a reduced regular army. The reserve forces are fully equipped and able to do so. It is necessary to build that into the emergency planning. There are thought to be objections to that proposal from the Home Office. If that is so, perhaps we can be told why. It is such an obvious step that it is absurd that we do not take it. The National Guard in America is extensively used and I hope that we can copy that example.
The cost of a reserve soldier is estimated to be between one-fifth and one-seventh of that of his regular counterpart. We can therefore have five TA regiments for the cost of one regular regiment. The figure may not be accurate. I ask the Minister to tell us what would be saved as a percentage of the defence budget if we reduced the TA by 5,000 men. We should know the answer to that before decisions are taken. The TA is thought to cost about 6 per cent. of the defence budget. I have made a calculation on the back of an envelope and I make the saving about 0.2 per cent.
It is much easier to reduce the TA than to expand it—and I have experienced both. The experience of 1967, when it was cut—some say too quickly—resulted later in an expensive, laborious campaign to build it up to its present strength. To remove a large percentage, thus making many parts of the country devoid of all military presence, may save money, but the TA is, by definition, a nationwide force, and we should see that it remains so even if there are some places which may no longer be able to sustain a viable unit.
1137 We also hear, sadly, that many famous regimental names may disappear with the reorganisation of the Regular Army. I hope that the opportunity might be taken to ensure that some of those names survive as Territorial units in the future. Their names should be perpetuated so they can be revived if and when they are needed, and become a focus of regional or city pride. We might take the opportunity to recreate famous names, such as the DLI, which have disappeared. It is something which would be welcomed in many parts of the country. I am again impressed by the American practice. Many regiments formed to fight in the civil war still exist under their original titles in the National Guard. Let us hope also that we can keep as many battalions as possible, although their strength may be much reduced, so that expansion will be easier if it is necessary.
It has been unkindly said that the Treasury pose a far greater threat to the future of our Army than anything that Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard could do. There is an unkind element of truth in this. The defeat of the latter was much easier than the defeat of the former. All we should ask is that in making the inevitable and necessary reductions, it be done in a thorough and overall way, and resources are found to fit the needs. If that is seen to be done, those responsible for the detail will, I am sure, do what they possibly can to help the Secretary of State and the Government to carry out what I have already described as a painful process.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Bramall
My Lords, it was marvellous that my noble and gallant friend Lord Fieldhouse was able to make his maiden speech in this important debate. I wish to add my congratulations. His knowledge of these matters is formidable and his contribution to his country before the Falklands, during that campaign as Commander-in-Chief and afterwards as CNS and CDS has been outstanding. We look forward immensely to having the benefit of his wisdom and experience in the years ahead.
This important debate, launched so effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, has shown quite clearly that many in your Lordships' House are increasingly concerned at the way in which Options for Change is developing. We have not exactly been reassured by the recent limited Statement in another place on the Army.
We are not concerned because a strategic defence review was uncalled for or inappropriate. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact alone, with its impact on any imminent threat to NATO, demanded such a review. This has not been invalidated by the more recent uncertainties in the Soviet Union or surrounding the Gulf war, although these latest developments must surely influence the outcome. They occurred well after Options for Change was first conceived.
Moreover, there is, I believe, general approval for our moving from a now unnecessary and uneconomic forward defence deployment to a British-led rapid reaction force for NATO and in NATO. For reasons which do not need restating, that organisation must 1138 still remain the cornerstone of any collective security system in Europe and of a proper balance of power. All this, including stationing but one strong armoured division on the continent of Europe, seems eminently sound and sensible, particularly as our components in this force would give us some national capability to operate outside Europe, if there were the need, as in the Gulf.
My concern lies much more with the way the size and shape of our forces has been arrived at, which seems to indicate a clear case, as the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, aptly put it, of putting the cart before the horse. The trouble undoubtedly was that before the ink was dry on any genuine choices proffered to Ministers, the Treasury funding had been virtually removed for both the short and longer term. It was as if all the crucial and difficult decisions on government defence policy, on strategy, on equipment policy and organisation had been taken when, of course, they had not. So far as I can judge, in certain cases they have still not been taken. It was also as if the cheapest option and something perhaps even cheaper than that had been properly assessed against developments in NATO and future commitments, both inside and outside that organisation. It was as if the cheapest option had then been accepted on its merits, strategic as well as political and financial.
There is no evidence that this strategic reappraisal has happened. Nor, in the light of subsequent events and uncertainties in the world, would such what I may describe as a part-worn selection have been wise, at least without considerable modification incorporating the lessons of the Gulf. That would include the relationship between regular forces and reserves and the many other developments since Options for Change was first considered.
However, this removal of the money in advance must have greatly reduced the scope and freedom of action of Ministers and their military advisers to make sound decisions. If a yawning gap already existed between commitments and resources, and there was not even enough to meet the original cheapest option, there was not much chance of a reassessment upwards, however sensible this may have become.
If the noble Earl can reassure me I should be only too delighted and relieved. It seems to me that what started out as a highly sensible and logical exercise has degenerated yet again into one of those resource-led scrambles in which, in order to balance the books in the shorter term, we first cut anything we can easily lay our hands on: training activity, ammunition, spare parts, equipment orders (running on older equipment beyond its point of obsolescence). Those are the very things which created such unreliability in what would otherwise have been good equipment in Germany. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, pointed out, it necessitated contortions, cannibalisation and grounding of other units when we needed to send only a modest sized force to the Gulf. Also, the overall projected numbers of the forces were: 116,000 for the Army—50,000 below the authorised strength at present, and the lowest figure for the British Army ever; and even 4,000 less than was announced last July, when the world did not look as uncertain as it 1139 does today. The number of frigates and particularly submarines is far less than even in the heyday of what was considered to be Sir John Nott's assault on the Navy and when the Soviet naval threat which is not dependent upon the Warsaw Pact is still in situ. There is the reduced number of aircraft when the Gulf war demonstrated the crucial part which is played in conflict by aircraft. Finally, the number of Army combat units is not yet officially announced, but is said to involve swingeing cuts of up to 50 per cent.
These figures have all been arrived at far more from what could be squeezed into an arbitrary financial ceiling, with the Treasury well in the lead and calling the shots, and with an apparent desire to have equal misery for all, than from an analysis of what will be required by our ongoing commitments. They include the only recently established dispositions and deployments agreed by NATO; Northern Ireland, where there is an acute infantry overstretch; and all the other uncertainties, in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, which bedevil the world scene. I say that as one who, in the debate last year, warned your Lordships' House about the imminent dangers in the Middle East.
Of course there must be a compromise. Savings emanating from the reduction of our forward forces in Germany and Berlin can and must be made. However, if there is not some alleviation of the present level of resources which will bring them more into line with our up-to-date commitments, and if there is no end to the present blight on decisions on new equipment, such as the obsolete Chieftain replacement—the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, has dealt with this extremely well and comprehensively—we shall end up for sure not will smaller but better forces as promised but with smaller forces equally overstretched and equally underfunded. They will therefore be generally less effective than at present. As an example, I seriously question whether, with only 116,000 in the Army, we can properly sustain operationally and logistically the formations and units which are now apparently required by NATO and our other commitments in the 1990s.
I hope that in the White Paper the Government will not ignore the lessons of the past which have been pointed out in the debate. Earlier governments, seduced by the same prospect of easing of tension and the absence of any immediately definable threat, cut our operational capability so badly that when crisis and even mortal danger loomed but a short time later, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, pointed out, we were nearly in no position to recover or cope. It is well to remember that the quality of men and equipment arid the professionalism which goes with them that we saw in the Falklands and again in the Gulf is not something which can be manufactured overnight. It cannot be turned off for long periods and then switched on again at the drop of a hat as if nothing had happened. It needs to be nurtured. It needs a certain amount of tradition, stability and esprit de corps. It needs the confidence and professionalism that can only come from a credible capability and the self-respect of those who know they are appreciated.
1140 I wish to make two further points. First, I hope the Government will not forget the great value that is provided at an extremely low cost by many units of the Territorial Army and other reserve forces. The noble Viscount has just reminded us of that fact. They can produce valuable reserves and reinforcements in an emergency, as we saw in the Gulf, when over 1,000 individual volunteers offered their services, mostly for the medical services. However, I believe a great opportunity was missed in not calling out a certain number of actual units or sub-units in the Gulf or in Germany. That would have achieved so much in terms of motivation and retention.
The reserve forces can also provide vital links and routes for the regular forces into the civilian community with mutual advantages in both directions. With some help from the regulars—extra outlets may be badly needed in that respect—they can make a real contribution to our defence effort. It would be a sad day if the Government failed to tap to the maximum recruitable extent this volunteer spirit for which this country is famous. Indeed historical precedent shows that as regular forces are reduced, reserve forces are needed more and not less. We await with interest any Government announcement on this point.
While I am on the question of reserves, I sincerely hope the Government will not feel obliged to go back on their solemn undertaking to maintain a role in the British Army at a viable level for the Brigade of Gurkhas after 1997 when their essential role in Hong Kong comes to an end. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is not in his place at the moment. Not only does this country owe the hillmen of Nepal a quite unique debt of gratitude for all the times they have rallied to our country's side in our darkest hours and sacrificed their lives in large numbers, but they also remain some of the finest fighting men in the world. They are also a marvellous source—provided we maintain the connection—of virtually unlimited recruitment. Looking ahead to some inevitable disenchantment in our own recruiting, and in any case to a disturbing disadvantageous demographic trend, the Gurkhas may prove invaluable to us in the years ahead. If they have to remain outside the numbers ordained for the infantry, so be it. Some of the funding for the Gurkhas is already outside the Defence Vote. I believe there are few roles worldwide which they could not undertake with distinction. However, I am not sure that the story about severed heads will do the image of the Gurkhas much good with the civil servants in Whitehall. Even if that story is a little exaggerated, their reputation preceded them in the Falklands and enabled them to use minimum force when the time came. The Gurkhas constitute a formidable weapon and their reputation does no harm as it serves as a useful deterrent.
Secondly, if, after a proper assessment of commitments and of the effect that the stretching of resources will have on the services and on redundancies—and, as I have said already, I am not yet convinced that such an assessment has been properly carried out—the Government are prepared to take the responsibility for reducing our none too 1141 lavish combat units, I hope they will have the courage (such a step will take some courage as it is no good just passing the buck to the military) to stand by the services if it makes military sense. I further hope that the Government will have the courage to produce a new organisational structure for the regular Army which is in tune with the future and which will enable that Army easily to produce full-strength units in an emergency. Such a policy can also be linked to some extent to regimental centres where families can congregate, buy houses and consistently educate their children. Such a practice is much more common in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.
The regimental system with which the fighting soldier can proudly identify is important, as the Secretary of State recognised. It provides a mainspring of pride, loyalty and motivation which in peacetime makes the Army an altogether more interesting and congenial place in which to serve. That is soon to be a very important factor. In war the regimental system inspires men to even greater efforts of fortitude and endurance.
A vibrant regimental system need not depend on sticking willy-nilly to one particular title or cap badge at one particular moment in history. If that had been the case, we would have destroyed that system many times over in the past three centuries. What are required now, perhaps more than ever, are regimental organisations which are still small enough to have a definable natural ethos of their own in terms of pedigree, regional loyalty or professional specialisation, and thus may still mean something rather special and unique to the front line soldier from the moment he joins his depot or training centre. At the same time regimental organisations should be large enough in terms of numbers of units within them to be able, whatever the future holds, to produce units which can provide the maximum motivation for those who serve in them and are ready for action in all respects. I believe there is scope for some positive thinking in this direction, even if the merging, let alone disbanding, of smaller units will cause great distress, particularly among the retired. The salvation of some of the older titles in the Territorial Army may well be an excellent solution to this problem.
At the end of the day what the young want more than anything else is a proper job of work to do, a credible role and the opportunity to be part of or to command full-strength squadrons, companies, troops and platoons inside well equipped, viable units which can generate real spirit and are manifestly ready for anything. If there have to be fewer combat units—I hope the cuts will be kept to a minimum—I hope that there will be larger but more viable regiments. As a non-Guardsman, I view with absolute horror the possibility that such a famous and magnificent regiment as the Grenadier Guards might lose its second battalion when I personally believe that no infantry regiment should have fewer than two battalions. I also view with horror the possibility that the outstandingly well trained and effective Parachute 1142 Regiment should be reduced in number merely to bring it into line with other regiments. Let us try to reinforce success and not to penalise it.
I hardly have to remind this House that in the past 40 years the Armed Forces of the Crown have been needed in one form or another on a remarkable number of occasions. To say that they have never let the country down is an understatement; indeed they have made an immense contribution not only to national and European security and British interests abroad but also, and increasingly, to disaster relief in many forms. Disaster relief is a topical matter. Our Armed Forces have also made a contribution to the economic life of this country and to fuller employment.
Moreover, there can be few if any national institutions which have so well preserved their reputation and integrity in the eyes of the public, many of which look upon the Armed Forces as one of the real jewels in the national crown. It would be sad indeed if the only perceived reward for many thousands of men and women after all this—perhaps 10,000 to 15,000 in the Army and many others in the other services over and above normal wastage—was to be deposited on a highly depressed labour market with a redundancy payment which would barely meet the deposit on a house, certainly in the South East. No patriotic citizen could wish to see that happen.
Although no one likes paying insurance premiums —that is what defence expenditure amounts to—and we bitterly resent doing so when everything seems quiet, when the winds suddenly blow and the floods come or there is a spate of burglaries and we experience the worst winter for five years, how glad we are that we did not default on our premiums. When we reflect on the effect there might have been on our country's social development and economy if our defence arrangements had gone wrong or had been unreliable over the past 45 years, or if we had not had 40 years of comparative peace in Europe, and if our military intervention in the Falklands and the Gulf had ended in disaster, we must conclude that these premiums are well worth keeping up.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Lord Rodney
My Lords, I must first of all apologise to your Lordships' House. Due to a longstanding commitment, I shall not be able to stay until the end of the debate.
I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Colnbrook on introducing this debate with a remarkable speech. Like most other noble Lords who have spoken, I share the anxiety that we may be being too optimistic, and that we are at risk of lowering our guard too far and too fast before we have definite proof that the Russians are reducing their forces and reducing significantly the production of new armaments and are not simply scrapping obsolete equipment. I am sure noble Lords will agree that previous speakers have fully covered the matter of Russia. I wish to say a few words about the possible threat to peace from what is commonly known as out of area—that is to say, those areas of the world which are outside NATO's responsibility.
1143 I believe that problems are more likely to arise out of area than within Europe. Your Lordships will agree that past events confirm that, most notably the recent conflict in the Gulf. Although NATO is the principal military organisation concerned with keeping peace in the world, it was powerless to become involved directly in the Gulf war. As the North Atlantic Treaty stands at the moment, it would be equally powerless to become involved in any out of area threat to peace which may arise in the future. When the question is raised of the possibility of amending the treaty to enable NATO to enlarge its area of responsibility the immediate reply seems to be that that is impossible.
Few people would disagree that if NATO could undertake a wider role with its well established command structure and integrated forces that would solve many of the problems of dealing with possible out-of-area confrontations. For instance, if the Gulf war could have been dealt with as a NATO responsibility it would have been unnecessary to establish a whole new command structure, and the transfer of men and equipment to the Gulf would have been achieved more quickly and smoothly. Perhaps it is impossible to amend the North Atlantic Treaty, but I wonder whether the question has really been addressed or whether it is just dismissed out of hand.
As has already been mentioned, it is proposed that British forces and a British commander should head a new rapid reaction corps able to move anywhere in Europe. That is a very great compliment to the professionalism of British forces and encouraging for the defence of Europe. However, here again, what happens if a situation arises requiring the urgent use of such a force, or part of it, outside Europe such as in the Middle East? It is my understanding that individual units could be withdrawn—that is what happened in the Gulf—and used outside NATO, possibly under the auspices of the United Nations or even the WEU. (Perhaps I should mention that I am a delegate to the WEU.) But what of its command structure; and if, as is proposed, many units are truly multinational, will that not render their deployment very difficult, if not impossible, requiring the concurrence of each individual nation whose troops are involved?
I noted that the Secretary of State for Defence announced on 25th July last year in another place the establishment of a British strategic reserve division made up of amphibious, parachute, air-mobile and armoured formations for roles in Europe and national defence. I wonder whether that will be part of the United Kingdom's contribution to the rapid reaction corps or in addition to it. If it is to be part of it, here again using the reserve division out of area will be difficult and will take time.
