EXTRACTS FROM HOUSE OF LORDS ARMED FORCES DEBATE
Baroness Park of Monmouth rose to call attention to the planning, action, and
support required to enable the Armed Forces to meet the long- and short-term
challenges facing them; and to move for Papers.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I welcome the presence here of so many noble
Lords, and especially noble and gallant Lords, who can speak with authority and
passion about a major national crisis and a major national scandal. We have had many such debates on defence since I entered this House in 1991, but I have never addressed the issue with such a heavy heart nor with such indignation.
I should not have made planning one of the aims of this debate. The Armed Forces are in the dangerous situation that they now occupy because successive
Governments have planned, as in the Strategic Defence Review and the White
Papers since 1997, but have never been prepared to provide the funding or to
examine the consequences of the commitments into which they have entered. My own party, believing that the collapse of the Soviet regime in Russia had removed the strategic threat, proceeded to close two out of three service hospitals and in 1996 allowed the Treasury to put through the sale of the married quarters estate and a number of other valuable MoD properties, including the drill halls in county towns, which had been a vital part of recruitment. These two acts had continuing adverse consequences for service recruitment and, above all, for the well-being of service families.
The Government, however, have been in power for 10 years. In that time, the
Armed Forces have been continuously involved in interventions—in the Balkans, in
Afghanistan twice, in the Gulf twice and in military aid to the civil power
elsewhere year after year. Year after year they have been more and more
inadequately funded and equipped to do more and more tasks.
The new defence aim reported to Parliament in 2003 was, “to deliver security for the people of the United Kingdom and the Overseas Territories by defending them, including against terrorism; and to act as a force for good by strengthening international peace and stability”.—[Official
Report, Commons, 3/11/03; col. 432W.]
Twenty-eight military tasks are recorded, apart from the main mission, and eight
subordinate large military tasks in the White Paper. I will read noble Lords the
forthright comments of the chairman of the Defence Committee in the other place
commenting on the 2003 Defence White Paper: “The thing that disturbs me about the whole process is that the process is driven by how much money the Treasury is prepared to allocate to you, and frankly if the Prime Minister wishes to deploy those forces readily around the world, then doing it within the constraints of what might be a diminishing budget appears to me a bit of a fantasy. You either decide you are going to have adequate forces, adequately funded, adequately led, adequately deployed and adequately resourced, or you do not. If there are going to be any further cuts in this Defence Budget, you might wish to see, and we might wish to see, them curtailed because the Treasury once again, as in 1920 with the 10-year rule, has their perception of warfare 10 years from now, which is often based on a delusion and on economic decision-making rather than defence policy-making”.
There have been enough plans, both strategic and tactical. HMG should be acting to maintain forces adequately equipped and trained to deal with the growing asymmetric threat, not least in the now unstable state of Pakistan—a nuclear power where forces are based which constitute a possible threat to our troops in Afghanistan. There are also possible threats from Iran, in terms of fomenting unrest in the Middle East, and jihadism based in Saudi Arabia. We cannot discount possible action from Russia in terms of interventions supporting Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Syria’s po