All 25 Debates between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever

Falkland Islands Defence Review

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Tuesday 24th March 2015

(9 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his very kind, totally undeserved, words. The Falklands Islands patrol vessel capability will be retained when HMS “Clyde” leaves service in 2017. I assure my noble friend that we always have either a Type 45 destroyer or a Type 23 frigate available to reinforce the Falklands Islands.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab)
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I have no idea whether this is the last appearance of the noble Lord at the Dispatch Box—of course, on this side we all hope that the Government are defeated in the forthcoming election—but if it is his last performance in this role, I shall say how much our side have appreciated the courtesy and conscientiousness which he has always shown in fulfilling his roles in this House. The depth of his genuine commitment to our military and to the defence of the nation has never been doubted by anybody.

As the noble Lord knows from many discussions and debates, I have always believed that capability and threat are not independent variables. It is not an accident that since NATO started cutting its defence expenditure Mr Putin has become ever more bold and ever more aggressive. At present, Cristina Fernández is in a very difficult situation and is facing a major scandal and the collapse of the Argentinian economy. She could well be tempted to have a go at some adventure if there was a quick trick to be taken. A strong signal needed to be sent and the Government appear to have done that—that is how I interpret the Statement today. All of us on this side of the House will endorse my noble friend in giving the Government support on that.

There is one question I want to ask. Everybody who knows the Falklands knows that we cannot go on much longer there unless an effort is made to refurbish and rebuild the barracks which were constructed after 1982 and at that time were due to last for 20 years. They are already in a state of embarrassing disrepair. Are there any plans to replace them or to refurbish them?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his very kind words. I understand that the barracks are going to be refurbished. I can write to the noble Lord with specific details on the plans.

Astute-class Submarines

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Monday 2nd March 2015

(9 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, women officers and ratings will be able to serve on Astute-class submarines from about next year, but this will not be the first class to do so. Seven women officers have completed the submarine officer training course and are now serving in the submarine service on board the Vanguard-class submarines, and in headquarters appointments. Women ratings will commence training this year.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab)
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My noble friend and the Minister have already referred to the positive experience effects that one always gets in building any class of vessel, or in any engineering project, but does he recall that in addition to those effects that one can expect, there was a particular problem at the beginning of the Astute-class programme because of the break in continuity and expertise from the previous submarine-building programmes of the Trafalgar class? Does he therefore accept that it is vital that we do not run into those problems again, and those excess costs and wastes of money, and that this time there is absolutely no gap between the end of the building of the Astute programme and the beginning of the successor class programme?

Defence: Type 26 Frigates

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Monday 26th January 2015

(9 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, the Type 26 will be built by BAE Systems on the Clyde. Complex UK warships are built only in UK shipyards and we have no plans to change this. Although the contract has not been awarded, we have been clear that from 2015 the Clyde will be the UK’s only shipyard that builds complex warships.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab)
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Will the noble Lord tell the House what the incremental cost is of maintaining and refitting the Type 23s, which would not have been necessary had the Type 26 programme come forward on time? If the reason for the delay in the programme is lack of money, as I suspect, why on earth have the Government underspent in their defence budget in this Parliament—against a much reduced, severely reduced, some of us think irresponsibly reduced defence budget? The Government have underspent by nearly £400 million; the exact figures were given to me in a Written Answer the other day. Is that not a dereliction of duty, both to the country and to members of the Armed Forces themselves?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord the figures that he requires, but I can assure him that we want to get the Type 26s and the capability that the Royal Navy needs, to get value for money for the taxpayer, and to have a very strong British shipbuilding industry.

Defence: Nuclear Submarines

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Thursday 6th March 2014

(10 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, it will take place at Devonport in Plymouth, yes. There is no risk, I can assure the noble Lord, to the workers or the local community up at Dounreay. The naval reactor test establishment remains a very safe and low-risk site. Workers remain safe and the local community and environment is not at risk. There has been a very small increase in the radioactivity of the coolant in the sealed reactor circuit. This has not gone outside the sealed unit and it has certainly not gone into the atmosphere. This refuelling is a prudent, pre-emptive and purely precautionary measure and it has been carried out to manage risk to the operational submarine programme and not to mitigate any safety issue.

As far as any risk to the submarine crews is concerned, the safety of our nuclear submarines is not in doubt and we have not identified any issues with our operational submarines. The refuelling of HMS “Vanguard” will begin in late 2015 as a precautionary measure during her scheduled deep maintenance period. If a leak occurred on a submarine, it would be detected immediately.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford (Lab)
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My Lords, I endorse the words of my noble friend Lord West about the importance of having four SSBMs rather than three, which has been brought out by this incident. Had we only three boats, as people more out of ignorance of the situation than anything else have sometimes urged upon Governments of both parties, and were we then faced—which we have not been on this occasion, mercifully although we might have been—with a need for an emergency refuelling, continuous at-sea deterrent would almost certainly have been threatened.

I would have had the ministerial responsibility for this matter had it arisen in my time in office and, on the basis of the facts set out in the Statement this afternoon—the House will be grateful for the fullness of the explanations given by the noble Lord—I think that the Government have done absolutely the right thing. However, I am mystified by why the decision has been taken now rather than two years ago. Surely, once it was clear that the prototype had this important fault, it should have been clear at that point that when the first opportunity arose to do a deep refit of the oldest submarine HMS “Vanguard” it would have been sensible to have taken the opportunity to refuel. That has been done now. But surely that could have been seen to be the right solution two years ago, or 18 months ago when matters had been thoroughly worked through in terms of the conclusions from the leak that has been established in the prototype. Why the delay? That is the one thing that mystifies me about this whole incident.

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, taking the first part of the noble Lord’s question, nuclear deterrent remains the ultimate guarantor of our nation’s security. The Government’s policy is clear: we will maintain a continuous at-sea deterrent and proceed with plans to build a new fleet of submarines. Final decisions on successive submarines and the numbers, which the noble Lord mentioned, will be taken in 2016.

The noble Lord asked why there was a delay. I set out an answer in some detail to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.

Defence Reform Bill

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Tuesday 11th February 2014

(10 years, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord for the length of my speech on the last clause. It contains important issues and I wanted to cover them in some detail.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, I must have given the wrong impression. In no sense was I complaining about the length of the Minister’s speech. I thought I had congratulated him on a comprehensive speech, which had started an interesting debate.

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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I apologise. Perhaps I misunderstood when the noble Lord referred to Second Reading speeches. Anyway, I hope that I answered all the important points.

The noble Lord referred to the lack of clarity in deploying the reserves, especially the infantry. The pairing of regulars and reserves on high-intensity combat will include individuals and up to sub-unit level. We are changing the mobilisation limits to 12 months to enable greater pre-deployment training. I mentioned earlier—I am sure the noble Lord will welcome this—that we must get more of the niche skills in the cyber field and in the medics, who we do not need the whole time.

On talking to the reserves—I am sure the noble Lord has also done so—I found that a number of them want to deploy. When the noble Lord was a Defence Minister, I went to Afghanistan on a couple of occasions and I met a number of reserves, who were very well trained. All the regulars to whom I spoke were very impressed by the reserves and how well they trained and fitted into the Regular Army. I do not think that there is any pressure on them being embedded with the regulars, and it is our plan that they train together and use the same equipment. I should like to organise for noble and gallant Lords a visit to a reserve unit paired with a regular unit to talk to the soldiers.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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I thank the noble Lord and totally agree about this. The reserves have done a wonderful job. I pay tribute to them. We have all paid tribute to them. I used to go to Afghanistan and Iraq every six months when I was in the MoD, and I saw them on the front line in exactly the way the Minister describes. As he knows, reservists take it as a matter of enormous professional pride—it is a thing they really want—when their regular colleagues forget that they are reservists. That does happen. You hear that from both sides. That is a tremendously high standard to achieve. People go into the Reserve Forces because they are prepared to put themselves through the hell of training up to that level and to risk their lives when they are deployed. That is the military experience they want. If they are going to have that on offer in future, they must be honestly told that. If they are just going to be deployed behind the wire or on UN peace-keeping operations, they need to be told that too.