As I said, the main consideration at the moment is the restructuring of NATO forces to deal effectively and economically with the changing situation in Europe. However, it is encouraging to note that some thought is being given to dealing with possible out-of-area situations.
Mr. Willem Van Eekelen, Secretary General of the WEU, proposed a multinational European force which he suggested could be deployed rapidly and, if 1144 necessary, outside Europe. It might consist of an air-mobile division made up of British, Belgian, Dutch and German troops ready to be deployed to NATO's northern sector or, as I have already intimated, outside Europe. An added advantage of that suggestion is that as it would be inherently European the French should have little difficulty in associating with it. Another encouraging sign is that the Federal Republic of Germany is reported to be considering amending its constitution to permit its armed forces to operate outside Europe.
Noble Lords will agree that the problem of ensuring that an integrated rapid reaction force is combat ready for deployment not only inside Europe but also out of area has not been resolved. One solution that has been put forward is that it should operate inside Europe under NATO control and in other parts of the world under the WEU. A further suggestion is that the present arrangement whereby forces earmarked for NATO can be withdrawn in the case of national need should be extended so that those same units could be employed both for national and out-of-area purposes and that certain commanders should be "dual-hatted", or even "triple-hatted", to meet any of those eventualities.
So far I have tried to cover a few of the problems associated with having an international rapid reaction force available for both NATO and for out-of-area operations. However, there is another aspect to establishing effective rapid reaction forces; namely, their mobility. If they are to be used over longer distances outside Europe the problem is aggravated. Initially they need to be air mobile; but, as we have heard from a number of noble Lords, suitable sea transport must also be available in sufficient quantities and of the right type.
If we take a quick look at the availability of suitable air transport among our European allies it is evident that in time of crisis their ability to airlift their forces is sadly lacking. France has its rapid intervention force but has insufficient long-distance air transport for its rapid deployment. Italy created a rapid intervention force four years ago but it is composed mainly of insufficiently-trained conscripts, again without proper means of transport. The Netherlands is in the process of setting up an air-mobile brigade which will be capable of deployment as part of a NATO multinational division or which could be used out of area. It is planned to begin the purchase of some 25 troop transport helicopters in 1993; but, again, that will not resolve long-distance requirements. Spain decided in 1988 to set up a rapid reaction force, but to date its final composition has not been decided upon. In the meantime, it will be made up of a parachute brigade and legion forces. Here again, adequate airlift capability is not available.
As I have already mentioned, Great Britain is giving consideration to the formation of a strategic reserve division, which I understand would be made up of the 3rd Royal Marines Commando Brigade, the 5th Airborne Brigade, the 24th Air-Mobile Brigade and some armoured formations. Here again, if that force is to be effective, it must have adequate air and sea transport capacity. At the present time specialist 1145 aircraft are inadequate in quantity and coming to the end of their useful life. The Royal Marine Commandos have two LPDs—HMS "Fearless" and HMS "Intrepid"—which were built in the early 1950s. In 1981 it was proposed that they should be scrapped, and also, I understand, in 1985. A replacement programme is in being but to date there are no plans for putting it into effect. One has to ask how long those existing ships can continue in service, how much it will cost to keep them in service, and when a decision is taken to replace them how long it will be before the replacements come into service?
On the basis of what I have said, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that the whole question of mobility needs urgent attention. There is little sense in establishing rapid reaction forces if they cannot react rapidly.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ The Earl of Cork and Orrery
My Lords, this debate has already produced many distinguished speeches, notably that of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, from whom we look forward to hearing frequently in future. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Rodney, not only for his interesting and thoughtful speech but also because of the juxtaposition of him between myself and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. By speaking when he did, he has spared me the mortifying experience of following a speech of enormous distinction, erudition and value.
Sometimes I have thought that, were I to be faced with the task of writing a PhD thesis, I might perhaps choose as a subject the British predilection for tinkering rather than planning. I take that to be a national characteristic, which is possibly not unique to us. It operates through the whole of our society from the top to the bottom. Starting at the bottom, even in the world of fiction some noble Lords may remember a character invented by P. G. Wodehouse called Stanley Featherstonehaugh-Ukridge, who, when he broke his spectacles, instead of going to an optician and ordering a new and better pair, chose to repair them with the wire from a ginger beer bottle. That is what I call tinkering. It appears at all levels, right up to the very top, which is where I consider we are; that is to say, in Whitehall or Westminster.
The arch tinkerer among departments of state is probably the Department of Transport. That is what it is called at the moment, although it has had various names in the past. It is responsible for roads, railways and aircraft. Many noble Lords will remember that in the good days of Beeching, when things were going wrong with the railways, we simply abolished large numbers of them. Not only that, we tore up the roads as well. Now, when we want to put traffic back on the roads, we find that they have gone and the bridges have been pulled down too. That is the result of tinkering in high places.
The arch example of tinkering was probably aviation. From the time of Hendon onwards, or whenever flying started in this country, an overcrowded runway or building led to new construction. That 1146 gave rise to an endless succession of new runways, new hangars and even new terminals. The process is still going on and every few years—surprise, surprise—the Government discover that the air transport capacity of the country is running out and ask, "What shall we do now?" If we had given up the idea of tinkering we should have followed the plan for Maplin airport years ago. It would have been in action by this time.
The same is happening now. There is in existence a plan for an offshore airport which will cost the Government or the taxpayer nothing. It will probably not be built because it is not tinkering: it is planning.
The great victim of such tinkering is the services. I put the Department of Transport at the top deliberately. There is nothing personal between me and any of my noble friends concerned in any particular department. I have not put the Ministry of Defence at the top of my list for tinkering because it is a special case. As has been pointed out by several noble Lords, that is the one department that should be outside Treasury control. Treasury control comes from a tradition of tinkering. The arch tinkerer is the Treasury. If one wants to tinker, sure enough the Treasury comes along and says, "No you can't do that or if you do, you can do it only at half the cost". Over and again we have heard it said and have accepted as axiomatic that such process should not engulf the Ministry of Defence because defence is the paramount priority of all governments. That is accepted by all governments, certainly all Conservative governments.
What is going on now in Options for Change? Large numbers are being quoted. We hear that the Army, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy are to be reduced. But in no case are we told why it is being done. What examination in depth has been carried out into the pattern of warfare should war ever break out in the future? Sooner or later we shall have a White Paper which will probably show the Government's thinking on the matter. But so far we have only numbers. We hear that the Army will be reduced to a strength of 120,000—or is it 116,000? There are two versions of the figure. I have two statements issued from the Government, both bearing the same date but giving different numbers. Which is right? Why should the figure not be 110,000 or 130,000? From where do we have the figure of 116,000? I do not know.
Does the effectiveness of the Army depend on the exact number of soldiers in it? Armies are not measured by that criterion. They are measured by fire power and many other characteristics. Is the Army likely to be better because it is smaller? Why should that be so? It also has to increase its fighting power and that does not depend solely on numbers. If it did, we should be perfectly happy to go to war equipped with bows and arrows, I suppose.
I want to take up a point made by my erstwhile noble friend Lord Ridley about the combination of regiments. Again we are going in for tinkering. We have not been told why we have to tinker in the traditional way by cutting out regiments. Nor are we told how it is to be done. We just have the ordinary excuse, "The Army has to get smaller, so let us disband a few regiments". It is worth remembering that should regiments be disbanded now, I regret to 1147 say that we shall be disbanding something that is pretty near the bottom of the barrel. The Army that we now have, mutatis mutandis after the change in the situation in Central Europe, is the Army that was left after the Falklands War.
Noble Lords will remember the Falklands war. It was not very long ago. It was fought with enormous gallantry and efficiency and it was a great success. But it was about the longest war of that kind that we could afford. If it had gone on any longer or been harder, the initiative would probably have begun to pass to the Argentines because all the troops in the Army who were capable of taking part in that kind of war were in fact engaged in it. If anybody doubts the truth of that statement, I remind them that a battalion of footguards, claiming, with some justice, to be the finest infantry in the world, found that it was not able to operate satisfactorily in the Falklands because it had come from public duties in London and an 8,000 mile sea voyage was not the best training for heavy yomping. So let us be rather careful when we have the White Paper to find out why such reductions have to be made.
My noble friend Lord Ridley mentioned the possibility of keeping regiments alive even though they are amalgamated or disbanded. I remind noble Lords that years ago in the 1920s, five Irish regiments of foot were disbanded. There were three remaining regiments and two of them were put together to make one regiment without removing the name of either. They were the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Fusiliers. They formed one composite regiment. When war came along in 1939 they were simply separated and reconstituted as two Irish regiments. They were separate then but they have now been amalgamated with the Royal Ulster Rifles and are known as the Royal Irish Rangers. But that is by the way.
Finally, I want to say a brief word about morale. One cannot have a good serving force of any kind unless morale is good. In my darker moments I confess that I have wondered whether whoever it may be—let us call it the Ministry of Defence—looks upon soldiers, sailors and airmen as people. A few years ago there was an accident in Berlin in which two soldiers, as it happens from the Royal Irish Rangers, travelling in a jeep, were seriously injured when a French tank traversed its gun and knocked the jeep off the road. The French army and Government accepted responsibility but did not pay for years. After many representations from the British Government, and indeed from some noble Lords in this House, the money was secured from the French and paid to the two soldiers. But why did they have to go without the money all that time? They were told that they would be paid as soon as the Ministry of Defence obtained the money from the French. Why did not the Ministry of Defence pay the money straightaway? It had to obtain t from the French. It did so, but it would not pay the soldiers until it received that money. That was pretty mean.
Two soldiers have been injured in Canada by a mine explosion. They are trying to win compensation, such as any soldier receives if injured while playing 1148 football. But, no. And why? It was a Canadian mine. If the Canadians will pay the compensation, it will be paid to the soldiers. That is almost worse than the French incident. At least the French accepted responsibility. Are we not responsible for the lives and safety of our own soldiers? A Canadian mine, my Lords! Whoever heard of such an excuse?
In conclusion, and on the subject of morale and whether soldiers are regarded as people, I have in mind the strange event that occurred in the Gulf war. A report was put out by a British officer, I believe at a press conference, to the effect that a small number of young soldiers had been killed by friendly fire. I had not heard the term "friendly fire" before. We all know what it means. We also know presumably that from the beginning of warfare, soldiers and sailors have been killed by accident or mistake by fire from their own side. Many of us are aware of that from our own experience. When it occurs—I have had a hand in doing this myself; there is no code number in the casualty report for "killed by friendly fire"—those men are reported as killed in action, which they must have been.
Why were these men described as having been killed by friendly fire? They were killed in action. Their courage was no greater and no less, their contribution no greater and no less, than that of their comrade soldiers. Why then was the report made that they had been killed by friendly fire? I regard that as a piece of totally gratuitous cruelty to their families —parents, wives and next of kin. I hope that my noble friend will say that steps have been taken to make sure that no such report is made again.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, Albert Einstein said that,the release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking".I suggest that a good deal of the debate fits that prognostication. It results from the identification of defence solely with military affairs. Of course noble and gallant Lords in this House discuss the details of their profession during this annual opportunity. I do not presume to enter into that field of discussion.
However, I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, when introducing the debate, concentrating on the concept of security. My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel stated that we have to consider our security in five or 10 years' time. I suggest that it is today anachronistic to base security solely on military power, however it may be organised. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, if he were present, that when he speaks about the CND and its members he should remember that "CND" stands for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Its members have various views as to how that disarmament should be attained; but I suggest that no Member of this House would not identify himself with the objective of nuclear disarmament.
On the issue of the anachronism of identifying security with military affairs, one can argue that military affairs today can be seen to be organised at 1149 the expense of the chances of survival. I should like to add two aspects of a different dimension from those that have been mentioned.
First, a variety of explanations have been given of the significance of the Gulf war and its consequences. I suggest that what was demonstrated by the Gulf war was the importance of the United Nations, and of building it into an organisation with alternative problem-solving mechanisms, plus the provision within the constitution of the United Nations of a military arm to support such measures as the sanctions imposed on Iraq.
I am emboldened in that suggestion by the words of Willy Brandt, the ex-Chancellor of Germany, last week in Frankfurt. He addressed this specific problem of security. He laid down four conditions for the development of security, and the establishment of the United Nations as a strong organisation participating in defending the security of all parts of the world. The first condition was the necessity to reduce the veto rights of the permanent members of the Security Council. The second was to give more powers of initiative to the Secretary-General to resolve conflicts. The third was to cease to view security solely in military terms. The fourth was therefore to oppose the modernising of NATO forces and the resumption of huge arms exports. I suggest that in discussing the United Kingdom's future defence policy and the military forces which are to be organised in this country we should give priority to the necessity of our forces coming increasingly under the control of the United Nations; and to ensure that the United Nations is organised to use military forces if and when necessary under genuine international control.
Secondly, we should consider what security means in the real world today. I suggest that one of the new issues is that the weak and poor nations in the world can now damage the security of our strong, rich states. For example, if the Chinese, the Indians, and the Indonesians use refrigerators with CFCs, if the Latin-Americans log or burn their rainforests, if the third world bases its industrial development on carbon, the ports of our rich world will be flooded with rising seas, the northern grain belts will be reduced to deserts as a result of drought and skin cancer will spread alarmingly throughout our societies.
Today the third world is responsible for about one-quarter of the world's carbon emissions into the atmosphere. However, by the year 2010 the third world may well surpass the developed world in its emissions. The third world will suffer more from global warming because it has fewer resources. However, that will inevitably lead to conflicts for natural resources as they become more scarce; for example, oil and water. It will also lead and is already leading to a straggle of refugees from the poor countries to the rich. That is a growing problem particularly in Mediterranean Europe and it is certain to extend beyond.
Therefore it is clear from the argument that this is a security issue for all of us. Our security depends on dealing with this complex issue. Again I am 1150 emboldened in putting forward my argument by the words used by Willy Brandt and the ex-president of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, speaking in Frankfurt last week. They argued strongly that the peace dividend to be gained from the relaxation of tension in Europe must be used to provide greater aid to the developing countries. Julius Nyerere used stark words when he said:To prevent the poverty and instability in the south leading to large-scale legal or illegal migration into your countries, it is necessary that third world countries be helped to break the circle of poverty in which they are trapped".He continued:For the reality is that our poverty threatens your prosperity and insecurity in our countries … will sooner or later reduce your peace and security".That menace to our security is real in the world in which we live. It is essential that in these circumstances we have North-South co-operation for the sake of the security of the developing and developed world. I am glad to note that throughout the debate there has been discussion about the planned reductions in military expenditure and orderly disarmament put before us by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I say to those who are anxious about unemployment resulting from such reductions that there is a great opportunity for conversion from military to peaceful production. There is also a great opportunity for the trained men and women in the Armed Forces to turn to production which is for the constructive benefit of mankind. There is also a great opportunity in new technology and manufacturing to meet the enormous menace which faces us as a result of developments in the third world, their bearing on the environment and the effect of that environment on the security of the people of this country.
I suggest that today and into the 21st century the meaning of the word "security" must be based on disarmament. Disarmament is the major issue that Members of this House and another place must discuss. The peace dividend, the consequences of that disarmament, must be invested in sustainable development in the developed and the developing world if the people of this country, the industrial world and the developing world are to have any hope of security during the next 25 years.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Viscount Brookeborough
My Lords, I begin by quoting from paragraph 85 of the Tenth Report of the House of Commons Defence Committee printed on 11th July 1990. It states:As the 1990 Statement on the Defence Estimates (SDE 90), matching all too many of its predecessors, was obliged to observe—'The Services' major national commitment in 1989 was support for the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland'.Recent events in Europe have of course no direct implications for this major commitment, which is for the Army the dominating fact of military life. As the conclusions of the Options for Change exercise are put into effect the extent of this military commitment will become ever more apparent. Any reductions in strength will increase the frequency with which soldiers will serve in the Province, with possible effects on recruitment and retention".1151 As a result of that statement I do not apologise for bringing Northern Ireland into the debate. I hope to show that the Government's education in arithmetic is a little lacking.
I must declare an interest because it is vital to all law-abiding citizens in Northern Ireland, of which I am one, that Her Majesty's forces continue to support the RUC. I know that that fact is not in question, although their ability to do so without severe consequences may be questioned if the perceived reductions take place. After all, Northern Ireland is the only permanently operational area in which our forces serve. It has been operational for more than 21 years.
I do not wish to go into the commitments worldwide as many noble Lords present have greater knowledge and ability than I. However, we know that several commitments outside Europe will be reduced in the coming years; for example, Hong Kong. Options for Change indicates that we shall be left with some 36 infantry battalions and whatever battalions will be permitted in the Ulster Defence Regiment. Of course the latter cannot serve outside the Province.
