All 1 Debates between Baroness Flather and Lord Gilbert

Wed 26th May 2010

Queen's Speech

Debate between Baroness Flather and Lord Gilbert
Wednesday 26th May 2010

(14 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Gilbert Portrait Lord Gilbert
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The Oval Office, is it? Thank you. Actually, the relationship between our intelligence services is rather more important than where Churchill’s bust is. The reason why Admiral Blair was not allowed to proceed is perfectly simple: the United States does not trust the French but it trusts us. There, I said it. That is the fact of the matter, and that is wherein reposes a considerable part of the special relationship. I am delighted that it continues to be in the forefront of Her Majesty’s Government.

I was pleased with the appointment as Defence Secretary of Dr Fox, whose Atlanticism is beyond question. I was also pleased with what the Prime Minister had to say on his visit to Europe.

Unfortunately, two of the three people who made the best speeches in today’s debate are not in their places, but I am glad to say that the noble Lord, Lord Owen, is. It always worries me when I agree so much with the noble Lord. I hope that I do not embarrass him when I say so, but on reflection I think I agree with everything that he said today, particularly his commentary on the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell.

The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, makes brilliant speeches here of immaculate, impenetrable logic—I should say “irrefutable” rather than “impenetrable”—and I could not agree with him more. There is no place for British schadenfreude in what is going wrong in the Eurozone; on the other hand, that should not lead us in any sense to be prepared to give any more of the sovereignty of this House to European institutions. We should help them but we should remain fiercely independent. Thank God—this is one of the few things for which I am grateful to the previous Prime Minister—he kept us out of the euro.

I hope that there will be one change in this Government from what was the practice in the Government that I supported. When people went to see Mr Blair about defence expenditure, he would say, “You have persuaded me, now you have to go and persuade Gordon”—I see that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has come in; I have been saying some nice things about him, but he can read about them tomorrow—to which the answer should have been, “No, Prime Minister, it’s your job to go and persuade Gordon”, but I am afraid that none of them ever had the guts to say that.

I shall say one or two things about the noble Lord, Lord Burnett. He gave a very good speech. I disagreed with only one thing in it: he seems to want to live in a nuclear-free world. I have no desire whatever to live in a nuclear-free world. I am very grateful that nuclear weapons were invented, that they were invented when they were invented and that they were invented by the Americans and not by the Germans. I have got that off my chest. If you like to think of a world without any nuclear weapons whatever—where no one has cheated—try living in Israel and see how comfortable you feel. I could think of one or two other places. As Jim Schlesinger says, nuclear weapons are in use every day of every year and they are keeping the peace. I, for one, was extremely glad when India and Pakistan both acquired a nuclear capability. The result we have seen: for the first time the Pakistani Army has been prepared to pull back considerable sections of its troops from the Indian frontier to go and deal with the Taliban threat in the north. You cannot ask for more convincing evidence of the stabilising effect of a nuclear bounce.

Baroness Flather Portrait Baroness Flather
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Will the noble Lord give way?

Lord Gilbert Portrait Lord Gilbert
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No, I do not have time. I am sorry.

I was going to talk about C-17s, C-130s and the A-400M. Your Lordships will know my views on the A-400M and I merely say that this a marvellous opportunity to cancel the damn thing. I also have some views on the last tranche of the Eurofighter but I shall not detain your Lordships on that subject. I hope—this is a question for the Minister—that we can have a guarantee that the contract for the seventh C-17 will go ahead because I consider that to be extremely important. I hope also that, if the Government cannot get out of the A-400M contract, they will at least look very carefully at flogging off the aeroplanes as soon as we get them so as to minimise the penal cost to us.

My complaint about the A-400M is not that it is several years late, not that it is up to 20 tonnes overweight, not that it is millions of pounds more than its original cost, not that its engines are unsatisfactory and not that it does not meet its original specifications; it is quite simply that we do not need the thing. In a Written Question, I asked Her Majesty’s Government,

“whether they have asked the United States Air Force how it performs the roles that Her Majesty’s Government envisages being performed by the A400M aircraft”.

I received a brilliant Answer from the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, which stated:

“The US Air Transport requirement is satisfied by various marks of C-130”—

that is the Hercules—

“C-17, C5”—

the old Galaxy, which is going out of use anyway—

“and the recently introduced C27J”—

which is a very small tactical transport aircraft. It continues:

“While the MoD has not undertaken detailed analysis of the US fleet mix, our understanding is that the capabilities we envisage A400M will provide are largely met through use of C-130s and C-17s, albeit using C-17”.—[Official Report, 25/1/10; col. WA 288.]

I rest my case.