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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The noble Lord makes a very good point. I will take away the points he made earlier about Clause 47 and write to him on them. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, mentioned the Ashcroft report. If there is an appetite for it, I am very happy to organise a Peers’ brief on it. Perhaps noble Lords will get back to me on that.

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Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My noble friend’s amendment is testimony to what I spoke about earlier—the complete commitment on this side of the Committee to try to ensure that we successfully recruit and train the projected number of reservists. It would be intolerable if people who had signed up to fight for their country were subject in some way to discrimination in the employment and labour markets. Discrimination because of their sex, colour and so on is now regarded as utterly intolerable. My noble friend’s amendment is therefore absolutely appropriate.

I should make one final point. I think that I am right—the Minister will know the details—in saying that similar protections are available to members of the National Guard in the United States. We all know that the National Guard is extremely successful at recruiting and that it has enormous public support, including among employers, so I do not see any difficulty of the kind suggested by the noble Baroness whereby employers might reasonably resent such a provision. We all know that the National Guard in the United States plays a key role in the defence capability of that nation and is regularly deployed on operations. We should be encouraged by the experience of the United States to pursue the line adopted in my noble friend’s amendment.

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, we recognise and value the contribution of reservists and need to be sure that their interests are properly protected. Part of this is making sure that their reserve service does not negatively affect their employment prospects. That is why Clause 47 amends the Employment Rights Act 1996 to remove the current two-year qualifying period for claims of unfair dismissal where the reason for dismissal is, or is primarily because, the individual is a reservist.

I should emphasise that protection is already in place to ensure that reservists are not dismissed as a result of any duties or liabilities that they have to undertake, for example as a result of being mobilised. This protection is provided by the Reserve Forces (Safeguard of Employment) Act 1985, Section 1 of which gives a reservist who is called out for reserve service the right to apply to his or her former employer to be reinstated after they return from mobilised service. In addition, Section 17 of the 1985 Act makes it a criminal offence for an employer to dismiss an employee solely or mainly by reason of any duties or liabilities that may arise as a result of being called out.

One key strand of the White Paper was to foster an open and honest relationship with employers. Employers of reservists make a greater contribution to national security than others. We understand and value the commitment that employers make. We have seen from some of the evidence submitted—I am thinking particularly of that from the Confederation of British Industry—that employers are wary of the introduction of discrimination-type legislation, and that such an approach would run counter to the partnership approach that is needed between employers and defence. CBI members were particularly concerned that such an approach could strain working relationships between employers and reservists.

As part of this partnership approach we will: provide employers with greater awareness and predictability of training and mobilisation commitments; streamline the administrative arrangements to receive financial assistance when a reservist is mobilised; introduce additional financial incentive payments to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises; and provide appropriate recognition of the contribution that these employers make by enhancing our existing recognition schemes.

Subsection (1) of the proposed new clause in Amendment 18B would mean that Section 39(4) of the Equality Act 2010 would apply “as if membership” of the Reserve Forces “were a protected characteristic”. Surely, membership either is or is not a protected characteristic. The advice from the Government Equalities Office is that being a reservist would not count as a protected characteristic as defined in the 2010 Act—in other words, age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, and sex or sexual orientation.

There have been occasional calls for various characteristics to be given protected status, particularly during the preparations for the Equality Act. These were mostly in relation to some form of physical appearance, ranging from extremes in individuals’ height and weight to the way in which people may choose to dress. However, after full consideration, the list of protected characteristics was set as already outlined. Including reserves as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act would be a disproportionate tool to tackle the problem and could give rise to the same argument being deployed successfully in relation to a number of the physical characteristics that I mentioned. This could have the result of doubling the number of characteristics, which would have an increased on-cost to businesses, public authorities and the courts.

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Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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Would the noble Lord be kind enough to address my point about the National Guard in relation to Amendment 18B? We should bear in mind that any employers’ organisation—like any other trade association or representative body—is always likely, when a new idea is put to it, to adopt a defensive, cautious position and focus on the difficulties. Good government surely does not consist of abandoning a good idea at the first hurdle. Has the MoD explored the experience of the National Guard in this context in the United States and, if so, could the Minister let us know the conclusions of that study?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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The noble Lord makes a very good point about the National Guard, and I apologise if I did not refer to it in my response. This is quite a detailed subject. I will write to the noble Lord and copy my letter to the other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate.

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Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, I do not know that I should get into the habit of answering questions across the Floor. I would love to be a Minister again but that has not happened to me so far. I shall have to wait a bit longer. However, I shall of course respond to the noble Lord. There are the normal legal protections against assault from which he and I and every other citizen benefit. Clearly, it is a criminal offence. However, the purpose of this amendment, as I understand my noble friend, is to make it an exacerbating factor if the reason for the assault is that the victim is a member of the Armed Forces. That provides a special protection for those who might otherwise be especially vulnerable to this kind of attack. It is similar to the exacerbating factor that we already have of the motive, or part of the motive, for an assault being racial. We introduced that for a section of the community whose members might be innocent victims of gratuitous attacks which otherwise would not occur. Therefore, there is a complete analogy there and I think it was the analogy which, rightly, inspired my noble friend—if I may be so bold as to presume to answer for him—to conceive this amendment.

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I am sure that I speak for all of us in saying that we hold the same view about discrimination against members of the Armed Forces. It is a completely unacceptable form of behaviour towards the men and women who have committed themselves to defending this country, its people and its way of life, and to making sacrifices that others perhaps sometimes take for granted. Those who discriminate against service personnel, or against the wider Armed Forces community, succeed only in diminishing themselves.

Discrimination can take many forms. Some of it is thoughtless or uninformed—for example, when public services fail to take account of the special circumstances in which Armed Forces personnel find themselves. Some of it is based on myth and prejudice—a view that soldiers create trouble or are unreliable customers is a misperception that we must challenge. However, some discrimination or abuse stems from genuine hostility to members of the Armed Forces, motivated by politics or perhaps by some unfortunate personal experience. It is on that narrow part of the spectrum that this amendment focuses.

The amendment would have the effect of amending Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which lays down circumstances in which the seriousness of a criminal offence, and thus the severity of the resulting sentence, is increased. It provides for increased sentences where an offender demonstrated hostility based on the victim’s sexual orientation, disability or transgender status, or where the offence was motivated by hostility towards persons of a particular sexual orientation, persons who have a disability or persons who are transgender. Section 145 of that Act makes similar provision in respect of “racially or religiously aggravated” offences.

The amendment would provide for increased sentences where an offender demonstrated hostility based on the victim being a,

“member of the reserve forces”,

or indeed,

“any relative of a member of the reserve forces”.

It would also provide for increased sentences where an offence was motivated by hostility towards members of the Reserve Forces.

It is important that we are clear about what the amendment would not do. It would not cover situations such as a refusal to admit members of the Armed Forces to a hotel or bar. Such situations have led to widespread public indignation but they generally do not involve a criminal offence.

The Government’s view is that there is no need for a change in the law on these lines. The courts already have a wide power in sentencing to take into account factors that make conduct more serious. Criminal acts based on irrational hostility to a person because he or she is in the Reserve Forces may lead to a higher sentence in any event. I am not aware of any evidence of courts finding that they have insufficient powers to give an appropriate sentence to an offender in such circumstances, or that we have received representations from the courts asking us to amend the law in this way.

In contrast, converting the flexibility that the courts currently have into a mandatory requirement, as the amendment proposes, may present practical difficulties. For example, demonstrating to a court that the aggravating factor was present and should be taken into consideration could be relatively straightforward in some cases, such as where a victim was in uniform, but far from straightforward in other cases, such as those in which the victim was a relative of a member of the Reserve Forces. How are the courts to deal with a situation where an offence is motivated by excessive rivalry between different sections of the Armed Forces or, perhaps, a domestic dispute? A mandatory requirement for a higher sentence reduces the court’s ability to take a sensible, common-sense approach to what is really going on in the circumstances it is examining.