I speak mainly about the infantry because Northern Ireland is staffed mainly by infantry battalions. I do not forget the cavalry; I was a 17/21st Lancer and I feel strongly about the family traditions within regiments and the fact that they should remain. I wonder whether the Royal Armoured Corps will ever look the same again without the skull and crossbones; death or glory.
The creation of a NATO Rapid Reaction Corps (RRC) with two British divisions—one in mainland Europe with the other as reinforcement in England —will tie up a large number of infantry battalions. If the division in Germany is a force of three square brigades, there will be six infantry battalions. The division in England may consist of more mobile forces such as the paras, the marines and perhaps a couple of standard infantry battalions. If the RRC is to live up to its name and can be used at short notice the units involved must be dedicated solely to that task. By that I mean that they could never have been available for six-month tours in Northern Ireland.
Of those 36 battalions we are now left with 30 battalions to carry out Northern Ireland tours and all other smaller commitments throughout the world, although those commitments may be reducing slowly.
I should like to look at the Northern Ireland situation in rather more detail. At present there are five garrison battalions on two-year tours which leaves us with 25 battalions to take on the duties of roulement battalions on six-month emergency tours. I leave the Ulster Defence Regiment out of the picture for the moment. At present there are four six-month tour battalions but it is important to note that it has been reported that the chief constable and Headquarters Northern Ireland have asked for two more battalions. Kevin McNamara said it was inconceivable that if those two battalions had been requested, the Government would not grant them. It is interesting that the Government have not denied that they have received the request. I ask the Minister to clarify that.
1152 For the moment I shall comment on the situation as it is with the four roulement battalions. The situation can only get worse should that figure be increased to six. It would appear that it is policy that in between tours those battalions should have a 24-month break. They require three to four months training prior to a tour, six months on tour and about a month's leave post tour. That means that they should not otherwise be committed for 10 or 11 months. That is why they could not be part of the RRC.
Therefore, it is possible to work out that the required number of battalions to fulfil that commitment is the number on tour multiplied by five. We must have 20 battalions at present and if the figure were to increase by two, we should need 30. Alas, there are only 25 left from the original 36 after manning the RRC and the garrison units in the Province.
I have not totally forgotten about units other than infantry units but units such as regiments in the Royal Armoured Corp and the Royal Artillery are normally only used in less demanding areas in the Province in small packets. That is not due to any inability on their part, but their normal training in other theatres is so far removed from that required for foot soldiers on patrol that it would take an unreasonable amount of time for training.
I am sure that the MoD and the regimental colonels will believe that the Ulster Defence Regiment should not go unaffected by Options for Change. Therefore, it is worthwhile to evaluate its contribution to the Northern Ireland commitment at present. Rather than looking at the number of battalions in it at present, some of which may be amalgamated, we should look at the number of soldiers on the ground carrying out duties which would otherwise have to be carried out by regular Army soldiers brought in as extra battalions. The regiment totals a little over 7,000, of which roughly half is full-time and half is part-time. Therefore, 3,500 full-time soldiers equate to roughly five regular Army battalions on garrison duty. They cannot be expected to have the same work rate as those on emergency tours year in and year out.
The 3,500 part-time soldiers average roughly 10 duties each per month, largely patrolling the streets and the country. Therefore, they equate to about three battalions on emergency tour. All told in Northern Ireland we now have roughly 10 long-term garrison battalions and seven roulement battalions. It is of interest that the Ulster Defence Regiment battalion costs approximately one-third of that of the regular battalions. There is an immense unseen or unnoticed cost saving. That saving comes about in the same way as the savings as regards the TA. People are working from home and have their own back-up; namely, doctors, schools and housing.
Your Lordships will see that if there are only 36 battalions plus the Ulster Defence Regiment as it stands to fulfil the RRC and Northern Ireland commitment, the Army will be left rather short. That is before we come to the "what if the unexpected happens?" scenario. Should there be a decision to cut the number of soldiers in the Ulster Defence Regiment before the Northern Ireland problem is solved, then the shortfall would become worse. Since the Minister 1153 realises the seriousness of the position in Northern Ireland and that it is a life or death situation, I ask him for an assurance that, although there may be amalgamations, there will be no forced reductions in the numbers of those brave men who have been fighting terrorism for the past 21 years.
We all hope that the current problems will cease in Northern Ireland and then the situation will be different. However, I should point out that the Brooke talks are not peace talks, as is sometimes put forward. The terrorists' response has been an increase in murder recently and if the talks were to become successful, it is not likely that the terrorist activity would cease.
I should like to mention one other matter. I have been on an all-party defence study visit to the forces in Northern Ireland. Apart from the obvious points raised about welfare, manning and money, there was an overriding requirement for more helicopters. I know that that has already been mentioned with reference to other theatres. In public I do not wish to go into detail about the operational use of helicopters in Northern Ireland but it is important to refer to them.
First, the more mobile RRC will have an increased requirement for many more helicopters. We would seem to be one of the most "unhelicoptered" forces in Europe. The major tactical change in recent conflicts from Vietnam to the Gulf has involved helicopters. Why have we not followed suit? I ask the Minister why so many of our soldiers have been put at risk in Northern Ireland by using roads as a result of battalions running out of helicopter hours and, therefore, not being able to obtain them. A more mobile force is not only safer but is a greater threat and fewer soldiers would be required to provide the security given at present.
Humanitarian issues throughout the world are becoming more important every day and perhaps our best ambassadors have been our Armed Forces recently in such areas as Turkey, Iraq and Bangladesh. I am sure that the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom will not forgive a government who reduce the country's forces to such an extent that its Armed Forces become only an observer of such human disasters.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Brookeborough. As your Lordships may expect, I shall refer to Northern Ireland. Both my noble friend and I have great affection for County Fermanagh, and indeed I am proud to wear the tie this evening.
Your Lordships' House owes a great debt to my noble friend Lord Colnbrook for giving us the opportunity to discuss defence today and above all for the marvellously tactful way in which my noble friend tabled his Motion. He mentions the words "adequate defence". That is at the root and heart of all our discussions every time we discuss defence estimates, forces and anything to do with the safety of this country.
1154 I recall that on the last occasion on which we discussed defence estimates in July 1990 I stressed that we can never know what the future holds. Within three weeks Saddam Hussein and the forces of Iraq had invaded Kuwait.
The Gulf war and the conflict there demonstrated something which, happily, is brought out every time the defence forces of this country are asked to perform a particular task, and it has been referred to by other noble Lords; namely, that our Armed Forces are sure support for NATO or, as in that case, or whoever they may be representing. Above all, they are a great source of pride to all of us.
Your Lordships will know and will have read about what took place during the Gulf conflict. During the first week of the conflict I recall reading a not very widely circulated United States magazine. The article was by a United States Air Force General speaking to a United States journalist. The article was entitled: "The Brits did more than their bit". From that rather slangy headline we were able to read of the enormous professionalism shown by British soldiers, in their handling of their low flying aircraft. Above all, it demonstrated the special part played by the Royal Air Force, its Tornados and Buccaneers. That was one specific example of the unique contribution made, which we hope will continue to be made in the future, by the defence forces of this country.
I have been lucky to make a number of visits to defence establishments over the past two years or so as part of your Lordships' all-party defence study group. The most recent was a visit I made yesterday to the Royal Naval Dockyard at Devonport. From those visits, and from what has been said today, I am not in the least surprised by the high esteem in which the servicemen and women of this country are held.
I have been lucky to see the performance and the training of Royal Air Force Tornados and Buccaneers as well as the Training Hawk, which can be used in a combat role. Even in that sphere of training I was impressed by the continuing professionalism of all the staff at those establishments. Regarding the Royal Navy we were able to see Types 22 and 42 submarines, and only last week many of us were able to go on board HMS "Invincible" to see Sea-Harriers and Sea-King helicopters at work.
Yesterday I visited the Royal Naval Dockyard in Plymouth and obtained a different view of the services, a view which was touched on today. It was very much a presentation with the emphasis on value for money. During the presentation yesterday it was continually stressed how the defence forces, particularly the Royal Navy, are conscious of carrying out their duties and seeing what they have to do. Above all, they appreciate something that has entered the vocabulary of the service area within the past two years which is concerned with Options for Change. They deal with budgets and use a term particularly familiar to me: "value for money".
Yesterday the budget was explained to me by a gentleman who had the title FCA, which I was told stood for Financial and Civil Adviser. He advised me, together with the Commander of the Royal dockyard, that questions are examined on every aspect of the 1155 services—manpower, equipment and all the other facilities. Budgets are set, monitored and reviewed not just by civilians or people such as me who might have some elementary training in finance and accountancy, but more and more at a deeper level permeating right down throughout the defence forces. Young warrant officers and indeed all ranks are being asked to look at how they in their job doing their task with their specific equipment can give value for money. They are asked to examine whether they could do their job better.
That makes me feel real humility. They are carrying out constant self-examination of what they are doing and how they can do it better. They are not merely looking for value for money, although that is becoming a factor of looking at the overall defence forces and indeed in the subject we are discussing today. It is widely accepted by all service ranks to whom I have spoken that they must remove waste and ensure that where possible efficiency can enter into the calculations of how they do their job.
Something that came as a considerable surprise to me yesterday at Devonport was the enormous number of facilities. There were magnificent old buildings about which I inquired. I said perhaps we could do something with those buildings; perhaps they could be opened as museums. It seems to me that there is the will, and many retired service personnel would love to assist in doing that and to make use of service facilities which are not necessarily in use at the moment but which should not be allowed to disappear and rot away.
It was continually stressed to me—I understand why, particularly in the light of the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Brookeborough—that it is a question of one dreadful word that has entered our discussions in regard to defence both inside and outside your Lordships' House; I refer to security. The question of security gave me some answers yesterday to matters I raised. All the time in all the visits I have made, apart from being fascinated by all that I have seen—both the people who operate the equipment and the equipment itself—the structure of management was stressed. The emphasis was on how the public and those who are watched over and protected by the servicemen can obtain better value, and how servicemen want to do their job even better than they are doing it at the moment. I find that there is little upon which they could improve; but that is what they feel.
We heard one or two remarks this evening regarding the "tail". My noble friend Lord Glenarthur referred to what he called the "teeth" and the "tail". I am reminded of what I call the "tail" jobs every day when I come to your Lordships' House. I confess that I travel by motor car which takes me past two barracks. In both those areas I find fully armed soldiers. That is a symptom of the times in which we live. However, we have heard and seen in Options for Change how the tasks demanded of the defence forces, and above all of the Army, are being narrowed down; how we are trying to extract more and more from a limited number—I believe the numbers are to be reduced from 140,000 to 116,000. Yet we continually 1156 ask those defence forces to carry out their first duty, which is to defend this country, or perform out-of-area duties such as they did in the Gulf, let alone in the Falklands. More and more do we pile on to the men and women of the defence forces what I would call "tail" jobs. They are vitally important and perhaps it is only they who can perform them.
Sentry duty is such a job. When we speak of sentry duty, your Lordships will remember the tragedies of the Royal Marine Barracks in Deal. We remember the bomb that exploded at Ternhill Barracks in Shropshire. Those thoughts are brought back to me every day when I come to your Lordships' House. We ask a great deal of servicemen, and all the time we are piling on new jobs which perhaps can only be done by them.
I was pleased to hear mention of reserves in the remarks made earlier. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne specifically raised the question of the Royal Navy Reserves. I hope that it continues to be the case, as was confirmed to me last year, that Royal Naval Reserve ships are able to take part in major exercises. With regard to the Territorial Army, we were all able to see and recognise the enormous role that they played in the Gulf conflict. It was most satisfactory and a matter of great pride that Territorial reservists, when suddenly summoned for duty and sent to the Gulf, performed as regular soldiers alongside regular soldiers. They perhaps served for a shorter period than a regular soldier overall but did a most professional job, just as my noble friend on the Front Bench and, I hope, I did 34 or 35 years ago, when we were mere National Servicemen. The National Service, as my noble friend will remember, lasted for two years. I am sure that none of us forget that the campaign in Malaya and above all in Korea was won to no small extent by National Servicemen who were perhaps an extension of what the Territorial Army is today. The Gulf conflict showed that territorial and reserve forces will be needed for their professionalism, and for everything else that they can contribute, just as much in the future as they were last winter.
It has been a great pleasure to speak following my noble friend Lord Brookeborough. I would call him the voice of experience from County Fermanagh because not only does he live there but he is very active in many other areas of life in that county and in Northern Ireland. For my part, I wish that he could be more concerned with his drainage, the weather and his farming problems. But as your Lordships will be aware, for the past 23 years Northern Ireland has been plagued by appalling terrorism and a campaign of violence which has continued. It is now virulent and endemic.
I have found in the files that I have kept in your Lordships' House a report presented by command of His Excellency the Governor of Northern Ireland dated September 1969. From the chronology of events that gave rise to what was known then as the "disturbances" in Northern Ireland and which to no small extent set the scene for what goes on now, there was a young lady called Emily Beattie. She obtained a house in a little village called Caledon. Because she had obtained a house and somebody else had not, 1157 neighbours came and squatted. A politician who is now a very respected TD in the Republic, obtained a considerable amount of publicity. Civil rights marches took place and matters developed until we now see what we see every day.
There is a horrifying campaign in Northern Ireland. I ask your Lordships: who will hold the line?—the British Army, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Danger, risk and inconvenience accompany soldiers, their families and their friends, let alone the population of Northern Ireland. Events in Northern Ireland, as well as the recent ones in the Gulf, have shown all of us that whatever the equipment, weapons and technology available that we can supply to our defence forces, those forces consist of a huge number of professional, dedicated and very tough men and women. They are extremely well trained.
I thank my noble friend Lord Colnbrook. We admire the marvellous maiden speech made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, as well as the other remarkable contribution made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. We are very grateful to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to hear these speeches. We feel a great pride in being here today. We are grateful to and salute each and every one of the Armed Forces of our country, their families and friends.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Lord Moore of Wolvercote
My Lords, many other noble Lords have complimented the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, on his important maiden speech. Although he is not in his place at the moment, I particularly want to add my own congratulations because I was privileged to visit him at Northwood at the time of the Falklands war when the noble and gallant Lord was in command and made such an outstanding contribution to a famous victory. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, for enabling us to debate defence at this critical moment.
I suppose that it is inevitable that anyone who remembers the 1930s should be concerned that our defence forces should never again be allowed to drop below an acceptable level. We who went into the Second World War with our forces at a dangerously low level resolved that it should never happen again. Frankly, therefore, I am dismayed when I hear that the Government propose to reduce the British Army by 40,000. I understand, of course, that the dramatic political developments in Eastern Europe have greatly reduced the immediate threat of an attack on NATO from the East; but it would be very unwise to dismiss the possibility of such a threat.
The political situation in the Soviet Union remains one of extreme uncertainty. On its borders the republics are clamouring for independence and in Moscow a power struggle is being fought out. Right-wing elements have deeply resented Mr. Gorbachev's policies which they regard as responsible for the impending break up of the Soviet Union as we have known it. In this very tense situation no one can be sure what the outcome will be, but there must be a 1158 very real danger that we end up with an angry Soviet Union licking its wounds yet still possessing very powerful armed forces. NATO would be wise to proceed with considerable caution.
So great has been the impact of the disappearance of an immediate threat from the East that inevitably there has been a great cry for a reduction in the forces of NATO. Politically, disarmament is always attractive, enabling governments to use the money for other purposes. Finance Ministers and treasuries in NATO have seized at once on the détente with the Soviet Union to demand a slashing of NATO forces. I concede that public opinion in Europe and the United States is also demanding reductions; but I hope that NATO is not being premature and too drastic.
I am glad that the British Government are remaining firmly committed to NATO and resisting suggestions from France for an alternative military alliance in Europe. It is good, too, that Britain is to take the lead in the NATO Rapid Reaction Corps, but even with very considerable cuts in the NATO forces to be stationed in Europe it surely cannot be wise to cut the British Army by as much as 40,000.
The British Army of today is superb in its quality. Whatever we lost in abandoning National Service (and I confess to being against that at the time) it certainly made possible a first-class professional Army. Following the Falklands and Gulf wars, the Army has evoked the admiration and envy of the world. I urge the Government to think very carefully before cutting its numbers as severely as they propose. But, it will be asked, why do we require an Army of the present size with our reduced commitment to NATO? My answer is that all our experience shows that we cannot know where the next threat will arise. The Korean war, the Falklands war and the Gulf war all came out of the blue. It makes no sense to talk in terms of defence forces being required only to defend Britain from attack. The conflicts in which we shall be involved will inevitably be further afield. Experience of the Gulf war shows that we cannot be assured of support from our NATO allies.
