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Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, our indebtedness to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, is shown by the length of the list of speakers today. If noble Lords were to place me on the political spectrum, I imagine that many would classify me as green and dripping—in other words, as a weedy wet. But in at least one respect, noble Lords would be wrong. In matters to do with the Armed Forces, I find myself in an entirely different area of the political spectrum. I suspect that that is to do with my generation and my age. I grew up during the war, when my elders all went off to fight. I watched the Battle of Britain and lived within sight of London burning. I am deeply concerned that we should have effective Armed Forces and that we should look after them properly. In my volume of Other Men's Flowers, no poem resonates more than Dorothy L Sayer's poem, published in the Times in 1940, "Thank God now for an English war".

It is because I feel deeply that I am very worried, as many of your Lordships undoubtedly are, about the present situation. Our Armed Forces are seriously under strength, recruiting figures are low, and there appears to be a malaise felt or at least recognised by all who care for these matters. There are no doubt all sorts of minor points which can be put right, but it seems that the root of the matter is very basic. The population of this country is very dubious about the ends to which these forces are being deployed.

In 1939, we knew that a tyrant was taking over Europe and that our liberties were in danger. The doubts of Munich disappeared when we heard the broadcast which told us that we were at war. I heard
 
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that broadcast within a mile of the house in Bletchley where as much as anywhere the war was won. Our men and women willingly went out to fight, secure in the knowledge that their country was wholeheartedly behind them.

Since 1945, we have on the whole been able to feel that in military matters we have been doing our duty. In Malaysia, we were protecting a population for which we were to a large extent responsible. In the Falklands, that was also the immediate task, although some of us felt that we should never have been landed in such a situation in the first place.

However, two international situations in which our forces have been deployed in my lifetime seem to have a bearing on our situation today. Korea was a very nasty war—not that any wars are nice—where our forces fought with great courage, secure in the knowledge that their efforts were legitimate. We believed that we had moved on from the world in which we went to war because we thought that it was right to fight, to a world where we had shared responsibility with an international body—the United Nations Organisation. We fought the Korean War under that banner.

The other situation, which has been mentioned once or twice in this debate, was that of Suez, where we appeared to have reverted to the moral quagmire of the Boer War and were able only slightly to salve our consciences by the belief that our Prime Minister had been off his chump when we did it.

If those are two serious types of national behaviour, as I believe that they are, there can be little doubt about which of them we find ourselves closest to today. We have appointed ourselves the world's policeman or, if the USA is the world's policeman, we have appointed ourselves as one of the new kind of peace aides you see about. But we have neglected to ask the world whether it wants us in that role. Many of our fellow citizens, among which I number the whole of my party, believe that the Iraq war is illegal and much more akin to Suez than to Korea. After all, the UN has not sanctioned it, nor has our national Parliament. If that is so, it is little wonder that recruitment is not high, that various forms of behaviour in the theatre of war are beginning to seem morally and even legally dubious, and that morale—not of the men in the line, but of the whole network of support echelons reaching back to ourselves in this building—is low.

The defence forces of this country are one of our most precious heritages. There is no doubt whatever that we in this Parliament value them intensely. That being so, we should not allow them to be deployed in dubious causes, no matter how speciously those causes are argued. This is not an English war, it is an American imperial adventure; and we should not be lending—or giving, since some of them will not come back—our men and women to it, no matter how readily and valiantly they go.

1.31 pm

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, most warmly for the
 
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opportunity to participate in this much-needed debate. I sympathise with the Minister, who until a few moments ago found himself the sole representative of his party on its Benches in this Chamber today. I hope that that does not reflect its interest in the subject matter. I declare an interest as a recent commanding officer of a Territorial regiment, and again I thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, for his kind comments about the Reserves, which I echo. After the interventions of several noble and gallant Lords who have dealt so wisely with these issues, along with the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who considered these matters at the diplomatic and strategic levels—and to whom we all listened with great interest—it is for me to take things back to a more mundane level; that of a commanding officer who is operating at what might be called the coalface of the military.