There is a fundamental difference between offences provoked by hostility to the work of the victim and offences motivated by prejudice against inherent characteristics, such as homophobic crime. Section 146 of the 2003 Act is designed to help to change deep-rooted prejudices. It would be quite wrong to suggest that such provisions were necessary in relation to the Armed Forces. However, the most telling argument against this amendment is the views of the intended beneficiaries. I am not aware of any general desire in the Armed Forces community for legislation of this type. The service men and women who wear their uniforms with pride want to be respected in and considered part of their communities, and rightly so. We should not put them in a position where they are forced to explain why they require protection in law in a way not enjoyed by, for example, firemen or ambulance staff. Indeed, the amendment deals only with members of the Reserve Forces, as the noble Lord pointed out. It would not extend to members of the Regular Forces, meaning that rather than helping create the whole force which we seek the amendment would separate out members of the Reserve Forces for different treatment in law. I am not sure whether they would wish to see that in this context.

None of this means that the Government are complacent about discrimination against service personnel: quite the opposite. The Armed Forces covenant has a high profile across the whole of Whitehall and beyond. The first principle, that members of the Armed Forces community should not suffer disadvantage as a result of that membership, has given rise to many initiatives which are making a real, practical difference. In the first statutory annual report on the Armed Forces covenant, published in December 2012, we described what we were doing to make these principles a reality. We are working to remove the disadvantage that the children of service personnel can face in the schools system as a result of their mobility through the admissions code and the service pupil premium. We are ensuring that service personnel and leavers encounter a level playing field in access to social housing or Government-funded home ownership schemes.

At the same time, we are working to build the links between the Armed Forces community and the wider community to improve the knowledge and understanding that must be at the centre of that relationship. From knowledge flows the esteem for our service men and women that is ultimately the most powerful way to counter discrimination. The community covenant has now been signed in nearly 400 local authority areas, from Cornwall to the north of Scotland, and around 60 companies have signed up to the new corporate covenant, signifying a real determination to strengthen ties with the Armed Forces. I am confident that it will continue to gain further support. The grant scheme linked to the community covenant has allowed us to back a range of schemes that will help to put these declarations into practice. To that, we can now add the £35 million fund created as a result of the LIBOR fines, which will support charities with projects to help the Armed Forces and their families.

This is not an entirely new proposal. Thomas Docherty MP previously raised this issue in a Private Member’s Bill and has another for consideration this year, with its Second Reading having been scheduled for 24 January. The debate was adjourned and is expected to resume on 28 February. The previous Government, in response to a similar recommendation in the 2008 report from the then Member for Grantham and Stamford, now the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, said,

“we do not think that a change in the law is necessary or appropriate.”

As a result of the Armed Forces Act 2011, we have a new vehicle at our disposal in the form of an annual report to Parliament—effectively a report on the state of the Armed Forces covenant. In February of last year, my right honourable friend, the member for Rayleigh and Wickford, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, indicated that the question of discrimination would be a legitimate issue for the next report at the end of 2013. The report, published on 16 December 2013, said:

“Our view is that, in the last year or so, the extent of public knowledge and sympathy for the Armed Forces has continued to grow—aided by the Community Covenant and the new Corporate Covenant. We therefore continue to believe that education, rather than legislation, is the key to eradicating the kind of behaviour that we all abhor”.

In answer to the question from my noble friend Lord Palmer about what instances there have been of service personnel not taken to include those in the amendment, we recognise a service person as a regular or reserve member of the Armed Forces. Proposed subsection (7) in the amendment seems to be drafted to enable debate in this Committee otherwise it would be out of scope, as it was judged to be in the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, asked about legal protection. Legal protection for all Armed Forces personnel would be out of scope of this Bill.

I hope that I have answered all the noble Lord’s concerns and I urge him to withdraw his amendment.

Reserve Forces

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Wednesday 3rd July 2013

(10 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I can confirm both points. We consider the footprint absolutely vital. Where we have had to close places it is because there has been a very small uptake in recruitment. We have managed to close fewer than we planned. I agree with my noble friend’s point about employers, and in particular small companies. In finishing, I pay tribute to my noble friend for the important work that he did.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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The noble Lord was characteristically thorough and conscientious in informing the House and in answering my noble friend’s questions. However, I think that he left out one point. Will the £5,000 joining-up bonus be repayable if the officer does not do a minimum amount of service? I would be interested in the answer to that. I think that it will be quite a challenge to get to 35,000 but an ever greater challenge to get to a point where the reservists are on the same footing as the regulars and do not suffer a higher rate of casualties on active deployment. In that context, it is very important that we should put everything behind them in terms of equipment and training, and the noble Lord gave us some assurances on that point. Equally valuable is the promise by the Government to strengthen the defence of reservists against dismissal. However, would it not be a good idea for the Government to go further and to protect reservists not just against the danger of unfair dismissal but against discrimination in terms of remuneration or promotion? The American national guard has that kind of protection. Surely it is very important that reservists, or those who are planning to join the reserves, are confident that they will not suffer discrimination of that kind in the job market.

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, as regards the noble Lord’s first question about the £5,000, I do not change my answer. The reservists who join up are free to leave whenever they want. We are very confident that those regulars who become reservists will stay and will not leave the minute they get their money. We are also very confident that by 2018 we will get up to the figures that we need. I have spent a lot of time being briefed and our recruiting figures are going better than we expected. Noble Lords will see in the White Paper all the inducements that we are giving to the reservists and their families, and the encouragement that we are giving to employers. We realise that we have to work much more closely with employers than has happened in the past and we will endeavour to do that.

Armed Forces: Redundancies

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Thursday 20th June 2013

(11 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, all personnel who have been graded permanently below the minimum medical retention standard were exempt from redundancy and, where appropriate, will be medically discharged in due course. Every case of wounded, injured or sick will be assessed individually. No one will leave the Armed Forces through redundancy or otherwise until they have reached a point in their recovery where leaving is the right decision, however long it takes.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, is it not disingenuous and absurd to suggest that you can reduce the Army from 102,000 to 82,000 with no reduction in the nation’s defence capability? Will the noble Lord set out the figures clearly and frankly? What was the maximum military force that we were able to sustain over a number of years—for example in Iraq or Afghanistan—with an Army of 102,000, and what will be the maximum military force that we can deploy on a sustainable basis under the new arrangements for an Army of 82,000?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, this was not being disingenuous. This level of capability was agreed by the SDSR and the National Security Council.

Defence: Procurement

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Monday 18th March 2013

(11 years, 3 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for securing this debate to discuss the important issue of defence procurement. It is a privilege to wind up in such an informed debate, and I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, was not able to speak, because I always enjoy hearing his contributions.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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The Minister is very kind. I was not intending to intervene in his speech, but I take this opportunity to apologise to the Committee for having got the timing so badly wrong and arriving late for this debate, which I thought was going to start a little later than it did.

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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The noble Baroness suggested that we should have another debate on this issue, and I would very much welcome that. A lot of noble Lords have mentioned the GOCO issue in particular. When the situation is clear on that, maybe we could return to it in a more detailed debate.

Today’s debate provides me with an opportunity to explain our policies and priorities for defence procurement and to set them in the wider context of our ongoing defence transformation programme. The noble Baroness has spoken many times in support of our Armed Forces and demonstrated her steadfast concern for the welfare of our service men and women and their families. I know that those concerns are also shared by other noble Lords here today, so I start by paying tribute to the men and women who serve in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, who provide the ultimate guarantee of our security and independence. That is also why defence procurement, particularly defence equipment acquisition and support, is vital. We need to be able to adapt and configure our capabilities to address tomorrow’s threats and to build more agile forces for the future. Support operations will always be our first priority.

Our approach to defence acquisition is a key element in delivering military capability and ensuring future operational success. The Government’s strategic priority remains to bring the national deficit under control. In defence, we must play our part in meeting that objective. However, we must also meet the commitment in the 2010 strategic defence security review to deliver well resourced and well equipped Armed Forces. To achieve that, the Ministry of Defence is in the process of delivering its largest and most far-reaching transformation programme. We are reforming defence procurement to ensure that we do it better in future and derive better value for money from the defence budget in so doing. We continue to contribute to the goal of reducing the deficit by looking for ways to conduct our business more efficiently, and expect to make £13.5 billion of efficiency savings over 10 years.