In the past 45 years I have seen a good many defence reviews both from the inside and from the outside. This one has euphemistically been called Options for Change. But the motivation is always the same—that is to say, a demand for a reduction in defence expenditure. I have concentrated today on the Army, but the proposed reductions in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are also very disturbing. We are to have a defence White Paper next month. I hope that the Government will think long and hard before going ahead with reductions in our Armed Forces on the scale that they have proposed.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Lord Forbes
My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Colnbrook for the masterful manner in which he introduced the debate. I also congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, on his stimulating maiden speech.
The Berlin Wall has been dismantled and the Cold War has changed in temperature, but nevertheless the 1159 world is still fundamentally unstable. The Government are saying that this is the time for change. I only hope that the Government have made the right assessment because I do not believe that the urge for drastic cuts has come from the chiefs of the armed services. Like my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing and many other noble Lords, I guess that this cut has been inspired by the Treasury on financial grounds. Unfortunately, the Treasury is renowned for winning its battles with other ministries.
If the Government have got it right and there has to be change, then the excellence of our Armed Forces—an excellence which is second to none—must not be threatened in any way. It is therefore essential that ample time is given for any readjustment to our forces so that it can be carried out in an organised and well thought out manner. It must not be rushed. Too much haste would inevitably lead to a loss of efficiency during the period of reorganisation.
Like many other noble Lords, I give my full support to the Government on one aspect of their thoughts for change; that is, the retention of the regimental system. The regimental system owes much to tradition. It is the tradition of great achievements in the past which, when handed down from generation to generation, tends to inspire similar deeds. It is the regimental spirit giving esprit de corps which really comes to the fore when bullets and shells are flying around. It is then that soldiers not only have a sense of determination to fight for their country, but also a determination not to tarnish the traditions of their regiment. Traditions of the regiment become uppermost.
The late Lord Gort, when commander of the British Expeditionary Force at the beginning of the last world war, wrote to his newly born grandson:Some day you may be a Grenadier, and if so, I know you will never fail to be impressed by the fine sense of comradeship and loyalty, which binds all ranks together, imbued with one thought, and one thought only—the honour of the regiment. Never must its name be tarnished".That, in a nutshell, is the importance of the regimental system. It is a system which is the envy of many other armies in the world. It is one which must be retained.
I thoroughly endorse every word the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said about my regiment, the Grenadier Guards. I hope the regiment will not be cut as it has two roles—combat and ceremonial. The two roles require more manpower than one role. It would be extremely difficult to carry out the two roles with fewer officers and guardsmen.
I believe there is one great misconception regarding the cost to the country of the Armed Forces—that the taxpayer pays the bill for our Armed Forces so that we can defend ourselves as well as carrying out commitments to various organisations and other countries. That is only part of what the Armed Forces do for our country. In addition to their combat role they become involved in civil emergencies and they carry out ceremonial duties which attract countless tourists to this country from all over the world. Over and a love that, they play a vital role in helping to mould our young men and women into good citizens. The Army approach to life extends beyond the barrack square and beyond the battlefield as it 1160 embraces many qualities such as leadership, loyalty, pride and integrity. Furthermore, those qualities extend into civilian life. Most of those who have been in the Armed Forces are held in high esteem by the captains of industry and commerce. Surely that aspect, which cannot be quantified in financial terms, needs great consideration in our country where standards today, alas, are constantly on the wane.
Our Armed Forces have a firm insistence on the highest standards. Nothing but the best will do. Surely that is what the nation needs today. I suggest there is a need for a realisation of the part the Armed Forces play in the production of good citizens. As I said, no financial figure can be put on that, but the Treasury and the nation as a whole must be made to realise what a spin-off they are getting, and could get in the future, from the Armed Forces. Once it is realised that the cost of our Armed Forces goes far beyond the defence of the realm and other strategic commitments the Treasury will find itself losing the battle when seeking excessive cuts in the Armed Forces. There are many who will join me in hoping that the Treasury will be denied the battle honour, "Cuts to the Armed Forces 1991". I hope that my noble friend the Minister, when he replies to the debate, will give an assurance that the part the Armed Forces can play in leading young people down the path of good citizenship will be taken into consideration, not only now but in the future.
Finally, reorganisation of the Armed Services is certainly required, but there seems little justification for large cuts. The world situation does not warrant it; neither does our national situation justify such action.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, I was very sorry to miss the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, but I could not help it. He is definitely a hero of mine. Although I would go to great lengths of ingenuity and imagination honourably to avoid a war, when in a war I am very definitely in favour of winning it.
Perhaps I may start with an observation about those Russian ships which have been mentioned so often in the debate. It is true that the Soviet navy is shrinking. It is true that they are decommissioning old ships and that they are still commissioning new ones at what appears to be an alarmingly high rate. I am oppressed here by a sense of unreality. It is as though no noble Lords in the House this afternoon ever read any newspapers except British ones. I know that that is not the case. I wonder, where are the noble Lords who do? If the Government are oppressed by this great Soviet naval build-up, and if the party opposite is too, why do they not accept the longstanding Soviet proposal to engage in naval disarmament? For three or four years now Gorbachev has been preaching in season and out of season the desirability, the necessity, of having naval arms control as well as army and air force arms control. This is refused by the United States Government. It is well known, and it is obvious, that the reason they refuse is opposition from the United States navy, which does not take as long a view in this matter as other allied navies.
1161 That is the way out of the Soviet ship problem and it is not difficult. I do not know why the Government keep concealing that fact. They did it again yesterday at Question Time. When I asked why the Government did not do this, the answer was that it is well known that the United States and the Soviet Union agree that there shall be no naval arms control. They agree just as any two people agree when one of them has asked the other to engage in a common course of action and the other has refused. That is the only agreement there is between them about it.
This is our first opportunity to discuss the new force structure that is emerging in response to the new world which is presumed to exist as a result of the Gulf war. It would be dangerous to believe that the lessons of the Gulf war are of more than passing significance. I believe it very unlikely that ever again will we and our friends be engaged in a war which is preceded by five months of total passivity on the part of the enemy, during which we can at our leisure move vast quantities of material and personnel across the world and build them up at a convenient speed in places which have vast reception facilities for them. I believe it is very unlikely that ever again will Japan and Germany agree to pay for a huge military operation in which they do not take part; at least with carte blanche, as they did in the case of the Gulf war. I believe that the lessons of the Gulf war will appear even more transitory when the damage inflicted by the allies on Iraq is finally published.
I expect that many noble Lords will have noted that a report has been drawn up in the United States. It is not to be published. It is kept under wraps in complete secrecy. Perhaps the Minister who is to reply can say whether any corresponding British report is being drawn up; or indeed whether this American report is an allied report. Is there any intention to reveal to the people the extent of the damage?
I turn to the new force structure and the new world. The allied force which won that victory could not have been a NATO force. Its action in the Gulf as a NATO force would have been quite illegal. There was no attack on the North Atlantic alliance. Indeed there was an attack by two NATO countries on another country which had not attacked them. I refer to the United States' air-raids from Turkish air bases. The only authority that force could have had was the one which it did have—a United Nations resolution. It seems fairly clear to me that this will be the only authority which in future will be found acceptable for operations of this kind which are mounted outside Europe by European countries. I shall return to that point in a moment.
I should like to get a clearer picture than we have had so far of the Rapid Reaction Force, now to be defined as a corps. It is to be used only on NATO territory. Given that we do not now expect a full scale Soviet onslaught on the West, this means that it is only likely to be used in the event of an overspill of some conflict going on in Eastern Europe which might come into NATO territory, including East Germany. Let us consider what that might be. It could be a fight between Czechoslovakia and Poland, where one 1162 country might think it convenient to turn aside and attack Germany. That is not very plausible. A far more likely fight would be one between Hungary and Romania. But it is even less plausible to think that they should seek relief by turning aside to attack, let us say, Germany or Italy, through all the intervening countries. Are we perhaps thinking of a fight between Serbia and Croatia or, rather, perhaps between Serbia and all the other Yugoslav republics, where one of them would think it convenient to divert attention by attacking Italy? That is not very plausible.
By far the most plausible scenario is that war among the Soviet republics should lead to a spill-over. That is imaginable. What would it be? It is most likely that in a conflict between a Russia led by Yeltsin and perhaps the Ukraine or the southern republics—perhaps even the Soviet Union itself, still led by Gorbachev—one side or the other would find it desirable to make a diversionary expedition against the West. That would obviously not be a full scale attack but something menacing and inconvenient in the far north, or something ambiguous in the far south, around Turkey, although that would be difficult to imagine. Those are the threats which do exist—they are not major ones—against which our forces in the future should guard.
The Rapid Reaction Force is to be under British command. What does "British command" mean? Does it mean that the commanding officer of the force will in all circumstances and as far as the eye can see be British? Will British forces account numerically for more than 50 per cent. of the force, or will it be very much the largest contingent? We know that there will be no American forces in the corps. What proportion of total NATO forces, including naval and air forces, will be represented by this force? Will the personnel concerned overlap with those assigned to the proposed WEU force? Will it even conceivably be the same force, but in the case of WEU, having a French contingent added to it and possibly even being under French command? There is speculation about that already. Let us not forget that there is a NATO meeting tomorrow at which further decisions are to be taken. Is the WEU force for use only outside the NATO area or equally for use inside it? Will it be a standing force, or will it be made up of units earmarked in advance and assigned as operational needs demand? Who is it supposed to fight if it goes outside? At the moment it seems to me that we are settling a force structure before the threat is defined or its aims are assigned to it. That is rash.
That is not the end of it. There is the NATO force and the WEU force. There is the possibility of giving military functions to the European Community. I am against that, if only because it would sacrifice Ireland out of the Community and would make it, as my noble friend Lord Ardwick pointed out, difficult if not impossible for East European countries, let alone Austria, Switzerland or Sweden, to join the Community.
Lastly, there is the CSCE security structure, whatever that is. Is there any intention that anybody under any circumstances whatever should assign forces to it? I suspect not at the moment. We certainly 1163 have a cumulation of structures. The words "arc of crisis" are beginning to be heard. What is an "arc of crisis''? It is supposed to be where the military action is likely to he in the future instead of down the Elbe. Geographically, there is only one arc around; that is, the vaguely arc-shaped line between Christendom and ex-Christendom on the one hand and Islam on the other. That is dangerous talk, and planning should not proceed along those lines or under that flag.
All these numerous organisations will be okay and will be able to relate to each other safely and constructively if that relating is done through the United Nations. Hardly anyone has mentioned the United Nations in the debate.
§ Lord Kennet
I beg my noble friend's pardon. Of course, he referred to it in his opening speech. I am sorry that I missed the speech of my noble friend Lord Hatch. Indeed, lots of noble Lords have mentioned the United Nations during the debate, and I am proud to be lumbered among them.
The United Nations tends to produce international consensus more effectively than any other nonmilitary organisation in the world. What produces international consensus by its very nature tends also to produce internal consensus within our nations. Future governments will find it hard to keep public support for world dashes by a WEU force. They may find it hard to gain public support for a major military move to line the frontiers of Yugoslavia and Italy, or into north Norway. However, they will easily gain public support for any action taken under a UN resolution and they will find it even easier if the force concerned can become a UN force, as it did in Korea, in the Conga, but riot in Iraq.
If the Government are not able to achieve a web of justification and political reality through the United Nations, I fear that, with all their present plans, they may only be digging pitfalls for themselves and future governments.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, no one would suggest that there should not be a peace dividend. Looking around the world, there is no power that presents a likely threat to this country or the West. The planned reduction to our arms indicates that we accept that view and also confirms the peaceful intentions of the West. It cannot be seen by the Soviets as the action of potential aggressors.
Yet, while we see the Russians withdrawing to the East, they remain the great superpower threatening Europe. They continue to modernise all their strategic weapons. The Soviet navy received a record tonnage of new modern surface ships in 1989 and launched no less 12 new submarines in 1990. In addition, the cheating on the CFE treaty by transferring 2,500 tanks to the navy does not enhance confidence in the USSR. That same navy is still laying down and building submarines at the rate of 10 a year. Moreover, its frigate and destroyer programme continues unabated; that is, not just finishing ships, but actually laying down new bottoms.
1164 Do the Russians still see the West as a threat? If not, what is the justification for their continuing to build offensive weapons at such a pace and on such a scale? What would they think if we were to increase our offensive capability against them? If they have to divert so much of their resources to meet this enormous offensive capability, it is no wonder that they need colossal loans to solve their civil problems. I do not think that they have any current intention of attacking the West. But we all know what can happen to a wounded tiger. Who knows what agony that country will go through on its way to a free market.
We must not forget the lesson that history has taught us over and again. The perceived reduction of the threat and the lowering of our guard is always seen by some tyrant as a sign of weakness and a time of opportunity. General Galtieri and Saddam Hussein have been the most obvious examples. It is very false economy to reduce our arms to a point that suggests to others that we have lost our apparent will to fight. That will inevitably lead to our having to fight a war against some, at present, unseen tyrant.
The most likely cause of conflict is inevitably where two races or tribes share the same country. We see racial conflict wherever we look at the map of the world. Much of it is the result of history and, in particular, the actions of the politicians of old who drew straight lines across the map regardless of the positions occupied by the races on the ground. Sadly, I see no chance of world peace until the boundaries can be redrawn on a tribal basis so that each tribe or race can be self-governing, even if under a federal umbrella. Equally, I see no chance of that happening. However, any move towards it surely deserves to be encouraged. It is certainly the only solution that will get rid of the Palestinian problem. A home for the Palestinians will have to be found if we are to avoid everlasting strife in the Middle East and its knock-on effect outside the area.
Over the years we have built up an effective Territorial Army: it has been a very cheap reserve. During the Gulf war, there was a valuable contribution from the TA specialist services—signals, medical and so on. But when it came to the teeth arms —namely, the infantry and the armoured—it appears that it could not be used for constitutional reasons. It seems quite pointless to finance and train the Territorial Army if it then cannot be used in an emergency. If we are to have a smaller TA along with the rest of the Army, the constitutional restrictions should be removed so that the TA can be used in an emergency as, when and wherever required. Some of the members might leave. But the rest would expect to go abroad whenever called upon to do so in the same way as applies to the regular Army.
The point of a reserve is to meet an emergency. Clearly we cannot at present foresee any imminent threat to this country. But if we are to guard against a serious emergency—and we must do so if only as a deterrent then there would need to be the capability of massive and rapid recruiting. Therefore, the TA regiments should, so far as possible, be based in those 1165 areas that would provide the greatest potential for recruiting, even if this left large areas of the country without Territorial Army regiments.
But the Territorial Army needs an early end to its uncertainty. It is important that those units which remain should be properly funded, well trained and ready to move The case for small, efficient, and keen units instead of mere numbers needs no advocacy from me. But, in recent years, we have seen the TA badly restricted as regards training days, ammunition and petrol. That is not the way to run an efficient reserve.
However, even in the areas of successful recruiting, years of peace will bring out all those voices which denigrate the need for, and the cost of keeping, an army doing nothing. It will be increasingly difficult to get recruits. The full-hearted support and enthusiasm of the local authorities and of the employers in the case of the TA will be increasingly important.
There is still enormous respect for the names of the county regiments. Even the most Leftist anti-military peacenik councillor will be unlikely to risk the wrath of his electors by not supporting the local regiment with its name on every war memorial and with so many people who have had relations connected to it. Therefore, keeping the name of the local regiment will be increasingly important for the difficult recruiting of the future. There is great mileage in enabling a young cadet to wear the same cap badge from the cadet force, through the TA and into the regular Army. It will not occur to a cadet to join any other regiment unless he wants to be a signaller or an engineer. That reinforces the advantage of keeping the county regimental names wherever possible.
There may be need for fewer TA centres than at present. In that case, I think that it would be wrong to dispose of the centres in case of future need. I believe that they should be kept and let out to other reserves, which are badly in need of good accommodation, for realistic rentals. I refer, for example, to St. John Ambulance, with its ambulances ready to meet frequent calls and its expertise, the Scouts and cadets, with the valuable element of discipline which they can impart to youngsters, and all the other voluntary services.