Let me start with manpower. This is an area where commitments are particularly tight in what are called the "operational pinch points"; these are specialists such as those who are medically qualified, engineers and certain logistic trades. The infantry is also feeling the pinch. The 1st Battalion the Staffordshire Regiment is in the course of a break of only 12 months between tours in Iraq, of which two months are being spent in Canada, training hard. The 1st Battalion the Light Infantry is currently on its third tour in Iraq in three years. These are merely examples. It is well known that the Army is being forced to exceed the level of commitment in the defence planning assumptions, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, mentioned, and it will continue to exceed those assumptions until at least the end of 2007.

Now we are galloping off to Afghanistan. Whether or not one agrees with what ISAF has been tasked to do there, which is a matter for another debate, it must be observed that we are sending a relatively small number of troops to do a massive job. Comparing the number of troops involved to those deployed in similar scale operations in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles or in Kosovo does not make pretty reading. Afghanistan is at least as dangerous as either of those and our area of responsibility is large, with very porous borders. The Government bear a heavy responsibility.

Turning to recruitment and retention, I would make the observation that to retain a trained soldier in whom the Army has invested both training and experience must be more efficient, all other things being equal, than recruiting a new one. I understand we are paying a bounty to soldiers to recruit their friends, yet inexplicably we pay no danger money to our troops deployed on dangerous missions in inhospitable places. It is not that Iraq is a UN deployment, of course, but as an example, other countries pass on to their soldiers the payment their country receives from the UN for UN deployments, yet our soldiers do not receive the equivalent payment, which is pocketed by the Treasury. It is hardly surprising that so many of them leave, as indeed have
 
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several from my former regiment, who are now working for private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan for up to five times their Army pay.

All Army officers are taught that you deploy your Reserve only when you can do it decisively to turn the battle in your favour, or if it will enable you to save your force from what would otherwise be certain defeat. You never do it as a matter of routine. But we now expect routinely to deploy our Reserves. Noble Lords will be aware of how many TA soldiers are currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed that number, although significant, is well down on the peak figure reached when the Government ordered the compulsory deployment of TA soldiers; people who have real jobs supporting the economy here and who were put at risk by adventuring in the Middle East because of inadequate funding of Regular Forces.

While there are many areas where equipment is below an adequate level, let me focus on just a couple of them. The size of the current fleet of battlefield helicopters was predicated on the defence planning assumptions, which did not envisage two concurrent operations at medium scale; but that is where we now find ourselves, being in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The fleet is therefore split between the two theatres, leading to resultant shortages and thus putting soldiers' lives at considerably greater risk than they would have been had the Government rationed themselves, as they said they intended, to one war at a time.

As regards mine-protected vehicles, in the House earlier this month the Minister said, among other things, that:

Perhaps the Minister could comment on the suggestion made in the press recently that we actually used Mambas in Bosnia, a much earlier and more primitive version. While I accept that the RG-31 is not perfect, being more difficult to dismount from, especially for the commander, wider than the Land Rover and designed primarily to withstand buried mines rather than mines fired from the side, nevertheless in the 21st century almost anything would be better than the Land Rover. The Americans are said to be using RG-31s to considerable effect in their area of responsibility. As a matter of interest, they are also built by a British-owned firm. Even if the Snatch Land Rover did do an adequate job, which unfortunately it cannot against mines, with the operational requirement for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, there are only about two dozen remaining in the UK for reserve and training for future battle groups to prepare for a deployment.

The issue of married quarters was the focus for discussion at the Army Families Federation conference on Thursday last week, which I believe the
 
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Minister attended. The quality of married quarters has deteriorated dramatically through lack of funding over the past few years. For the peace of mind of the servicemen deployed on operations, support for the family must be effective. In terms of housing, sadly it is widely recognised not to be so.

What a depressing tale this all is, yet the Government seem either unaware or not prepared to do anything about it. At the root of all these problems is funding. The Armed Forces are simply not being funded to a sufficient level to implement the Government's aspirations to stride the world stage. The result is that the Government find it easiest to realise savings in the frontline, both in manning and equipment, thus having a direct and adverse impact on the safety, capability and morale of our fighting soldiers. By way of conclusion, I would say that all of this is compounded by further unnecessary attacks on morale such as the several recent and ongoing legal cases and now the undermining of the position of the commanding officer and, through him, of the regimental system, and therefore directly the confidence of our soldiers, to which several noble Lords and I referred in the recent Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill.

1.39 pm


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