As announced in May last year, we have addressed the black hole in the defence budget. Through implementing changes flowing from the SDSR, we have brought the budget into balance. That means that, for the first time in a generation, our programme is affordable within the resources that we expect to have available to us. It provides a necessary foundation for our future approach to defence procurement and the implementation of the reforms recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Levene.

Having established a core equipment programme last year, we are now concentrating on its delivery. We will spend around £160 billion on equipment over the next 10 years, covering our current commitments, the major equipment programmes announced in the SDSR, and deterrent and equipment support costs. In January this year, we published for the first time a detailed summary of our equipment plan, setting out priorities and budgets for equipment procurement and support over the next 10 years. This was accompanied by a National Audit Office assessment of its affordability, and we are delighted that, in its report, the NAO recognised the progress that we had made in putting in place the changes needed to achieve and maintain affordability.

The core programme delivers the major force element set out in the SDSR. This, with the headroom and contingency provision that we have built in to protect the programme from emerging risks, will provide us with the flexibility to determine our procurement priorities in accordance with operational priorities and not simply on the basis of immediate affordability. It will also provide the defence industry with greater clarity on which to plan for the future.

Through the equipment plan we will deliver significant enhancements to our fighting capabilities, including completion of the two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, significant investment in the Lightning II aircraft—which together will provide a high-end power projection capability for decades to come—completion of the Astute class attack submarine programme, an upgrade to our fleet of Warrior infantry fighting vehicles, continued development of the Scout and significant enhancements to air transport through the new A400M aircraft.

Our first priority for defence procurement has therefore been to establish a solid foundation from which we can deliver the necessary capabilities for our Armed Forces to do their job. We have made good progress in this and, as an ongoing priority, will continue to apply rigorous management to ensure that the budget remains in balance in the years to come.

I would highlight that the latest NAO Major Projects Report, published in January this year, stated that annual cost increases for our 16 biggest programmes in the financial year 2011-12 were only one-seventh of what was in the comparable report two years earlier. Although we have much more to do, we are moving in the right direction.

We have also sought to reform our approach to how we conduct procurement. In February last year, the Government published their White Paper, National Security Through Technology. This provides a framework for equipping our Armed Forces with the best possible capabilities that we can afford through the equipment plan and, in so doing, for achieving the best possible value for money.

We will seek to fulfil the UK’s defence and security requirements through open competition in the domestic and global market and buy off the shelf, where appropriate, to take full advantage of the competitive international market. However, where capabilities are essential to our national security, such as nuclear submarines and complex weapons, we will seek to protect our operational advantage and freedom of action. We will also maintain our investment in science and technology. In taking this approach, we recognise the important part played by the UK defence industry. Our policy, through the White Paper, is designed to provide the catalyst for making UK industry competitive and therefore able to win a large proportion of additional orders within the global market through successful exports. A healthy and competitive defence industry in the UK is able to sustain many UK jobs and thus make a vital contribution to growth and a rebalanced economy. We are also opening up opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises. In the last financial year, some 40% of contracts by volume were awarded to small and medium-sized enterprises, and there is scope for this to increase still further.

Looking to the future, reforming the acquisition system is a key priority and a core element of our work to transform defence. We will take a major step forward in April, when the new defence operating model goes live and the newly empowered service and joint forces commands assume responsibility for setting equipment and support requirements. This is an important part of our work to implement the recommendations of the defence reform report of the noble Lord, Lord Levene.

Major structural reform of defence equipment and support organisation is also central to this process. It will ensure that we have the structures, management and skills necessary to deliver the right equipment to our Armed Forces at the right time and at the right cost. Preliminary work undertaken to date has identified a government-owned, contractor-operated entity known as GOCO as the preferred future operating model for defence equipment support. This needs to be tested further before any final decisions are made. A decision will be made shortly on whether to move into an assessment phase. If agreed, this would see the GOCO model tested against a robust public sector comparator. This would work towards producing a final business case that will recommend a future operating model for defence equipment and support. We would expect a decision to be made in 2014.

A lot of very important questions were asked. I will do my best to answer them, but I am conscious that I may not be able fully to answer all of them, so in some cases I will write to noble Lords in more detail. The noble Baroness and other noble Lords asked about GOCO and whether a compelling case had been made for reform. Proposals for an assessment phase are currently being considered. If approved, the assessment phase will involve developing GOCO options through negotiations with potential private sector partners. A robust public sector comparator will be developed in parallel. As I said, a decision will be made shortly.

The noble Baroness asked whether a final decision on GOCO had been made. The answer is no. We are currently considering whether to move into an assessment phase that will allow us to make a comparison between GOCO and an in-house comparator. It will look at how far defence equipment and support can be improved in the public sector. The noble Baroness also asked about our allies’ views on GOCO. We are working closely with our international partners to assess the impact of any potential changes and will continue to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, asked whether one partner could cope. We envisage that there is likely to be a consortium to cover a diverse range of activities. He asked whether there was an appetite in the private sector. We have engaged with potential partners throughout, and they seem keen. He asked about bankruptcy and falling short. We will ensure that procurement activity does not collapse.

The noble Baroness asked whether there was a government plan to ensure both skills and an affordable programme, and what new skills would be required. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also asked about skills and apprenticeships. For defence equipment and support, we are ensuring that we have the necessary skills to ensure that safety is not compromised. We place the highest priority on filling safety-critical posts with suitably qualified people. We continue to recruit apprentices, for example in the field of engineering, to continually refresh our skills base and ensure that we will have the right skills in future to support our Armed Forces.

The noble Baroness asked about the 1% rise from 2015. This applies to the equipment part of the budget, which is 40% of the overall defence budget. It is not a 1% year-on-year increase from 2015. We have taken what we thought was adequate for the equipment budget and increased it by 1% from 2015. The equipment programme is now affordable within available resources.

Finally, the noble Baroness asked about science and technology. A White Paper, National Security Through Technology, recognises the importance of science and technology. The Government are committed to sustaining investment in science and technology at a minimum of 1.2% of the defence budget. The publication of our 10-year equipment plan will enable industry to plan future investment with greater confidence.

I have run out of time. I am aware that I have not been able to answer every question, but I will write to noble Lords.

Somalia: Piracy (EUC Report)

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Monday 11th March 2013

(11 years, 3 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever)
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My Lords, I begin by acknowledging the quality of the contributions to this debate. Noble Lords have demonstrated a keen and impressive grasp of this very complicated issue. I praise in particular the excellent work of my noble friend Lord Teverson and the other committee members in compiling the report on Operation Atalanta.

Operation Atalanta has successfully contained, constrained and deterred acts of piracy. None the less, the UK’s longer-term aim is to eradicate the underlying causes of the instability that affects Somalia and gives rise to acts of piracy, and several noble Lords have made that point today. This can be achieved only by addressing the root causes of the problems in Somalia. EUTM Somalia and EUCAP NESTOR, launched as part of the EU’s contribution to an overall strategy for the Horn of Africa, aim to provide a comprehensive solution to Somalia’s problems. In time these missions, alongside AMISOM, will create a secure and stable Somalia, remove the incentives for piracy and develop the capacity of coastal states in the region to police their own coastlines.

The UK remains fully supportive of Operation Atalanta’s mandate and is committed to the continued command of Operation Atalanta from Northwood for the current mandate, which expires in December 2014. International pressure on the pirates must be maintained in order to prevent a significant resurgence of activity. While any formal decision to extend Operation Atalanta’s mandate beyond 2014 is unlikely to be taken in the immediate future, the EU has demonstrated a firm commitment to its counter-piracy efforts, including through enhancing the mandate with agreement on the use of autonomous vessel protection detachments and the disruption of pirate logistics dumps. Additionally, the launch of EUCAP NESTOR and a growing EU diplomatic role send further strong signals of increasing EU engagement.

The degree of maritime co-operation between the three core international counter-piracy forces—the EU’s Operation Atalanta, the US-led Combined Maritime Forces Combined Task Force 151 and NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield—is among the best that we have ever seen. The three operations provide a variety of effective framework opportunities for third-state contributions to anti-piracy efforts to further enhance international co-operation, evidenced recently when Royal Thai naval forces commanded a Combined Maritime Forces task force from a UK vessel. The shared awareness and deconfliction mechanism has also helped to ensure that military efforts in the region are effectively co-ordinated between international partners.