The passenger pigeon died out, not because they were all shot. They died out because they were reduced to a number that would not sustain their survival in the wild. Likewise, it would be easy to reduce the Army to a number that was not self-sustaining. Once a regiment is employed too often, there would be such a spate of resignations that there would be no army at all. It is like putting a man on guard for six days a week because of lack of other men to do it. He will do it; but, on the seventh day, he will resign and there will be no one left to guard, much less to do guard duty. We cannot avoid reducing the services, but to go below the level of an effective and self-sustaining deterrent could be disastrous and expensive.
It is said that the peace dividend will create unemployed former service men. That is true. But as the resources are diverted from the military to wealth creation, I believe that we shall eventually, as a nation, 1166 be more in work and far better off. The relocation of defence workers to R&D for wealth creation on the civilian side should not be feared.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
My Lords, this afternoon there has been much well-informed debate as to whether the military threat from the Soviet Union has diminished sufficiently to justify the reductions proposed for our Armed Forces, particularly the Army. The continuing expansion of the military capability of the Soviet Union has been dealt with by other noble Lords who are far more qualified to do so than me.
The picture painted, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, sounds very threatening indeed. However, the military might of the Soviet Union must also be considered against the degree of likelihood that it may actually be used in an attack on the West. I suppose that two important related questions are: to what extent can the Soviet Union in its present state of confusion be trusted, and to what extent may its military and KGB establishment still be capable of deceiving us? The picture from the Soviet Union is so confusing that I doubt whether anyone can answer those important military questions accurately.
But there is at least one area in which the Soviet Union still seems more comfortable with deception than openness or true glasnost, and that is the whole field of human rights. It is perhaps worth examining that field briefly to see whether it has any lessons for us as to the degree of trust that we can place in the avowed intention of the Soviets to use their huge and growing military machine only for defence. Three weeks ago my noble friend Lady Cox and I had the honour of attending the first international Sakharov conference in Moscow. Mrs. Sakharov had organised the conference to commemorate what would have been her husband's 70th birthday. We considered the three themes most dear to him: the USSR on the road from totalitarianism to democracy and the rule of law; human rights in the Soviet Union today; and the peaceful use of nuclear energy, together with the lessons to be learnt from Chernobyl.
As to the last of those three themes, the panel of international experts who considered the Chernobyl incident concluded that the Soviet Union was still being much less than frank about the causes and results of that terrible event. As to human rights, my noble friend Lady Cox chaired a group of international experts examining the continuing injustice on a mass scale to individuals in the USSR. I am afraid that their conclusions also made very disturbing reading. The treatment of convicts in prison and conscripted soldiers in the armed forces is still largely inhuman and in effect often amounts to slavery. The inaccurate designation of children as mentally handicapped or ill, which results in their being incarcerated in bogus orphanages or elsewhere, is still taking place on a much larger scale than any of us had realised. Although it seems there are now only some 15 adults held in psychiatric prisons on political or religious grounds, we have learnt that there are now thousands of people still bogusly classified as mentally 1167 ill on those grounds who have been released into the community with no hope of a job or independent housing. Only sometimes are they offered a "disability" pension worth about half the local poverty level. They can be re-interned at a moment's notice without appeal. Talking of imprisonment without appeal, the KGB have certainly suffered no redundancies under glasnost and perestroika. I learn on good authority that today the KGB is again expanding its numbers and no doubt its activities.
I mention those facts because I believe that they go some Nay to show the dishonesty with which Soviet leader; still depict their country to the West. I would have thought Soviet deception and dishonesty in this area—which may be an area they are more capable of controlling than the military conflagration that may arise from the causes mentioned in the debate this evening—must make us more nervous of the eventual use to which their huge military machine may be put.
In putting our defence considerations into the wider context of political change in the USSR, I believe it is essential to take account of the recent escalation of violence in Armenia and Azerbaijan. I know that my noble friend Lady Cox would have spoken on this matter today if she had not been prevented from taking part in the debate by a long-standing commitment to speak elsewhere. After the Sakharov conference only three weeks ago she led an independent, international delegation to Armenia and Azerbaijan and found very serious violations of human rights committed by the Soviet army and the Azerbaijani interior (OMON) forces against Armenian villagers in Nagorno Karabakh, elsewhere in Azerbaijan proper and across the border in Armenia itself. These events are not just a continuation of historic ethnic conflict but systematic acts of aggression carried out by troops with helicopters, tanks and machine guns on innocent villagers. They include: multiple killings, torture, beatings and other atrocities, destruction of property and the taking of prisoners, many of whom have been maltreated and are still being held illegally.
My noble friend Lady Cox and her colleagues were determined to hear the Azerbaijanian as well as the Armenian viewpoint. They therefore crossed the border to talk to Azeri forces and civilians and OMON troops. Perhaps I may say that they walked for a mile across the border carrying a white flag against the advice of their Armenian hosts who said that they could do nothing more to protect them. While on the other side of the border they were shown some evidence of two-way cross-border conflict, their unanimous conclusion was that there was a very serious asymmetry of arms and aggression and that the Armenians were being victimised by the Soviet army and the Azerbaijanian OMON with no adequate means of self-defence. Armenia has not been allowed to create its own OMON forces. It has disbanded its own paramilitary troops and is prosecuting those it believes guilty of aggression towards Azeris. Armenia's crime is that it wishes to leave the Union, and its people are constantly reminded of that error as they are brutalised by Soviet and Azerbaijanian 1168 troops. There is a fuller account of that situation in today's Wall Street Journal written by my noble friend Lady Cox which I commend to your Lordships.
On their return to Moscow my noble friend's delegation met Marshal Yazov, the Soviet Minister of Defence, and Mr. Anatoly Lukyanov, Chairman of the Supreme Soviet. Neither of those gentlemen denied the recent escalation or rumours of further impending violence. Marshal Yazov said he was not interested in hearing any more stories of atrocities against Armenians; he had heard lots of them. Of course, he asked my noble friend the usual KGB question about how she could criticise the Soviet Union for what was happening in Armenia when Britain had the same problem in Northern Ireland. I understand my noble friend refrained from pointing out, no doubt in the interests of keeping the conversation going, that British troops were not actually brutalising either side of the Irish dispute.
It so happens that Mr. Lukyanov is visiting Britain this week. I trust that the Government will examine him thoroughly on my noble friend's experiences before they get out our cheque book in response to his urbane assurances that all is proceeding towards peaceful democracy in the Soviet Union, and no doubt in response to his request for yet more credits.
These current events presided over by the present Soviet government must cast some doubt over the sincerity of glasnost and require us to treat the Soviet Union's claims to be achieving a sufficiently democratic society with some caution. The implications for defence policy are clear. We are not yet dealing with a peaceable nation. We owe it to ourselves to conduct a realistic appraisal of the continuing aggression within the Soviet Union when we consider our defence capability.
The dark side of human nature has not disintegrated with the Berlin Wall. Mr. Saddam Hussein has shown us that. The Soviet Union is a huge beast which we cannot yet identify for certain as a dying dinosaur. It is confused politically and cornered economically. This is therefore a dangerous moment. History has taught us that we can deal with such situations only from a position of sufficient strength. I suppose we can but pray that the Government does not forget that lesson.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, I count myself fortunate at having been present in the Chamber to hear the maiden speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse. I congratulate him. We all look forward to hearing his further contributions to our debates. I have discussed the subject of the debate with my noble friend and former colleague Lord Bridges. I found that our views were not dissimilar. I am sorry that he cannot be present tonight to express those views himself and add to the contributions from the Cross-Benches.
The Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, calls attention,to the case for adequate defence forces, in view of changes in the world situation in the past twelve months".1169 Those past 12 months were dramatic enough, but even more relevant to our subject will be the changes in the years to come. We all know from bitter experience how the future is always a tale of the unexpected. That point has been repeated again and again today. However, that must not divert us from making with our friends and allies, and constantly revising, an assessment of the shape of things to come. That involves the co-ordination of intelligence, the exchange of information and the application of the accumulated experience of many decades. Where and how such discussions can best take place are not for debate this evening. For the present, four factors are especially important.
The first is the decline in the political influence of the USSR and its economic collapse. The Gorbachev government are trying hard to arrest and reverse that decline. Most Soviet citizens, and especially those around the president, earnestly desire to retain the country's status as a superpower.
The second factor is the elimination from the European defence equation of the Warsaw Pact forces. Those forces were not insignificant, and some elements retain their allegiance to the past. The third factor is the withdrawal of the Soviet Union's support from the armed struggle outside Europe—Ethiopia, Angola, Afghanistan and Vietnam. That withdrawal, which may have cost foreign minister Shevardnadze his job, is no doubt deeply resented and regretted by sections of the Soviet apparatus, just as our withdrawal from our imperial role after the last war caused much unhappiness.
The fourth factor is hard to assess. What has been the effect of the Gulf war on several growing and powerful nations outside Europe? Will countries with populations in excess of 100 million, with large natural resources, ally themselves with the movement for global disarmament or will they seek to reinforce their capacity for self-defence with increasingly sophisticated weapons?
On the positive side, some of those factors have been accompanied by a welcome decline in tension between the existing superpowers, and has led to a widespread improvement in relations generally between East and West. That has been reflected in some useful disarmament agreements on conventional weapons and continuing discussions on strategic arms, with proposals for the monitoring of arms sales.
It is premature, and hardly possible, to say where that will lead ultimately and at what pace. There are other factors which should make us pause and reflect. The apparent end of the cold war was greeted with such relief by us all that Gorbachev was recklessly given the benefit of every doubt. It is now clear that Soviet weapons production is being maintained at a high level and may even be increasing. There has been some sly cheating in the disarmament negotiations. With what end in view? The Soviet president's speech when he received the Nobel Prize was justifiably given in the Independent the headline, "Help us or else", as the president strongly implied that the failure of 1170 perestroika would be a threat to world peace. I am not clear what scenario he envisages. The threat could hardly come from the West.
Any sensible analysis of potential threats to the democratic West must rest on a careful evaluation of the capability and intentions of others. In the case of the USSR today—we should all pay great attention to what the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, said—it appears that while there has been some reduction and redeployment of forces, its capability in strategic and other weapons is largely undiminished, if at all.
The political and economic future of the Soviet Union is in doubt. Its cohesion is questionable. The capability of the central government is already reduced but remains formidable. But what are the Soviet intentions, as opposed to its capabilities? It is surely rash to attempt long-term predictions at this stage. As I said at the outset, we must assess with our allies the future needs of our defence. We are in danger of declaring a defence dividend purely for economic reasons. We are declaring that dividend before we have made up our minds about the nature of any potential threat or the best combination of our forces to protect ourselves against it. We have gone ahead with the idea of a rapid reaction force and decided what the British component should be.
I understand why, from the services' point of view, the present uncertainties should be brought to an end. But there is some uncertainty about the future role of NATO and its relationship to the WEU and to the Community. Important decisions remain to be reached and will be considered by the intergovernmental conferences. It seems that discussions at those conferences are going our way in defence matters; but we cannot be certain how far enthusiasm for European defence arrangements will be adopted by the Community as a whole. Whatever is eventually agreed, it must involve the United States in the defence of Europe and make action with our allies outside the NATO area a feasible course in certain circumstances.
Recent political changes have made it possible to make progress towards the goal that we have sought for so long—greater security at reduced cost. But is it not premature to suppose that that benefit is now already in our grasp and that we can act immediately on that presumption? We should rather proceed by way of joint analysis with our allies and partners, reshaping our collective arrangements to meet the needs we perceive, and going on to design the forces' equipment and numbers requisite to the task.
The question of the merchant marine has been mentioned once or twice in the debate this afternoon, but no mention has been made of the need to have transport aircraft capable of backing up our new forces. How could the Gulf war have been waged without the transport of enormous numbers of troops on special American planes? I do not believe that we have at our disposal civil aircraft capable of meeting those defence transport needs.
We cannot ignore the present limitation of our economic resources. We must press ahead with the international negotiations on arms reduction. However, surely it is a danger to allow any one of 1171 these elements to take control of our decisions. It seems in my judgment that there is some danger that this may be what is happening.
One final point that I wish to make is that we claimed with sincerity that action in the Gulf had the ultimate objective of strengthening the disciplinary role of the United Nations for which it was designed nearly half a century ago. Any British Government must always keep that objective in mind. It may be a distant goal, but it must not be forgotten.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Lord Cochrane of Cults
My Lords, as 28th speaker, I find here is not much left of my original speech that has riot been said before better and more authoritatively, notably at the beginning by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. In my view, he correctly pointed out that the Treasury had much to answer for. Also, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, reduced this complicated problem to something which I at any rate found easy to understand.
In December last year, the Select Committee on Defence remarked:It must be right to 'size' the Royal Navy in relation to its foreseeable wartime tasks, and then allocate peacetime tasks with whatever force levels result. What cannot be right is to make an arbitrary reduction in the size of the Royal Navy surface fleet, and then allocate wartime tasks to that fleet. Even worse would be for the Treasury to dictate the size of the surface fleet in the course of public expenditure negotiations".On all sides of the House, people with far more experience of public affairs than I shall ever have, say that that is what happened. It should not have done so, it is quite wrong. One of the consequences has been much alarm, particularly in naval circles, with which I now have the closest connections, although I was a sapper. That alarm has been as to what will happen to the Navy. I come from Fife; our local dockyard at Rosyth was mentioned in the debate on 13th May in an Unstarred Question by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove. That dockyard has been threatened with closure. This seems to me to be a strategic, mistake of the first order. Can it be right when we face a threat from the enormous Russian fleet? I use the word "threat" advisedly. It has been used 133 others repeatedly today. We were told on Monday that that fleet consists of 1,145 ships in total of which approximately 500 are large and potentially aggressive. Yet, although a large part of that fleet will be located in northern waters, it has evidently passed through someone's mind that our two main naval bases should be on the south coast facing France. That does not sound sensible to me.
Many years ago Sir Francis Drake said:Advantage of time and place is half a Victory, which being loss is irrecoverable".I suggest in that context that to have our naval bases in the wrong place is to lose half a war before it starts. That applies to Rosyth with the greatest force because it is the northern waters that we have to protect. They are the gateway from the Russian naval bases to the trade route between America and Europe.
I now turn to another point about which I have been concerned for some time. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said earlier that HMS "Endurance" was to be phased out within a short time. For him, this is 1172 undoubtedly exceedingly sad news. She is the navy's only ice ship, albeit now 35 years old. The other day, I received a briefing note from the MoD about her. It made out that she was little more than a store ship for the British Antarctic Survey. It would not be an exaggeration to say that in the briefing note she was so much in the background that the ship could not .be seen at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. She is much more than a store ship. In the huge area of the British Antarctic territories, she displays and asserts our sovereignty and power. That is quite different from mere interest and exploration, as evidenced by the British Antarctic Survey which is not an armed force. It is merely a branch of a quango. The British Antarctic Survey has five bases in our territory, but also within that territory which extends over 60 degrees of longitude, all lying south of 60 degrees south latitude, there are bases manned by Uruguay, the USSR, the United States, Poland—which is very odd—China, Chile, Brazil and the Argentine. We must assert our sovereignty in those areas in order to maintain our claim to them.
On 7th May the noble Lords, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, Lord Pym, Lord Shackleton, Sir Vivian Fuchs, and others distinguished in Antarctic affairs, wrote to The Times. They explained what was going on over HMS "Endurance". They received no answer. HMS "Endurance" was intended to remain in service until 1995. I agree fully with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that it is possible to replace her at relatively modest cost. I fully support the noble Lord in saying that that must be done for the reasons I have already mentioned. If we again signal our disinterest in the far south, it would be surprising if others did not feel that we had finally lost interest in that enormous and valuable territory of which we happen to be a sovereign power. I hope that that disastrous decision will be taken no further.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, I, like every noble Lord who has spoken, am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Colnbrook for initiating this most timely and necessary debate and for his brilliant and lucid speech. I am also grateful to so many noble Lords who have made all the points I wished to make. I shall, however, continue to make my points, if in a rather shortened form.
Although I tell fortunes by tea leaves, I am not seriously into the business of prediction. But what I have found out in life—as I expect many other noble Lords have also—is that it is very difficult to predict the future, because events happen often amazingly and differently from what one expects. To quote a currently well known phrase, "it's a funny old world".
When I first entered your Lordships' House five years ago, the Berlin Wall was a solid unpassable barrier and our vocabulary was devoid of words like perestroika and glasnost. The whole of Eastern Europe was under tight communist rule and the Middle East, although simmering, had not erupted into the Gulf war. But that has all changed, slipped from future into what has become history. In an article in today's edition of The Times Conor Cruise O'Brien warns us 1173 not to be too optimistic as regards the Soviet Union. Indeed, none of us knows—even the intrepid tea-leaf readers—what is going to happen. All we can do is be like the little pig who built his house of bricks so that —unlike the straw and twig houses—when the big bad wolf came his house did not get huffed and puffed away.
Our bricks are the men and women of our Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Their weapons are the mortar and cement which hold them together. Houses can always be tidied up, repointed and new mortar and cement added. But, the bricks of which they are made are irreplaceable. That is something we must not forget, for we have clearly the finest, best trained forces in the world. We have seen this proved in the Falklands war and more recently in the Gulf war.
Those of us who have been fortunate enough to visit some of our defence establishments in Britain and indeed further afield, have returned from wherever we have been and from whatever we have seen with a strong sense of the high morale and total excellence of all our forces. This year I have been to RAF Honington, I have flown to RAF Leuchars and to RAF Lossiemouth. I have visited the Royal Ordnance Corps at Donington and the training and repair shops at HMS "Daedalus". Last week I sailed on HMS "Invincible" during an exciting day of sea exercises. During the past three years I have also sailed on HMS "Ark Royal", HMS "Brave", HMS "Fife", HMS "Leeds Castle", HMS "Alacrity" and other ships of the Royal Navy and have flown in Sea King, Wessex, Lynx and Gazelle helicopters.
Last year I visited the Falklands. Visiting the isolated radar sites at Mount Alice under Squadron Leader Simpson, and Mount Kent under Squadron Leader Armiger in a 50 miles per hour gale, with a much higher wind chill factor, made one realise just how lonely the work sometimes is, and how dedicated our men are. In North Howard Street Mill in Belfast the only outside recreation area—if one can call it such —was a concrete space between two buildings. It was partially screened from mortar attack and was slightly smaller than a tennis court. The tours of duty in all those places are four months with one weekend off for rest and recreation.
In Belize I visited all four camps: Airport and Holdfast in the north and Rideau and Salamanca in the south, and drank tea from a communal army mug with a jungle patrol of the Welsh Guards in the steamy gloom of tall trees and creepers. The Army patrol the border between Belize and Guatemala, which is an arbitrary line drawn on a map—fine to look at in a well-lit office, but bears little relation to the dense forest with tracks growing over almost as you look at them.
In Cyprus I visited some of the United Nations border posts on the front line where, scarcely 100 yards from the Turkish post overlooking us, Captain Andrew Ritchie entertained us with some of his own Earl Grey tea and honey cakes from the Turkish commander situated on the post overlooking him. As we stood in the mess, we held up our cakes and waved 1174 our thanks to the Turkish sentry on duty. In every place I have visited I have been totally impressed with the dedication, high standards and courage shown by all three arms of our services. Having said that, I must also say that everywhere I visited, there has been a certain measure of disquiet and unease about Options for Change. No one knows for certain what is to be scrapped or what is to be removed in the interests of short-term economy. Our forces are very well aware of the need for economy. In Lossiemouth, for example, they have continued to use the old Shackletons long beyond the term of their natural life. At Donington workers are encouraged to find cheaper parts where these can be found. Many large savings to the taxpayer have been made in that way but, short-sightedly, the policy of the Ministry of Defence is not to reward the finder of some more economical nut or bolt. That may in the long term be a deterrent to initiative and consequently cost the Government more.
An even more upsetting concept has been that of closing down British regiments. I must declare an interest in the Brigade of Guards. My great-grandfather served as a Grenadier, my grandfather fought with the Grenadiers in the Suakin campaign, my son is currently serving with the Grenadiers and my father was a cadet in the Grenadiers in the First World War. My father-in-law was a founder member of the Welsh Guards. My brother—who was killed in 1945 —served with the Welsh Guards, and another ancestor commanded the Coldstream Guards in the Crimea. Perhaps I should add that my father went on to become a lieutenant in the Black Watch at the beginning of the Second World War and finished the war as sergeant major commanding the Megginch Home Guard contingent. If the regiments are further reduced the pool of reserves from which they can draw will also consequently be reduced. Fewer recruits will come forward and in an emergency we shall have nothing on which to draw.
I should also like to make a plea on behalf of the territorial, auxiliary and volunteer reserves, which are, as their name implies, voluntary. Unlike the regular services, they have no fixed term of service and if not encouraged they will not turn up. The territorials, the RNR and RAF auxiliaries provide not only a basis for expansion in times of crisis but also a very real team of extras who are trained to act efficiently in the event of civil disaster.
Our Army, and our regimental system, is the finest in the world. To muck it up and tamper with it must only be to destroy ultimately the most prestigious army in the world today, which also gives the best value for money of any army anywhere.
The chief duty of government is to defend its people and its country. If there is no defence then the enemy will come in, and who shall stop him? If the enemy comes in, then the country will go under; and if there is no country left to govern there will be no government—or at least it will be an alien one.
The less than 4 per cent. of the national cake which is spent on our defence should possibly be nearer 5 per cent. Looking back at the changes over the past few years, at the softening of the Eastern bloc, at the 1175 collapse of communism, we may well ask, who is our enemy? From whom now do we have to defend ourselves? There may not be a big bad wolf out there at the moment, but like the wise little pig we must retain our brick house so that if a wind should blow again from the East, or from any other direction, we are able to withstand it.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Viscount Allenby of Megiddo
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, for introducing the subject so eloquently. As many noble Lords have indicated so eloquently, the Options for Change are clearly being led by fiscal considerations.
I remember clearly that as a young officer, when I was required to prepare an appreciation of a situation, I had to allocate troops to tasks. I found that difficult enough. But if I had to do it today I should have to answer the question: can I pay for it? Today, apart from having to cope with being over-stretched we now have what is known in the trade as NMS—or new management strategy—which affects the lives of everyone in the Armed Forces. Undoubtedly everyone is becoming very much more cost conscious. But they are finding it very difficult to cope with the new financial strategy. It will work; it has to work. But it is extremely difficult.
Apart from the feeling of uncertainty, and a great deal of frustration, the announcement of the reduction in the number of ships, the disbandment or amalgamation of regiments, leading to an Army of 116,000 men, and the disbandment of certain RAF squadrons, is certainly having an effect on our Armed Forces. I would almost go so far as to say that that is salami slicing, dictated by financial considerations and not by actual or perceived roles.
The retention of the regimental system is most welcome, as we have heard. NATO's agreement to a multinational Rapid Reaction Corps is also welcome. However, one has to ask who will pay for it. What will be its real role? And how will it be trained? Those are questions which one hopes will be answered in the White Paper in due course.
The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, gave a tremendous boost in his speech to Challenger 2 as a replacement for Challenger 1 and the Chieftain tank. I support everything that he said. I should add only that the Challenger, in comparison with the American tank used in the Gulf, was more fuel efficient and achieved far greater serviceability, largely thanks to the efficient REME back-up and excellent support from the makers, Vickers. I, for one, hope that Vickers obtains the reward that it richly deserves.
My grandfather was in the Navy. He commanded HMS "Britannia". I must tell the noble and gallant Lord that in those days it was a shore establishment. However, I have an interest in ships and recently I was privileged to visit HMS "Fearless" as part of a defence visit. I also had the honour to serve on her and her sister ship HMS "Intrepid". I was somewhat surprised to be told by the Navy that she is affectionately known as "the rust bucket". I asked why and was told, "You only have to put your fingers on the deck and you land 1176 up on the next deck". That also somewhat surprised me, but clearly, within naval ranks, there is considerable consternation about the future of HMS "Intrepid" and HMS "Fearless". I hope that an announcement will come before too long as to the future of those ships which are extremely old but extremely efficient, as the noble and gallant Lord will know, having served in the Falklands. As a nation, we should be told fairly soon what will be the future of the two ships.
I turn to reserves and reservists. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said that he thought that 1,000 reservists served in the Gulf. I should put the figure at nearer 2,000, although I do not believe that anyone knows exactly how many there were. A large number came in through the back door and were embodied without appearing on any records. I believe that a surprisingly high number of reservists may have served in the Gulf, all responding to a national need at a time of crisis. None was actually called up. They were invited to volunteer and were then embodied. It was a cumbersome method of embodiment which gave rise to many difficult personal and employment problems. It was administratively difficult. The Reserve Forces Act is very satisfactory generally when referring to general war mobilisation. It was just that in the case of the Gulf it was not correctly used or interpreted by the Government. I believe that we need some form of legislation to make the Act more effective and easier to interpret.
The Secretary of State for Defence in another place gave a firm undertaking in July last year and again as recently as 4th June that the reserves should,continue to play and, in some respects, play an enhanced role in the defence of our country". [Official Report, Commons, 4/6/91; col. 144.]That is a pretty firm commitment to our reserve forces. As we have heard, there is a need to rationalise and possibly realign our reserve forces. I believe that where the reserves are under-recruited we may well have to disband or reorganise. I was somewhat surprised to hear my noble friend Lord Ridley say that home defence companies should go. If I remember correctly, they were raised to guard VIPs, a vital task in time of war. Possibly they were a resurrection of the Home Guard.
There is a need for the Territorial Army and all reserve forces to produce a presence throughout the country as regular forces are reduced. Drill halls should be retained even on a care and maintenance basis. The use of reserve forces should be more widely based and should in particular be available in cases of national disaster such as the Lockerbie tragedy. Local district headquarters should have delegated powers on the basis of "act now and argue later".
The Territorial Army is very much an ongoing and thriving part of our defence forces. Several new initiatives have been brought in, such as executive stretch, whereby young civilian executives take part in training with the local TA units. The National Employers' Liaison Committee (known as NELC) under Mr. Macpherson, continues to strengthen the links between the Territorial Army and the civilian population and encourages employers to support employees who wish to serve in the volunteer reserve. 1177 Now young potential officers in the Territorial Army attend Sandhurst and potential staff officers attend the staff college. That is a great step forward which would have been unheard of some 20 years ago.
The cadet forces of all three services continue to play an important role in society, training youth in basic military skills. Only yesterday a mother came to see me because her son had been rejected for junior service. She was very distressed. Forcing back her tears, she said, "But, sir, he does press his uniform and polish his boots every day before going on parade". At least that shows some form of dedication.
The cadets are excellently supported by cadet training teams. They also work with youth and youth training teams. Those are being formed throughout the country largely on an unofficial basis. I believe that it is worthy of consideration by the Ministry as to whether there should be an enhancement of youth training schemes. There should be some form of linkage between cadet training teams and youth training teams.
For the future, we need an effective, fully integrated command structure which concerns itself more with the needs of our forces than fighting the paper war and battling with fiscal policies. We need both regular and reserve forces which are balanced and large enough to be able to meet perceived threats. Our forces must be able to train properly and above all to achieve proper job satisfaction. Because the cost of training has risen so high, we need to make every effort to retain properly trained personnel, both regular and reserve.
Finally, the Armed Forces are undermanned. While the Options for Change are being worked out those who have served the Armed Forces are naturally worried and look to the future with a certain amount of apprehension. I hope that the insurance policy so eloquently described by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, will not be a third party policy.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, this is a debate about force levels and equipment. I do not doubt that it will affect the eventual levels. I believe that the services owe a debt to my noble friend Lord Colnbrook, as do your Lordships, for the debate.
Whatever level is settled on, we shall finish up with a large amount of expensive equipment and a large number of people who, once trained, will simply have to await developments in attitudes on defence. That is an essential task. However, it costs a great deal of money. While such a task contributes much to the stability of Europe, the waiting contributes nothing to the efficiency of forces. Any constructive activities on which those forces can embark in a time of peace must therefore be welcomed. If it contributes to the training of the force, it must be doubly welcomed. If it is popular with the electorate, it must have certain attractions to the government of any day, and in particular to this Government. If it is popular with the troops, it will improve their morale and thus add to their efficiency.
Since the efficiency of the forces will determine whether or not the level of our defence is adequate, the 1178 issue lies squarely within the terms of the debate. Noble Lords will be aware of the regularity and scale of natural disasters on the grand scale that occur not only in Europe but around the world. They will be aware of the extent to which military forces of all three arms are adapted in both training and equipment to provide three of the necessary elements of disaster relief: reconnaissance to identify the damage suffered and the needs sustained; a system of communications to convey information thus gathered and to provide a network for command and control for the subsequent effort; and logistics to bring aid to the point of need, often in place of undeveloped or simply destroyed infrastructure.
Using those skills and equipment for real is certainly constructive and thus satisfies the first criterion. The second criterion is that it should contribute to the training of the troops. Any troops exercising their skill for real in disaster relief receive a training value far in excess of anything that they attain on Salisbury Plain, Luneberg Heath or in the training waters or skies that we use. Disaster relief has been shown by recent surveys to be popular with 80 per cent. of respondents; and that satisfies the third criterion. It is certainly popular with the troops which satisfies the fourth.
I hope that the Minister will agree that failing anything better there will at least be a unilateral British commitment to a formal and not merely an adhoc disaster relief role for United Kingdom forces in time of peace. Recent such unilateral efforts have been welcome but relatively modest in scale. It has been suggested to me that the chief limitation on scale has been the rate of charges exacted by the Ministry of Defence from the ODA for the services of the Services. Can my noble friend tell the House what the charge is, for example, for a fully serviced Hercules aircraft or a Chinook helicopter with the appropriate back-up? Can he also say why it is still not possible to do what I am told almost every other member of NATO does—even the Germans have recently passed a law making it compulsory—to deduct a training value element from that charge? Why should pilots or soldiers be trained free when no one else benefits and at great cost when someone else does benefit, perhaps to the extent of being saved from certain death? Is it not the case that it costs the ODA more to hire military transport than to hire transport from the private sector? If as I believe the ODA's reserve of £70 million is already almost exhausted, can those questions be addressed with the utmost urgency?
I realise that the deployment of troops in those roles may leave a hole in the front line. That brings me to the points made by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and my noble friend Lady Strange; it is the deployment of the TAVR if the regular forces cannot be used. The Gulf deployment has shown how quickly they can be put into action. If the improvements suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, are put into effect it appears that the existence of a large reserve army and the necessary 1179 existence of large amounts of equipment shed during the thinning process of the forces that we now face will provide an instrument for great international good.
But that is still only a unilateral effort. I believe that the new NATO, with its central corps for rapid reaction, is the natural body to provide a larger, more effective response than we can provide alone. Can the Minister confirm that only France is now blocking that role? Can he also explain why, since it does not contribute to NATO's military structure, it is permitted to do so? Should that not be remitted to the defence planning committee where I believe it would receive 15 votes out of 15?
I am confident that the Government have understood and firmly grasped the principles of providing secure defence at acceptable cost. They will do so with greater effect when they have read many of the speeches made this evening. If they give our forces a clearly defined disaster-relief role in times of peace and share it at least within NATO they will give our troops the welcome task of saving lives, which surprisingly is always liked by people trained, as we believe, only to kill. The role of the soldier, the sailor and the airman is the defence of the realm and the saving of life. The Government will have done something which is cost-effective and of immense benefit to the world.
§ 9.35 p.m.
My Lords, this has been an interesting and, in some ways, a fascinating debate. I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Colnbrook, on initiating it. It is timely that he did so. The debate has produced a number of speeches of quite remarkable quality.
I congratulate the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, on his maiden speech, if it is not presumptuous of me, as a recent addition to the House, to congratulate a noble Lord who has been a Member of the Peerage rather longer than I have. I am sure he will have recognised that the House was anxious to hear what he had to say not only because of his previous experience but also because of his great knowledge and wisdom about military affairs. I congratulate him most sincerely on his speech. I look forward to hearing from him again.
Secondly, we heard a remarkable speech from the other military man who took part in the debate—the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. In his 15 minutes he encapsulated many of the anxieties and preoccupations which have been expressed from all parts of the House. Not only did he express the preoccupations, worries, and indeed suspicions but I believe that he proved them. I shall return later to what the noble and gallant Lord said to the House. However, on any view of the matter, his speech was a powerful criticism of the Government's present position.
Indeed it is fair to say that no noble Lord who spoke in the debate fully supported the Government's present position. Doubts, anxieties, preoccupations and suspicions have been expressed both about the Government's appreciation of the current threat, notably as exemplified in the speech of the noble Lord, 1180 Lord Orr-Ewing, when he was not trying to play party politics and in that of the noble Baroness, Lady Park, but also about their response to the new situation which has arisen, as exemplified in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Moore.
Before I turn to the main thrust of my speech perhaps I may raise two specific issues, both of which have been raised during the course of the day. At Question Time and at the beginning of the debate my noble friend Lord Callaghan of Cardiff raised the question of merchant shipping in relation to our defence forces. We expect a response from the Minister on that subject and I hope that we shall receive one.