The threat from piracy remains a serious problem, but results and trends suggest that Operation Atalanta, in conjunction with other measures to counter piracy, is proving effective. For example, as of 7 March this year, two vessels and 60 hostages were being held off the Somali coast, the lowest levels held by pirates since September 2009. I hate to correct my noble friend but two vessels and 48 hostages were released over the weekend, so the figures that I have quoted are the accurate ones. This compares favourably with May 2011, when 23 ships and 503 hostages were held. Attacks and pirating of vessels are down by over 75% during the past 12 months. However, I emphasise that these gains remain reversible and it is vital that we do not relieve any of the considerable pressure that is currently being brought to bear on the Somali pirates.

The ability to prosecute and detain convicted pirates is an important element of our strategy to combat piracy and is an effective deterrent. Over 1,200 suspects or convicted pirates are being held in 21 states across the world. The Seychelles currently holds 101, representing some 20% of its prison population, while Kenya holds 147. We continue to support regional partners in developing local prosecutorial capacity.

Capacity-building assistance is being provided to the Seychellois justice sector by the international community. For example, the UK has provided funding to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime for the work of its counter-piracy programme, which has included work with Montagne Posée prison in the Seychelles. A new 60-cell block was opened there in September 2011 to help with the detention of suspected and convicted pirates. The UK has provided assistance to the Attorney-General’s Office by seconding two prosecutors from the Crown Prosecution Service to assist with the prosecution of suspected pirates.

A longer-term solution to develop Somali capability and ownership of the piracy problem is being implemented by the UNODC’s post-trial transfer programme, which returns pirates convicted in regional jurisdictions to Somalia to serve out the balance of their sentences. The programme has so far transferred 59 convicted pirates from the Seychelles to Somaliland under the terms of a bilateral memorandum of understanding, the agreement of which was facilitated by the United Kingdom at the London conference on Somalia. Further transfers from the Seychelles are anticipated this year.

I turn to the specific questions asked by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, asked what political progress had been made in Somalia. Real political progress has been made there in recent months. The transitional period concluded on 10 September with the election of a new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. This was a significant moment in Somalia and an important step towards a renewed political process. The London Conference on Somalia in February 2012 brought the international community together to support this process and, for the first time in years, it was run in consultation with the Somali people through their elders. They led a process to draw up a new constitution and formed a new parliament which elected a new president.

It is clear that, after two decades of conflict and instability, the people of Somalia want to usher in a new era of peace, security and democracy. Recent political progress marks a new chapter in their history. The end of the transition is the best opportunity in years to make progress towards peace and stability. Already, people are rebuilding their properties and businesses; confidence is increasing; and the diaspora is returning.

My noble friend Lord Jopling and the noble Lord, Lord Radice, mentioned the 959 pirates who were released. They asked what was the basis of the amnesty and why did this not apply to the “godfathers”. This amnesty referred to the boys who had committed acts of piracy at sea but did not apply to the financial backers or the senior leaders of the pirate action groups. My noble friend Lord Jopling asked for the Government’s response to the committee’s recommendation for an increased contribution from the Gulf states. We are working closely with a number of the Gulf states, particularly the UAE, Bahrain and Oman, and organisations such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The UAE has commanded the Combined Maritime Forces Combined Task Force 151 and Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the UAE all provide bases for Royal Navy ships. They all share information with coalition forces.

My noble friend Lord Jopling also asked whether, as the number of attacks reduces, there is a temptation to relax our presence there. Military response must remain proportional to the threat until the root causes of piracy have been addressed ashore. This is now occurring via EUCAP NESTOR and other capacity-building initiatives. Meanwhile, Operation Atalanta, NATO and the CTF 151 continue their deterrent patrols which deliver the time and space to allow development activity to take place ashore.

My noble friend asked whether pirates would be returned to Somalia. The committee did not consider this to be sensible given the level of prison security. He asked would the UN prison remain unused. The UN has refurbished a prison in Somaliland which is currently housing convicted pirates returned from the Seychelles. Work is on the way to building additional penal facilities. This is crucial to Somalia’s ongoing development. Building justice and the rule of law is a priority for the new Somali president.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, pointed out that the example of success on Operation Atalanta should be included as part of the balance of competences review. Operation Atalanta will be part of a case study on common security and defence policy activities in the Horn of Africa. The noble Lord said that the committee’s conclusion in respect of ransom payments was wholly inadequate because these are criminal payments. Companies assembling ransoms in the UK must seek consent from the Serious Organised Crime Agency prior to payment. The Government do not make or facilitate substantive concessions to hostage-takers, including the payment of ransom. I would point out that it is not against UK law to pay piracy ransoms.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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On that point, do the Government believe that it is a satisfactory situation that these payments are not illegal?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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We agree with the noble Lord that it is not a satisfactory situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Jay, asked whether the United Kingdom continued to strengthen the African Union in Somalia. Support through the EU training mission will continue. The UK continues to support AMISOM in Mogadishu, which is the military arm of the AU in Somalia and was critical to the recent successful retaking of Kismayo that forced al-Shabaab out of one of its key strongholds and away from a key source of revenue. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, as a former ambassador to Paris, for his encouraging words on our support to the French over Mali.

The noble Lord also mentioned west African piracy. The situation there is much more maritime criminality than piracy—the theft of cargo, illegal bunkering et cetera—and should not be seen as similar to that in Somalia. As such, it is clearly the role of national police forces to deal with it. The Royal Navy is taking action where it can, predominantly in terms of training and capacity-building: HMS “Dauntless”, HMS “Edinburgh” and HMS “Argyll” have all recently worked in this area. The noble Lord asked what effect the destabilisation of Mali might have on wider UK interests. It would allow ungoverned space from which terrorists could operate, plan and launch attacks with impunity, and could also destabilise other parts of Africa such as Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

The noble Lord, Lord Radice, asked what the United Kingdom and the EU are doing to meet the threat in west Africa, whether the Royal Navy will deploy assets to west Africa and whether we will apply the lessons from Somalia to west Africa. Lessons are being learnt from Somalia and applied to west Africa. The UK is supporting the industry initiative to create a regional maritime trade information-sharing centre. The Royal Navy deployment has helped build capacity aboard vessels and it is helping to train maritime law enforcement officers and develop maritime legal frameworks to prosecute maritime crime. Corruption locally is the biggest threat.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked how EUCAP NESTOR is progressing. The answer is: as well as can be expected. Building capacity where none has existed for 20 years is a great challenge. It involves preparing assessments of what is required, identifying key leaders who will have to drive forward development on behalf of the Somali Government and people, working in conjunction with various institution-building initiatives and prioritising where EU funds need to be spent.

The noble Baroness asked what the Government’s view is on dumping toxic waste off the coast of Somalia. Historical reports of toxic dumping in the early days of piracy cannot be denied, but it has reduced significantly owing to the naval presence in the area. Recent reports to the UN Security Council have failed to provide evidence of toxic dumping off the Somali coast. This Government remain committed to working with international partners to tackle all the reasons used to justify committing acts of piracy.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked me to congratulate Kenya and the Seychelles on their efforts and asked what the Government’s attitude was towards Operation Atalanta. Regional partners are an essential part of the UK’s counter-piracy strategy. The Seychelles are leading the effort, having recognised the threats from piracy to tourism and their fishing and maritime industries. We commend their continuing efforts and those of Kenya.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked whether there was a change in the department responsible, as I am responding to this debate, and whether it reflects a change in the Government’s approach to piracy. There is no change in the department. The Ministry of Defence led the written response to this committee, and it is therefore fitting that I attend this debate now. This Government remain committed to countering the threat of piracy in the Indian Ocean and to working with our international partners.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked whether the Puntland maritime police force would be allowed to resume its activities. The Puntland maritime police force is a local militia trained by a private security company and it received weapons in breach of the UN sanctions regime in force for Somalia. The decision to employ or allow the activities of the PMPF rests with the new Government of Somalia.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked whether the Government’s allocation of ships to Atalanta remains as per the report. The answer is yes. We allocate ships on a case-by-case basis, and it may not be the most effective use of ships to allocate them to Atalanta rather than to other coalitions. This is kept under constant review and plans made accordingly. A Royal Navy helicopter is currently assigned to Atalanta, working from a front ship. The noble Lord asked whether, given the current situation, the Government would support extension of Atalanta’s mandate. The EU is beginning a strategic review of Operation Atalanta, and we remain committed to supporting this mission.

The piracy threat cannot be dealt with through military means alone. It will require a sustained international effort that addresses not only the threat from pirates but institutional incapacity. The UK is ultimately seeking greater coherence between EUTM, Atalanta and Op NESTOR within the overall EU Horn of Africa strategy but also with other international and UK unilateral activity. All the symptoms—terrorism, piracy and migration—are a result of the causes of instability in Somalia. EUTM does not currently link directly to the other CSDP missions but rather to the wider EU strategy as part of the comprehensive approach to Somalia. Linking missions with diplomatic and developmental tools should enable the EU to take a lead internationally in seeking to bring stability and governance to the country and wider region.

Armed Forces: Army Basing Plan

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Tuesday 5th March 2013

(11 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I can confirm for my noble friend that the runway at Leuchars will be kept in operation. I think that a university air squadron is based there and will continue to use it. Once the Typhoons have moved up to RAF Lossiemouth, we would want it as a failsafe runway for Lossiemouth.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, it is the wrong decision to bring back the Army from Germany at present, and to do so at very considerable cost. The Minister mentioned the figure of £1.8 billion. That would have been enough to have kept Nimrod going, to have maintained a Harrier strike force and to have bought all 22 Chinooks. The Government have demonstrated a very perverse order of priorities in this decision. It also deprives the Army of the training opportunities available in Germany which are much more extensive than Salisbury Plain, as the Minister knows very well, and of course of the opportunity for close collaboration in Germany with the Bundeswehr and the American army units stationed there, so it was the wrong decision. However, perhaps I may ask the Minister for a figure that he has not given. What is the estimate of the incremental costs in the future of flying our troops for training in Germany, Canada or in other places where they need more extensive training grounds—a need that would not have arisen had we maintained our position in Germany?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord always finds something wrong with the announcements I make, but he forgets the very difficult financial situation that we inherited. I would point out that although we are spending a certain amount of money on bringing our troops back from Germany, huge savings of at least £240 million a year will be made from there on. I would much rather see the money spent in this country than in Germany.

Armed Forces: Redundancies

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Tuesday 22nd January 2013

(11 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, the Government’s record in this area is not a good one. Within a few months of getting rid of our carrier strike capability, we found ourselves regretting the absence of a carrier in the Libyan operation and were forced to spend even more money hiring an Italian naval base and providing in-flight refuelling which we would not otherwise have needed. In the present state of affairs, is there not all too great a chance that we might soon regret this hasty decision to reduce our Army, which was taken in rather different circumstances a couple of years ago?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I am sorry to hear that from the noble Lord. These redundancies are not new, and were part of the difficult decisions that had to be made to tackle the multi-million pound defence deficit which we inherited from the previous Government.

Armed Forces: Long-Term Care

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Wednesday 19th December 2012

(11 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I can answer my noble friend. In Iraq, of the 222 UK casualties listed as having serious or very serious injuries, 25, that is 11%, were members of the Reserve Forces. In Afghanistan, of the 591 UK casualties listed, 22—4%—were reservists. Those reservists who sustained wounds or illness while mobilised will be retained in service prior to being demobilised and returning to work, to ensure that they receive the best possible welfare support and care and are eligible for the full range of Defence Medical Services care. Once reservists have been demobilised, their local reserve unit continues to ensure that they have access to welfare services.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, when we were in government there was a rule that no one would ever be fired from the services as a result of wounds sustained in the course of duty. Anybody in those circumstances always had a choice of taking a compensation payment and an immediate pension if he or she preferred or taking a compensation payment and remaining in service. I will never forget the occasion when, talking to someone doing an important job in Camp Bastion, I suddenly realised that what he had in place of a left leg was a wheel. Is that rule still in force and will the Government commit to maintain it?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, to the best of my knowledge that rule is still in place. If it is not, I will write to the noble Lord.

Future Reserves 2020

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Thursday 8th November 2012

(11 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support. Over the years I have very much enjoyed chatting to him about his distinguished military experiences over 12 years, and I very much hope that he will give his input into this consultation process. We want to change the situation. The noble Lord was critical of the past. We want to change all this, whereby employers, regulars and reservists all have a clear view of where they stand and have plenty of warning if there is mobilisation. That is important. I cannot comment on the noble Lord’s question about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, it is a pleasure and a considerable relief for once to be able to welcome a government Statement on defence policy, and I do so unreservedly. As the noble Lord knows, I am very much in favour of this initiative and I congratulate him on it. I also congratulate General Houghton and Julian Brazier, whose initial study has led to these proposals and provided some of the background. I have just two concerns that I should like to put to the Minister. First, is it not the case that if our reservists are even slightly less well trained and experienced than regulars, we may have more casualties in future operations? That risk can be mitigated only by rigorous and probably more extensive pre-deployment training. Are the Government focused on that?

Secondly, incentives are splendid and, of course, no one would wish coercive legislation on employers, but is it not the case that this will not work at all unless reservists have complete legal protection, as they do in the United States, against discrimination by employers or potential employers in the matter of recruitment, promotion and remuneration? That system seems to work extremely well in the United States. As the noble Lord knows, it has been in operation for a long time; it seems to be widely accepted by American employers and by American society as a whole; and, of course, as we all know, the National Guard plays a vital role in American overseas operations. Does the noble Lord agree that that issue cannot be ducked and needs to be accommodated in the legislation the Government propose?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his support and I will pass on his words too to the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, and Julian Brazier, the Member of Parliament for Canterbury, who both work very hard. I attended a number of meetings and they were very grateful for the noble Lord’s support. He asked if reservists would be put at greater risk. For reservists doing specialised roles for which they will be trained, pre-deployment training will bring them up to the required levels. The training for reservists will obviously be much greater and they will go into any mobilised operation as well trained as regulars—they will have the same kit, the same uniform—and we will do our very best to ensure that that does not happen.

The noble Lord’s last question, I think, was whether there will be any change to legislation. The integration of reserves within the whole force means that reservists will routinely be part of military deployments at home and abroad. In order to enable this we propose changes to the current legislative power to use and call out reservists. Following the consultation in spring 2013 a White Paper will set out in detail our proposals on, among other things, any legislation necessary to underpin our vision for the reserves.

Armed Forces Day

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Thursday 28th June 2012

(11 years, 12 months ago)

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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, the independent review by Sir John Holmes of the rules applicable to the awarding of military medals is currently under way. He is considering all known campaigns for medals, including the case for a national defence medal, and will report reasonably soon.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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I know the noble Lord is a great supporter of our Armed Forces and stands up for them on many occasions. Will he therefore join me in condemning the absolutely despicable behaviour of the publican of Browns bar in Coventry the other day who refused to admit two soldiers, who had been taking part in a military funeral, because they were wearing their uniforms? Will he look again at the recommendations—there were 40 in all—of the national recognition of the Armed Forces inquiry in the last Parliament? One of those recommendations was that we should outlaw discrimination against armed services personnel and provide the same kind of protection that we provide against discrimination on grounds of sex, race, sexuality or disability, so that these incidents never happen again.

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I agree entirely with what the noble Lord said about that terrible act in the bar at the time of the funeral of the serviceman who was killed. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who commissioned the report of inquiry into national recognition of the Armed Forces when he was Defence Minister, which of course led to the setting up of Armed Forces Day.