Secondly, I raise again the matter of HMS "Endurance". I understand—and obviously it is only an understanding—that the Foreign Office first heard of that decision today. I ask the Minister to confirm that. However, if that is so, it is an extraordinary way in which to take such a major decision. It is not only major in relation to the present position but, given the past history of "Endurance" and the effect which the previous decision to withdraw it had in the South Atlantic, it is an almost incomprehensible way of behaving if the foreign policy implications of that decision were not fully taken into account by the Government. It is fair to say that the House will want some reassurance from the Government this evening on the position of "Endurance" and the way in which the decision was taken.
The improvement in East-West relations and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact inevitably forced NATO members to undertake a complete review and restructuring of the Western alliance. NATO will now concentrate on the rapid deployment of its forces in the event of future crises or conflicts. As I understand it, the new force will not be specifically targeted against the USSR but will act as a counterbalance to the uncertainty within the USSR and throughout Eastern Europe. It will try to curb ethnic violence and the potential Soviet threat in the North and to prevent conflict in the Middle East. Again I should be grateful for confirmation from the Minister as to the role which the Government envisage for that new force.
Ministers have agreed to establish a multinational corps structure in which members would command corps, including divisions from other countries. We have not had the full details, but I understand that the new structure will include air and sea components and a rapid reaction corps of at least four division-sized units. I understand that the United Kingdom will command that Rapid Reaction Corps comprising 70,000 to 100,000 troops. Our contribution to that will be an armoured division stationed in Germany, and a light division comprising one airborne brigade, one mechanised brigade and possibly the Royal Marines. The other two divisions will be modelled on the ACE mobile force and include elements from the UK, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. The fourth division is likely to be led by the Italians with units possibly coming from Greece and Turkey.
One major issue is what the United States' participation will be in the Rapid Reaction Force. The Defence Secretary, Mr. Cheney, offered the equivalent 1181 of a United States Army heavy division based in the USA, but no final decision has been made on that. Judging by the speeches made in the debate, and particularly that of my noble friend Lord Kennet, there is some confusion about the details of the Rapid Reaction Force. Perhaps the Minister can reassure the House on that.
One of the main questions addressed in the debate today is the nature and pattern which security arrangements in Europe will be taking in five or indeed 10 years' time. There are various alternatives. The conference on co-operation and security in Europe has an important role to play in the new Europe; that is undeniable. But in our view it cannot be a substitute for NATO itself. The NATO alliance is crucial to security in Europe. It will probably remain so for many years to come. In that connection I do not believe that the importance of NATO can be overemphasised. This unique and mighty alliance is the only transatlantic defence organisation; it is underpinned by the United States and Canadian presence in the defence of Western Europe by the presence of their troops in this continent. It is imperative that the United States and Canada maintain their commitment to NATO. Despite the widespread political and economic changes in Eastern Europe, in my view it would be grossly premature to sever the alliance with North America.
NATO contributes to, but cannot guarantee, security in Eastern Europe. A formal NATO role there would certainly alienate the Soviet Union. It would also he highly unpopular with the people of Western Europe who would hardly wish NATO to start guaranteeing the borders of states outside its own formal structure. If one puts the CSCE against that background it could have an important security role to play. However, in common with the United Nations—about which I shall say a word in a moment—it has limitations and at present cannot be considered as a substitute for NATO.
My noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby puts great faith in the possibility of the United Nations guaranteeing peace and security not only in Europe but also throughout the world. The House may be aware that I have a great deal of admiration for the United Nations. But at present, given the existing detailed structure, I do not see the Security Council of the UN fulfilling the role which perhaps my noble friend hopes it might. In some quarters also there have been demands for an independent European defence policy to be developed through the Western European Union. I do not believe that the WEU can be a substitute for NATO. Perhaps at some stage in the future a European defence policy may emerge, but at present security can best be guaranteed through NATO.
A strange sort of chicken and egg argument exists. I have considerable sympathy with those who are in favour of a greater degree of European unity, which again may be a surprise to the House. But it would be wrong to use defence and security arrangements in order to push the cause of European unity. A greater degree of European unity must come first and the 1182 defence arrangements will then perhaps fall into place. No European caucus or body of opinion should be allowed to present a fait accompli to the United States. The danger is that if that is done and a European defence policy is declared unilaterally, the Americans might sever their commitment to defend Europe. As my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel said at the beginning of the debate, the way forward is to improve relations between the United States and other NATO members and reinforce the European pillar of NATO.
If it is premature and dangerous to talk in terms of an independent European defence policy, as I believe it is, it is against that background that we have to judge the Government's response to the new situation and ask ourselves whether it is sensible and adequate. More and more is it emerging that the Government have instituted the defence cuts without consulting the United States and apparently without consulting other NATO allies. If that is true, the danger is that such actions may lead other NATO members to revert to national defence policies and consequently ignore their own NATO commitments. It is a danger that could have been avoided.
The Government will clearly have to face up to their responsibility in reviewing the structure and size of our Armed Forces. Given recent events in Eastern Europe, cuts in Western defence expenditure are inevitable. Fears have arisen before, but they are growing fast now, that the Government's response to these changing conditions is too haphazard and insufficiently based on what I would call defence grounds. I share some of the preoccupations which have been expressed on the other side of the House. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact should not permit complacency to creep in. The Soviet Union remains a nuclear power and even after the CFE Treaty, it retains the largest army in the world. Those factors underpin the need to ensure that our Armed Forces remain well equipped, that further cuts are implemented after full discussion within NATO, and that only fully verifiable arms control agreements are negotiated.
As has been pointed out already in the debate, the main effect so far of the changing situation in Eastern Europe and the peace dividend is being felt in terms of redundancy in the defence industry. British Aerospace has announced 10,000 redundancies since the beginning of the Gulf crisis despite the acclaim received by the Tornados for their performance during the war. Under the party opposite 80,000 defence jobs have already been lost with over 14,000 redundancies announced in the defence industry since the middle of last year. I understand that the Defence Manufacturers' Association predicted in January of this year that about 123,000 out of a current total of 620,000 defence jobs, could be lost by the mid-1990s.
Given the scale of the changes being experienced within the defence industry we have proposed the setting up of a defence diversification agency which will be some kind of assistance agency to help firms to adjust to the fundamental market changes. It is a matter of disappointment to us that the Government have so far refused to take any action to provide such assistance. I ask the Minister what provision the 1183 Government are proposing to make for service personnel who are made redundant by the cuts. I do not expect details tonight, but we are entitled to have a general out line of the way in which the Government approach the problem.
I make two pleas to the Minister. The first is in relation to service redundancies. I ask him to be early in telling people what their future is to be. Secondly, the Government should be generous in the way in which they are treated. They are people who have served the country well and proudly over a long period of time. They deserve generous treatment on the part of this, country. By finalising and making public the defence review it will be nice to know when the Government finally intend to let us have all the details. We have been told that it will be before the Summer Recess. If it is the day before, then effectively the House and Parliament will not be able to consider it for a very long time thereafter. It will be pleasant if the Minister can tell us that we can have the White Paper, and presumably the details that we require, in sufficient time before the Recess so that the House will be in a position to consider it.
I return to the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. I appreciate the difficulties that the Government face in restructuring the Armed Forces following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. The question arises whether the proposed new troop levels of 116,000 for the Army by the mid-1990s will give the Army the flexibility and capacity to respond to the wide range of contingencies that could arise. I should also dearly like to know how on earth the Government arrive at a figure of 116,000. It has a suspicious precision. When the point was raised in the House of Commons a week ago, on Tuesday, 4th June, the Secretary of State for Defence said:In accordance with my 'Options for Change' statement last July, and under this new strategy agreed by NATO, we shall move to an Army of 116,000 by the mid-1990s".That is a clear statement of intent which is apparently not up for discussion or consultation. The Government have taken a decision that the size of the Army will be 116,000 by the mid-1990s. The Secretary of State then used this phrase, which I confess I do not understand. He said:On that basis"—that it has to be 116,000—consultation within the Army on the future structure of regiments and corps will now proceed".—[Official Report, Commons, 4/6/91; col. 143.]If that is not presenting the Army with a statement that, "You have got to come down to 116,000. Now please go away and discuss among yourselves how you would best like to do it", I do not know what it is. If the decision is a firm decision to come down to 116,000, what on earth is the basis for that decision? On what criteria have the Government decided that that should be the size of the Army in the mid-1990s? Is it based upon an assessment of what the stress is likely to be? Is it based upon some considerations—we know not what—as to the sort of Army and the mix of force that the Government wish to see in the middle of the 1990s? We just do not know. When one sees as bald a statement as that—that we have decided that it will he 116,000 and then telling the Army to go away 1184 and consult about it within the Army itself—that does not give us very much confidence that this decision was based on defence grounds, but rather that it was based on purely financial grounds. I am reinforced on that point—and I conclude on this, as I am conscious that I have gone over my 15 minutes. The report of the Defence Committee of the House of Commons on the Royal Air Force published today, states:In broad terms … the principal decisions have been made and announced, with exceptional speed. Well in advance of the other two Services, and of the civilian side of the Ministry, much of the new RAF force structure will be in place within 3 years of the July 1990 announcement".The report goes on to say:It is remarkable that it should be thought possible to design a force structure solely for the RAF in Germany without knowing in advance what its role is to be; let alone what ground forces, in what structure, and under what command this air force is designed to support".Later the report states:It looks very much as if the United Kingdom has decided unilaterally the level and disposition of air (and ground) forces it proposes to make available, and left NATO to use them as it will".That is a damning statement from a House of Commons Committee.
The report continues:All we have seen of the planning process so far leads us to believe the new force structures are being shaped to fit the contribution, rather than the other way round".If that is so, I can only say that the suspicions which have been voiced in the debate seem to me to have been justified. In those circumstances, we cannot approach the Government's policy with a great deal of confidence. We need to see the Government's detailed appreciation and justification of the new figures on defence grounds, not merely on financial ones.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)
My Lords, by now I know that your Lordships will agree that during this afternoon and evening we have had all the elements of a highly sophisticated debate—immense variation of interest, noble Lords with profound experience and knowledge, speakers of eloquence and passion—all brought about as a result of the vastly changed circumstances that exist in the world today and, in these not easy times, the responsible way forward for the Armed Forces of the UK. My noble friend Lord Colnbrook is to be congratulated on the timing of the debate and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, I am sure your Lordships will agree, is to be congratulated on his perfect choice of timing to launch his most eloquent maiden speech.
I believe it is clear from what my noble friend the Leader of the House said earlier that our defence requirements are primarily determined by the security situation in Europe. The changes that have occurred in our continent are fundamental, and it must be right that, in consultation with all our NATO allies, we respond to them in a way which is positive as well as prudent. Perhaps the most significant developments for future European security are Germany's unification as a single sovereign state enjoying full membership of NATO; and the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact military structure now under way. These 1185 changes are being accompanied by withdrawal of all Soviet forces stationed in the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, amounting to some 500,000 troops. The 340,000 Soviet forces in Eastern Germany, for example, are leaving at the rate of 100,000 a year, and will all be gone by the end of 1994. With the absorption of the former East German army into the Bundeswehr, and the ending of Warsaw Pact military ties, the threat facing the alliance in the central region is already very greatly reduced from the levels of 1989. By the mid-1990s, more than 1 million fewer troops will be ranged against NATO in Europe, as a result of which we and our allies have judged that we can maintain our security at lower force levels than hitherto.
Other NATO countries have decided to reduce the size of their forces in Europe by substantial amounts: the United States by about 50 per cent.; Canada by 20 per cent.; Germany by 30 per cent.; Belgium by 30 per cent.; the Netherlands by 15 per cent. by 1994 and 30 per cent. by the end of the decade; and France, which is withdrawing a very sizeable proportion, if not all, of its 50,000 troops from Germany.
In his statement last July on Options for Change, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence proposed overall reductions in the size of our own Armed Forces of some 20 per cent., a smaller scale than the planned reductions of most of our major NATO allies. He recognised that uncertainties and risks remained both inside Europe and, prophetically as it turned out, elsewhere in the world. I wish strongly to emphasise that the changes envisaged in our force structure are in response to new circumstances and different security needs. An opportunity to realise savings in expenditure will be taken, but only as a result of the new circumstances and without prejudice to our commitment to maintain strong and flexible forces. I make that important point to all noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, my noble friend Lord Glenarthur and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. There is no foundation for any suggestion that the changes are resource-driven. Although the overall size of our forces will reduce, their capabilities will continue to improve, as newer equipments are introduced and other changes made, for example, to achieve increased mobility.
Your Lordships are, I know, keen to see early decisions on force structures. We are of course aware also of the strength of feeling, particularly among the services, that has been generated by the Options work. During the Gulf conflict, we were concerned to minimise the uncertainty and anxiety felt by service personnel and their families. We recognised that it would be inappropriate at that time to take final decisions on front line change, and thus we proceeded with rationalisation and other changes in support areas which did not affect our efforts in the Gulf.
There is no question of difficult decisions being put off. Through Options for Change we are devising ways of restructuring our Armed Forces to make them appropriate to the new security environment in Europe. It would be foolish to try to rush such an 1186 important and complex exercise. Where progress in our planning has allowed, we have announced initial decisions, and my noble friend the Leader of the House has mentioned a number of the more significant ones. However, quite apart from the interruption of the Gulf war, we wished to reach agreement on NATO's overall strategy, and our role in it, before we proceeded with our own proposals for the Army. Last month the alliance agreed on its new force structure, which will be smaller than hitherto, but more flexible, more mobile and more multinational. We have, at all times, consulted NATO and our allies over our proposals to ensure that our plans fit into a collective defence structure, contrary to what, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, may think.
Multinationality is not new to NATO. The alliance has had considerable experience of operating multinational formations. These include the Allied Command Europe Mobile Force (AMF), which is intended to deter aggression on NATO's flanks by demonstrating alliance solidarity in times of tension; the UK/Netherlands Amphibious Force; three standing or on-call naval formations in the North Atlantic area; and the NATO Airborne Early Warning Mixed Force (NAEWMF). However, multinationality will acquire a new importance throughout the new alliance force structure. The new structure of main defence forces, reaction forces and augmentation forces, will include multinational forces of all types: land, air and maritime.
A number of important aspects relating to the implementation of the new structure now require examination, including the composition of multinational air and naval components and their command arrangements. It is clear that land forces will rely increasingly on multinational corps made up of national units. The recently agreed Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps, for example, will include two British and two multinational divisions. That will require much careful co-ordinated effort, but we believe that it will bring significant benefits in terms of strengthened collective security, more efficient use of scarce resources, enhanced capability and operational flexibility. Multinational units will thus be potent symbols of NATO's strength and flexibility at a time when national force levels are being reduced.
In this new structure Britain has been asked to lead a new multinational Rapid Reaction Corps, able to respond to threats anywhere in Europe. Britain will provide two divisions to the new corps, one based in Germany and one in the United Kingdom. These forces will be highly capable. The armoured division in Germany will have three brigades, each of two armoured regiments and two armoured infantry battalions. The second division in the United Kingdom will be highly mobile, including the parachute brigade, mechanised brigades with armour and infantry, and they will all be equipped with high quality modern equipment. The Royal Marines will continue to contribute to NATO's rapid reaction forces through the UK/Netherlands amphibious forces which will operate with the new Rapid Reaction 1187 Corps when necessary. I shall have to write to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, on the detailed and technical questions that he asked.
I am sure that many noble Lords will agree that to be assigned the leadership of the Rapid Reaction Corps is a great achievement for the United Kingdom. It represents an important and challenging new role for the Army; one which I know it welcomes. The role is one for which an all-volunteer, professional force such a the British Army is particularly well-suited. It is a tribute to the Army and the standing in which it is held, always assisted by the support given by this Government. It shows that we are ready to continue to play a full part in the defence of Europe.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence indicated in his Options for Change statement in another place last July the likely scale of the reduction in the size of the British Army. NATO's decision has enabled us to confirm that we shall move to an irmy of 116,000 by the mid-1990s. A crucial determining factor was the United Kingdom's adoption of the RRC role. That represents a decrease of 40,000 (about 25 per cent.) in the size of the Army. Reflecting the diminishing threat there, the bulk of these reductions will be in forces based on the Continent. The British Army of the Rhine will contract from its present strength of over 50,000 to between 20,000 and 25,000.