Defence Budget

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Monday 14th May 2012

(12 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I share my noble friend’s views. I am a strong supporter of the union and the Scottish regiments. My brother served in a Scottish regiment. I have the highest respect for them.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, the noble Lord’s own remarks in the House today have been temperate and statesmanlike, as they always are. Yet the Statement that he read out from the Secretary of State was tendentious, and quite disgracefully so. The great difference between the Labour Government and the Conservative-led coalition in defence spending is that we built up the nation’s Armed Forces. We increased real spending by more than 10 per cent. This coalition has run down the numbers in our Armed Forces by 20 per cent and disgracefully exposed us to having no carrier strike capability for 10 years. The noble Lord said that the equipment in Afghanistan was better than it had ever been. I wonder as a result of which decisions that equipment came through the pipeline.

I was amazed to hear the Secretary of State, whose remarks were read out by the noble Lord, taking credit for a whole lot of projects, such as the A400M, the new Chinook helicopters—although the Government have reduced their number by 10—and the Scout vehicle, which I negotiated. It was a very disingenuous Statement and I hope that the Government will think twice before coming to the House with such a piece of party-political propaganda on so serious a matter in future.

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I am happy to pay tribute to the noble Lord and the Opposition for many of the defence procurement decisions that were taken. I think that he would agree that we were left with a big black hole and a whole host of problems that had to be sorted out. That is why I am here today.

Defence: Carrier Strike Capability

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Thursday 10th May 2012

(12 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his welcome. This was a very difficult decision but it was right for the Royal Navy and for the country. In taking this decision, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made no criticism of his predecessor’s decision. Things have dramatically changed over the cats and traps, and obviously with the B-variant. I will take the noble Lord’s other point, on bringing the same scrutiny to other aspects of the SDSR, back to the department.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, I do not think that anyone is going to be deceived by the attempts by the Secretary of State to make party political points or to make people see this as anything other than a discreditable shambles. It is very unfortunate. The Government would have done better to have come forward with a slightly more humble line and to have confessed that they had made a mistake.

Can we hear how many aircraft the Government are now proposing to procure? We still have not heard that. Does the noble Lord accept and acknowledge that, because the B version carries a lot of its weight in the form of its own lift fan, its range is much less—400 miles against 700 miles for the CV version? Its payload is similarly reduced, and therefore more aircraft will be required to give a similar military effect. Are the Government planning to purchase more aircraft to procure the same military effect? Will the Minister also recognise that if we simply restrict ourselves to purchasing the F-35B, we will have no deep-strike bombing capability at all once the Tornados have been withdrawn? Do the Government have any plans at all to replace that lacuna in our capability, which will emerge by the end of the decade?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, again I resent this criticism. I feel that it is the noble Lord who should be a little humble, particularly when the party opposite’s last single year in office saw a staggering £3.3 billion increase in the total cost of the 15 largest defence equipment projects. The noble Lord asked me how many Joint Strike Fighter B-variants we are going to buy. In the first instance we intend to buy enough Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to build up our initial carrier strike capability. We do not intend to make final decisions on JSF numbers until our next strategic defence review, in 2015 at the earliest.

I will just re-emphasise what the Statement said. We are getting our first and second aircraft this year. We are getting the first production aircraft in 2016. The first aircraft trials at sea, when we will have three aircraft, will be in 2018. The initial operational capability will be in 2020, when we will have eight useable aircraft. This is three years earlier than would be possible with the C-variant.

Armed Forces: Vehicles

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Wednesday 14th March 2012

(12 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, the Warrior is very popular with our troops. I was out in Afghanistan two weeks ago and I spent quite a lot of time talking to members of the Armed Forces who work with this bit of equipment. They are very impressed by it. It is seen by insurgents as a tank and they will normally melt away on its arrival. It provides excellent mobility and survivability and is able to operate over the most difficult terrain. I need to be careful what I say for security reasons but I can say that the recent incident was a combination of several really unlucky combinations. No vehicle in theatre, including one with a V-shaped hull, would have survived a similar explosion. Warrior has been extensively upgraded, particularly to deliver enhanced protection against IEDs. I have copies of the upgrade work on the Warrior, which has been security cleared. I am very happy to distribute them to any noble Lords who would like to see them.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, anybody who knows anything about this subject will know that the noble Lord is absolutely right. There is a level of weight of explosive which will destroy any vehicle, including a main battle tank. That is just one unfortunate fact of life. In my time I think that I ordered eight new armoured vehicles, seven of which were procured specifically for Afghanistan under the UOR initiative. I hope that all of them were successful in their way. Does the noble Lord agree with me that the outstanding success among them has been Mastiff 2 and that there must be a very strong case, even though Mastiff 2 was ordered under the UOR programme, for keeping that permanently in inventory, where almost certainly its qualities will be necessary in any other deployment we make in a third world context?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, this Government take the protection of our Armed Forces against IEDs very seriously. I know that the previous Government did so as well and I pay tribute to them for what they did in this area, particularly as regards equipment such as the Mastiff. I take seriously what the noble Lord says about Mastiff in the future. We are looking at that very closely.

Armed Forces Bill

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Tuesday 6th September 2011

(12 years, 9 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, I support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Rosser. I will make two points. First, the system that he proposes, as he is well aware, has existed for some time in France; I take it that the Government, too, have seen that. I believe it works extremely well. It is always sensible not to reinvent the wheel. If one finds a mechanism in a compatible country which is working well, that is evidence in favour of a proposal—or if it is not working well, it is evidence against. The French are very satisfied with the way in which this works.

Secondly, the position taken up to now by the Government—who have been very good at listening open-mindedly to these debates, so I trust that it was a provisional view—is that all we need to do is to facilitate local authorities to appoint Armed Forces advocates where they wish to do so, and that we do not need to intervene where they do not. This is a most illogical approach to the problem. Local authorities with the will to create the post of Armed Forces advocate have, by that fact, already demonstrated that they are alert and sensitive to this need. The problems arise with local authorities that are not inclined to set up Armed Forces advocates. Authorities which, either through mistrust of the military or sheer ignorance, have not focused on this and are not inclined to accept the proposal, are those where problems are likely to arise and where an advocate is most necessary. The more logical solution is the one proposed by my noble friend. I hope that it will find favour with noble Lords and with the Government.

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I say at the outset that I regard Armed Forces advocates as an excellent idea. In UK government departments and in the devolved Administrations, they carry out two highly important roles. They ensure that their department’s policies take account of the special needs of the Armed Forces community, and they communicate their department’s perspective to others, including my officials and external stakeholders such as family federations or ex-service charities. Elsewhere, in local authorities or in NHS bodies, Armed Forces advocates or individuals with similar titles act as champions for service personnel, families or veterans. In some cases they are responsible for improving communications with the Armed Forces community to ensure that entitlements to services are properly understood. The exact role depends on the job to be done. There is no single model and neither should there be.

In answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about the Second Reading speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, we want to ensure that best practice is promoted around the country, for example through the community covenant. We will be able to draw attention to successful uses of the advocate system, but it will be for them to decide what is best in their circumstances. I hope that that answers the question.

My difficulty with the amendment does not concern the merits of Armed Forces advocates at the local level; that is not in doubt. The case for them at the regional level is perhaps less obvious, but there is no need to legislate for their existence. The previous Government set up advocates without requiring any legislation and I commend them for doing so. I suggest to the Committee that the same logic applies and that we should not support the amendment. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw it.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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Before the noble Lord sits down, I would be grateful for his reaction to my point that surely it is those local authorities least inclined to establish the post of Armed Forces advocate where it is most likely the Armed Forces will need such an advocate, and vice versa.

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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The noble Lord makes a very good point. We will certainly look at this.

Defence Transformation

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Monday 18th July 2011

(12 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, given the shortage of time, let me focus on just the procurement issues. My noble friend has dealt with the £38 billion myth. I am very sorry that the Government are still descending to using it. It is of course a completely bogus figure based on, as he said, quite unreasonable assumptions. It is really a very silly, as well as a very disingenuous, piece of propaganda.

Apart from that, perhaps I may surprise the noble Lord—because I believe in giving credit where credit is due—by congratulating him. I do not think that 1 per cent in real terms is enough. I would rather have 1.5 per cent, which is what we had when we were in Government. Of course, the sustainable long-term growth rate of the economy is generally reckoned at being 2.25 per cent. Nevertheless, 1 per cent is considerably better than what we have now got. The noble Lord and his ministerial colleagues are to be congratulated on a reasonably successful outcome on what must have been a very difficult negotiation with the Treasury and, no doubt, with No. 10 Downing Street, but I do not think that they understand much about military matters these days.

I do not resile at all from the critiques I have made in the past, particularly about the disappearance of carrier strike capability, but the announcements that the Minister has made today on procurement are extremely important. I am delighted about the Warrior upgrade. That was the only project, which was a priority of mine, that I failed to get through in my time of office and would have been my first priority after the election if we had won it. The Rivet Joints are an enormously important intelligence asset and it is great news that that is going through.

Fourteen Chinooks is not as good as the 22 which we were going to order but, again, it is a good deal better than nothing, which has been happening up until now. Will the noble Lord say the projected in-service dates for these Chinooks? Obviously, there will be different dates. What are the in-service dates for the Rivet Joint aircraft? What are the expected in-service dates for the new upgraded Warriors with the 45 millimetre cannon and so forth? Will he say how many of the Rivet Joint aircraft and how many of the upgraded Warriors the Government intend to procure?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his support. Perhaps I may correct him on what he said about the Prime Minister. I have had a meeting on defence issues with him and I can assure the noble Lord that he takes the whole issue of the Armed Forces and equipment very seriously. Defence of the realm is the first duty of a Government, which he takes very seriously. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord there.

The noble Lord welcomed the Warrior upgrade and the Rivet Joint. I can confirm that we will order three Rivet Joints. I do not have the in-service date for the Chinooks. We are very near a point where we can go ahead with the ordering and as soon as I have the in-service date I will make a point of writing to the noble Lord to let him know the answer to that.

Nuclear Deterrent

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Wednesday 18th May 2011

(13 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, that is a hypothetical question. I cannot believe that the Scottish people would vote for independence, so I do not think this will arise.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, I apologise for coming in to the Statement a little late. First, I disagree very strongly with the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord King, that we should further reduce the number of our warheads to what he calls the necessary minimum. The trouble with that is that you never know what the necessary minimum is. The world is far too unpredictable for that, and you therefore always need to have a reasonable margin of error. Without it, you do not have an effective deterrent.

I welcome the Government’s general decision. It is the first time I have been able to say with enthusiasm that the Government have done something right in defence procurement since the election. I also welcome the decision to go for the new reactor, which has great advantages, as the noble Lord knows well. Can I put it to him that it is absolutely essential if we are going to maintain continuous at-sea deterrence that we continue to have four boats? Anybody who has looked at this closely, as I have going through it with all the experts many times, always ends up completely convinced that with fewer than four boats we will not have continuous at-sea deterrence, and without continuous at-sea deterrence—if you think you can take a holiday from deterrence at any one point—you do not have deterrence at all.

Armed Forces: Redundancy

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Wednesday 2nd March 2011

(13 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, the whole House holds the Minister in very high regard. We are all grateful for the attempts he makes to keep this House informed in what I am sure must be for him, as well as for many of us, very painful circumstances. However, these redundancies are not only very unfortunate but utterly short-sighted and irresponsible. The nation will rue the day when we lose those skills. In repeating the Statement, the Minister has increased the confusion about the nature of the guarantees that are being given by the Government to those who are serving in Afghanistan or who are on leave after operations there. How many more soldiers, sailors and airmen would have been covered by the guarantee had it been dated from 8 November than will be covered, given that the guarantee now runs only from the date of issue of the redundancy notices? If the Minister does not know the answer off the cuff—obviously, I forgive him if he does not—will he be kind enough to write to me and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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I thank the noble Lord for that question. These are very painful cuts. When I became a Minister I did not look forward to making lots of cuts. It is a very difficult situation in which I find myself but we inherited this black hole and we have to act.

Armed Forces: Redundancies

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Tuesday 15th February 2011

(13 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, the redundancy programme will apply to all Armed Forces personnel at one-star rank—that is Army Brigadier-equivalent—and below. Senior officers have different terms of service, being employed on a posting-by-posting basis and will therefore leave under different terms outside the redundancy programme, including termination of service without additional compensation.

Gurkhas are employed on exactly the same conditions of service as all other personnel and will be considered equally alongside their peers if there is a requirement to reduce personnel.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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Irrespective of the incompetence and insensitivity with which these redundancies have been handled, for which the Government have quite rightly and properly apologised, the redundancies of uniform personnel are surely disgraceful and quite irresponsible in relation to the country’s future defence capability and needs, and quite shameful in the way that so many individuals have been treated. Will the Minister assure the House that at least those who have served, are serving or will serve in Afghanistan will not subsequently be subject to this redundancy programme? Surely, even this Government recognise that it would be monstrous if people were asked to risk their lives in Afghanistan and were unceremoniously sacked when they came home.

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that personnel on, or preparing for, operations in Afghanistan will not be made redundant unless they wish to be.

Defence: Procurement

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Tuesday 25th January 2011

(13 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, in future, we will be able to land and sustain a Royal Marine commando group of 1,500 to 1,800 personnel from a sea helicopter platform with protective vehicles, but we have reluctantly decided that one of the Bay class ships, the RFA “Largs Bay”, will have to be decommissioned.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, the tragedy of all this is that we needed, and continue to need, the Harriers, the carriers and the Nimrods. Can the Minister assure the House that this country can continue to meet its maritime surveillance obligations and its international obligations for search and rescue at sea in the absence of the Nimrods?

Defence: Treaties with France

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Tuesday 2nd November 2010

(13 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend the assurance on his last point regarding the MRA4, but I can assure him that we are working closely with the French on maritime reconnaissance and on how we can help each other on that. As regards piracy, we are part of the EU’s Operation Atalanta, which also involves other nations.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Lee, I have long been a strong promoter of the idea of greater defence co-operation with our European allies, particularly the French. When I was in government I started a number of initiatives along those lines, including the Mantis UAV programme, which I insisted on putting to the French. We made some progress on that before the election and I am glad that it is going forward.

Will the Minister confirm that as the deployment of the Armed Forces under this treaty will be a matter for national decision on a case-by-case basis, the treaty will do nothing to fill the enormous gaps created in our defence capability by the Government's strategic defence review? For example, the fact that we are not going to have any aircraft on our carriers for 10 years will not be compensated for by the fact that the French might be able to fly off the carriers, because they might decide not to take part in an operation that might arise, for example, to defend the Falklands, where purely British national interests are at stake.

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord was not here when I read out the Statement. Having said that, I am aware of the part that he played in securing greater co-operation with the French. The noble Lord said that we would have carriers with no aircraft flying off them. The idea is that the aircraft and carrier will come in at the same time. We will put the cats and traps on the carrier when the JSF comes in, in 2019 or 2020.

Employment: Defence Expenditure

Debate between Lord Davies of Stamford and Lord Astor of Hever
Tuesday 12th October 2010

(13 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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In my department, that is working very well. The noble Lord mentioned the leaked letter. This was a private letter between the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, and for that reason and because it was a leak, I cannot comment. Both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are acutely aware of the sensitivities of such a review—a review made necessary because of the huge deficit that we have inherited and because there has been no defence review since 1998. However, I assure the noble Lord that this is not a crude cost-cutting exercise; it is a genuinely strategic review. We will establish clearly what the defence contribution to our security posture should be and structure our Armed Forces accordingly.

Lord Davies of Stamford Portrait Lord Davies of Stamford
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My Lords, during a strategic defence review, would there not be consultation with allies, with the academic world and think-tanks, and indeed with industry? Why has that not happened? Why has there been only one meeting of the Defence Industries Council since the election? How can you possibly take account of industries’ perceptions and views of, and insights into the future of, defence technologies and so on if you hold a consultation with them only after the review is completed?

Lord Astor of Hever Portrait Lord Astor of Hever
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My Lords, we have consulted a number of foreign countries which, indeed, have made representations to the SDSR. I know that the noble Lord is interested in France, which has, as an example, done that. Turning to industry, we understand how dependent localised economies are on the defence industry and we have engaged very widely with industry in this review. We invited and received submissions from industry and think-tanks, as well as from colleagues from defence establishments overseas.