Detailed planning on how to achieve the restructuring is now underway. While we shall seek to make maximum use of recruitment controls and natural wastage, some redundancies are inevitable. It is our intention that as far as possible these will be voluntary, although, because of the need to maintain the right balance of ages, ranks and skills, we cannot rule out a compulsory element. But I would not go as far as my noble friend Lord Colnbrook. We envisage a phased redundancy programme starting next year and lasting several years. Details of terms will be announced as soon as possible. Consultation with those affected in the Army has been set in hand. The Government believe it is right that the Army should be given the opportunity to propose how the restructuring should be achieved, and we have asked them to bring forward proposals. Given the scale of reductions, it is inevitable that some units will be affected by amalgamations and disbandments, but we have consistently made clear that the regimental system will be kept and with it its pride, loyalties and traditions which were rightly praised by, among others, my noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter, Lord Glenarthur and Lord Forbes.
We believe that the Army accepts the need for change and wishes to achieve it constructively. No part of the Army is exempt from the exercise but no final decisions have yet been taken. Until they have I do not propose to comment on particular cases, although I am in no doubt that noble and gallant Lords may have strong views on particular components of the regimental system.
Turning to the other two services, I can only emphasise that both the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force will, as a result of Options for Change, continue to play a vital role in protecting our nation's 1188 security and meeting our obligations to NATO allies. With the introduction of Trident, the Royal Navy will continue to provide the strategic deterrent. I am sure your Lordships will be happy to learn from the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that this is the apparent policy of the Official Opposition. The Royal Navy will also retain the capability to play a major role in NATO operations in the North Atlantic with our antisubmarine warfare assets, such as the three carriers and the new Type 23 frigates. It will maintain a substantial flotilla of minor war vessels to protect the home base and the capacity to participate in out-of-area operations, such as Operation GRANBY.
As to the Royal Air Force, as my noble friend the Leader of the House said earlier, a restructured force will be smaller than at present but I must stress that it will retain the ability to perform the full spectrum of air operations and roles and the versatility so impressively displayed in the Gulf conflict.
I know that much concern has been expressed about the future of the Territorial Army, particularly by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. I can assure noble Lords that it will continue to have a key role to play. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State met TAVRA Council representatives last month and took careful note of the matters raised. We shall be examining our requirements in that area and, in particular, the roles, size and numbers of TA units. Final decisions have yet to be taken. I should make clear—as we have frequently pointed out—that we continue to attach the greatest importance to all our reserves and volunteer forces.
Looking beyond Europe, the events in the Gulf demonstrated the need to retain a robust and flexible defence capability to react to emergencies which arise outside the NATO area. The conflict has not invalidated the work done so far on Options; indeed, it has underlined the importance of our original planning assumption which your Lordships will recall was built in from the outset initially in the form of the Strategic Reserve Division. We shall retain that capability with the forces assigned to the Rapid Reaction Corps and shall retain our capacity to fulfil our commitment not only to Northern Ireland but also to Belize, the Falklands, Cyprus, Gibraltar and, until 1997, Hong Kong.
Taking up the points made by my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, I can assure him that we are taking a radical look at support area with the aim of achieving substantial savings in line with the reductions planned for the front line. This represents a major challenge as the retention in the new force structure of all our major capabilities constrains reductions in infrastructure. We are therefore examining the way we support the front line to establish how we might conduct the business in different ways, not least because of increased warning time. I shall return later to the question of the number of civilian reductions.
I hasten to make it clear to my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that the Government are sensitive to the anxieties of the defence industry over the changes in prospect, but it is 1189 important to see them in perspective. The defence budget is currently planned to reduce by 6 per cent. in real terms over the next three years; but it will remain substantial and provide many opportunities for efficient and competitive companies in the defence sector. Nonetheless, companies will have to decide how to respond to the changed market conditions that they face. But as I have said before in your Lordships' House, those decisions must be taken by the management of the companies concerned and not by the Government. Consultation and information are part of that continuing process.
I shall deal now with some of the points raised by your Lordships this evening. Most important of all, continuing anxiety was expressed about the power of the Soviet military might. Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, and my noble friends Lord Colnbrook, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, Lord Glenarthur, Lord Gisborough, Lady Park, Lord Pearson and the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, spoke of their anxiety about that situation. Reduction in the overall size of Soviet armed forces under CFE and the dissolution of the military structure of the Warsaw Pact has significantly reduced the threat to NATO and effectively removed the threat of a surprise attack, as I have already said.
Nevertheless, the Soviet Union retains a substantial military capability. While it is true that the Soviets are modernising certain categories of warships and submarines overall, the size of the Soviet Navy is declining and activity levels are diminishing. We do not consider that those forces are likely to be used aggressively against the West while the present Soviet Government are in power. However, we are under no illusion that the capability exists, and that is why our defence policy is based on the North Atlantic alliance and needs to maintain an adequate and effective mix of conventional and nuclear weapons, kept up-to-date as necessary. The Government have always made their adherence to that policy clear to all.
Several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Cochrane and the noble Lord, Lord Williams, spoke about the closure threat to Rosyth. We have been reviewing the full range of support for the Fleet. The aim is to ensure effective support for the post-Options Navy. Radical measures must be considered to achieve that aim, but as I have always said, no decisions have yet been taken. We shall consider all relevant factors when reaching decisions. They include, in addition to cost-effectiveness, strategic and operational factors and the economic and employment implications of closure upon local communities.
Many noble Lords including the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, who spoke profound and sincere words of caution and wisdom derived from his long experience during a distinguished career, spoke about the Merchant Navy. While I agree with noble Lords that there has been a significant decline in the British-flagged Merchant Navy, I can assure the House that the Government see a vital role for the Merchant Navy in support of our Armed Forces. The 1190 Government have introduced a number of measures to help the industry; for example, financial assistance for the training of recruits, the relaxation of foreign-earnings deduction rules, the establishment of a Merchant Navy Reserve and war risks insurance. Our requirements for merchant vessels are currently being defined in the context of Options; but I can assure your Lordships that we shall ensure that we have enough vessels to meet our needs.
My noble friend Lord Trefgarne, the noble Viscount Lord Ridley and many other noble Lords talk about prospects for the new tank. As my honourable friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement said recently in another place, we recognise the point that the decision on the equipment of the future main battle tank fleet should not be delayed unnecessarily. However, noble Lords will appreciate that a wide range of factors must be taken into account in reaching a decision as important as that on the future equipment of our battle tank fleet. Nevertheless, it is our intention to make a further announcement before the end of the month.
My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, brought up the important subject of the Gurkhas. As I said before, all parts of the Army are considered in Options for Change. I am not prepared to comment on the implications to individual regiments, including the Gurkhas, until final decisions have been taken.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and other noble Lords brought up the subject of HMS "Endurance". Now in her 35th year of service, HMS "Endurance" has recently been to Antarctica and the South Atlantic, returning to the United Kingdom on 31st May. Her future programme is currently under consideration, but no decisions have yet been taken.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, will the noble Earl explain how it is that instructions were given that the crews were told on Monday that HMS "Endurance" was to be scrapped and there would be no replacement? Is that story true? The noble Earl has access to the naval authorities in Portsmouth from where the story comes.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, I am not aware at all of whether or not what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said is true. To the best of my knowledge, it is not the case.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, is the noble Earl saying that it is not true? The Government have been playing fast and loose over this. We have asked time and again about it. I appeal to the noble Lord the Leader of the House. Can a Statement be made on the subject?
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, I have to repeat to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that to the best of my knowledge that is not the case.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in, I think, January 1982 I stood at the Dispatch Box and fended off questions from the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in exactly the same way as my 1191 noble friend is doing tonight? In the end, I had to come clean. I hope that my noble friend is not put in that position.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, obviously I am grateful to my noble friend for those remarks. As I said before, to the best of my knowledge what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, tried to make out this evening is not the case.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene. My noble friend Lord Shackleton raised this matter very early this afternoon, at about four o'clock . It is now a quarter past ten in the evening. The noble Earl has had plenty of time to obtain the answer. We should like to know whether what my noble friend says is true or false.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, I have to repeat what I have just said. To the best of my knowledge, the case that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, tried to make out is not true. Perhaps I may please continue.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, the noble Earl is not giving a clear answer. I know that the Leader of the House has been studying the Companion. I am before the House and I am entitled to press the question. Has the noble Earl answered the question which my noble friend asked—that the Foreign Office was not formally consulted until today, despite promises? Will he give an answer? If he says he will not give one, that is all right, but he had better come clean.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, the Foreign Office has been fully consulted, together with other government departments. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, now asks a new question. The crew of HMS "Endurance" have gone on leave, as planned. A normal posting action to and from HMS "Endurance" is in hand. I do not believe that I can answer any more questions on that. I hope that I have made the case of the Government perfectly clear.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, I am sorry but I am before the House at the moment. The noble Lord the Leader of the House can always rule that a noble Lord be no longer heard, although that is a debatable Motion. It is absurd that the question is being dodged. If the noble Earl said that he simply does not know but will find out and inform the House, that would be reasonable. However, we have been told certain things on good authority. Not only have I been told, but also the noble Lord who raised the question, and the noble Lord, Lord Cochrane, who mentioned it. The House is entitled to an answer. If the Government will state that they refuse to give the information, at least we shall know where we stand.
§ Lord Cochrane of Cults
My Lords, my name has been mentioned in connection with this matter. I shall be deeply embarrassed, having made a categorical statement in that respect in my speech, if I discover that what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said is true.
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, I must inform my noble friend Lord Cochrane that he is getting very much out of order.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, the noble Lord is not out of order. He can move that a noble Lord be no longer heard. It is no good the noble Viscount, Lord Davidson, pointing at the Clerk. We need to hear the noble Lord the Leader of the House speak on this matter.
§ Lord Waddington
My Lords, I hope I may assist the House. My understanding of the matter was that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, had put a question to my noble friend Lord Arran. Before my noble friend replied to that question another question was put by the noble Lord, Lord Cochrane. I should have thought that the right course to adopt to stay in order is to listen to my noble friend while he replies to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, we may have moved on from this point, but I must repeat to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that I am not aware of any case he is trying to make out with reference to HMS "Endurance".
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene but does the noble Earl not realise that he is saying he is ignorant of the position? He may not he aware of the position but he should have found out what it is by now. That is what my noble friend wants to know. He is not concerned whether the noble Earl is knowledgeable or ignorant about the position. However, for the noble Earl to say that he is not aware of anything frankly does not get us anywhere at all.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, I have had time to ascertain more information. I have found the position to be as I have just stated it at the Dispatch Box.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, what the noble Earl thinks is the truth is not the truth in practice. The noble Earl has heard the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, refer to this matter. Will the noble Earl undertake to find out the truth of the matter and inform the House of it tomorrow? Perhaps the noble Lord the Leader of the House can help in this matter.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, I shall try to help the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. If I discover that there is something of which I am not aware, I shall gladly inform the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, what it is.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, I shall also inform the House of anything I find out. I hope I may continue with my brief and perhaps return to this matter at a later stage. I apologise to the House that after that somewhat lengthy intervention it may take a few more minutes to finish the points to which I wish to refer. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur asked about civil servants. In announcing Options for Change my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said that we envisaged a reduction in regular service manpower of around 18 per cent. He also said that we would expect the civilian support staff to be similarly reduced. The means of achieving this reduction in civilian staff is being studied as part of the work which is under way to secure substantial savings 1193 in the support area. We aim to ensure that our civilian service offers a cost-effective support of post-Options for Change force levels.
My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing asked about arms controls. We have made it clear that the work which has been done since last July to develop the proposals in Options for Change has taken account of progress made in arms control, among other factors. However, we shall of course continue to watch developments in arms control as we continue our planning for prudent and measured change. Your Lordships will be aware that agreements have been reached in principle between the United States and the Soviet Union over outstanding issues holding up ratification of the CFE treaty. The final detail is still being considered but we are hopeful that it will lead to treaty ratification in due Course.
The noble Lords, Lord Gladwyn and Lord Ardwick, spoke about the European defence structure. We welcome remarks that a European defence structure distinct from NATO is not acceptable. We support an enhanced role for the WEU as a strengthened European pillar within the NATO Alliance. We also recognise the important role which the European Community and the European political view, which is now being developed, have in the development of the new Europe. However, it should have no defence role. That should remain the responsibility of NATO with its structure and capacity which have been well proven over the past 40 years.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, mentioned the role of the TA in the Gulf. For a deployment on the scale of Operation Granby, there was no need for a general mobilisation of TA units. Some TA soldiers served on attachment with teeth arms; but the main need was for reserve forces to provide certain key skills such as medical support and assistance of aero-medical evacuation, air movements, public relations, intelligence, Royal Military Police and a range of other duties. A total of 572 TA soldiers served in various ways in the Gulf.
My noble friend Lord Ridley asked whether too much land is under the care of the Ministry of Defence. We are reviewing our requirements for land under Options for Change, including training land. Decisions have yet to he taken, but I emphasise that we are determined to ensure that we retain no more land than we require.
My noble friend Lord Elton spoke of disaster relief. I can tell him that the hourly operating cost of a Hercules is £2,020 and of a Chinook £2,445. Those costs are calculated on a no-loss basis and cover mainly fuel and servicing. Training value is already taken into account and no further deductions are possible.
My noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery mentioned his distaste for the phrase "friendly fire". I agree that that is an unfortunate term to use in relation to what was a very tragic accident in which nine British soldiers were killed on 26th February by fire from a United States A10 aircraft. A formal board of inquiry was convened on 15th May to produce findings and 1194 conclusions. I can assure your Lordships that as full an account of the inquiry as possible will be given to the next of kin and to Parliament.
My noble friend Lord Brookeborough spoke of Northern Ireland. I am happy to reaffirm to my noble friend the assurance given by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State last July that we shall sustain our contribution in support of the police in Northern Ireland. Of course we recognise the importance of helicopters in Northern Ireland, and elsewhere. We are currently considering the requirement for support helicopters in light of the changes in Europe. No decision has yet been taken.
My noble friend Lord Lyell referred to what he called "tail jobs". As I mentioned earlier, we are examining the way in which we support the front line to establish how we might conduct that business in different ways. Much more detailed work needs to be done but there may well be scope for transferring some tasks from uniformed to civilian personnel.
In conclusion, I believe that we have had a truly useful and thorough debate. I am grateful for the contributions of all those who have taken part, particularly those noble Lords who have long experience of defence matters and who, I know, have thought long and hard about the subject's complexities. I hope that in the time available I have managed to deal with some of the anxieties raised by your Lordships, but I admit not all.
How to sum up, my Lords?—
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, as my noble friend has just passed the point at which he would normally say that he will write to noble Lords who asked questions to which he has not given the answer, will he give that undertaking, particularly in relation to the question of which I was able to give him notice earlier today?
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, I shall willingly undertake to do that. I hesitated to do so in view of the shortage of time, but I shall certainly do that. My Lords, as I said before: how to sum up? It is not quite as simple as the cartoon that I saw some time ago which showed the then Prime Minister addressing the British Army in front of a huge Russian bear which was capering and blowing kisses to all and sundry. The cartoon bore the caption:Gentlemen, events have taken a very dangerous turn for the worse".No, changes in the world situation in the past 12 months have tended, on balance, to confirm the general direction and validity of the thinking in Options for Change. Last July we saw a world where there were new opportunities as well as risks, a realistic prospect of being able to guarantee our security through NATO with lower levels of forces but a continuing need for forces mobile and flexible enough to support British interests outside the NATO area if necessary.
As a result of the easing of tension between East and West, but nevertheless with a wary eye on future global uncertainty—a point made time and again by noble Lord after noble Lord—we can be certain that this Government will at all times retain sufficient defence resources both for the protection of our 1195 country and to assist others if necessary. These commitments will be carried out in a proper and responsible manner, as befits a nation which is rightly proud of its military past and determined to fulfil its defence responsibilities in the future.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Lord Colnbrook
My Lords, At this time of night I do not believe that your Lordships will want to hear much more from me. However, I should just like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and who made it such a worthwhile one. In particular, I add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Fieldhouse, on his maiden speech, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. I hope that we shall hear from him again.
I should like to ask the Government one question. I hope that they will study this debate very carefully tomorrow, the day after and the day after that. As my noble friend said in winding up, the debate has been 1196 marked by contributions of great weight from people with enormous experience: political, military, diplomatic and other. Their views deserve the most careful consideration. I hope that they will receive it.
As I said at the beginning of the debate, I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will inform his Cabinet colleagues of the views of this House. We hope that those views will have a bearing on what is published in the White Paper. That will come presently—we do not know exactly when—and I have no doubt that when it comes we shall return in one form or another to this subject, if we wish to do so. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.