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Lords with military backgrounds unite to attack Brown's record on defence

Lord Boyce: "The message is clear: the Government, especially the Treasury, still have a completely peacetime mentality. For all the Government’s platitudes about commitment and caring for our Armed Forces, the visible sign of this is conspicuous by its absence when we see a budget that so inadequately resources our Armed Forces’ levels of activity. Certainly commitment is starkly absent when we see the appointment of Ministers who are not devoted solely to their task, as shown by the double-hatting of the Secretary of State and the previous Minister for Defence Equipment and Support.  I make absolutely no apology for raising this subject again; it is very serious. It is seen as an insult by our sailors, soldiers and airmen on the front line—I know because I often have reason to speak to them—and it is certainly a demonstration of the disinterest and, some might say, contempt that the Prime Minister and his Government have for our Armed Forces. It shows an appalling lack of judgment at a time when our people are being killed and maimed. It is not for nothing that the Chief of the General Staff has said that his people feel undervalued. They really do deserve far better from the Government."

Lord Bramall: "[The Government] should spend up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product. That would make a profound difference. It would have a sensible rationale in insurance terms and what the country ought to be able to afford. It would certainly prevent the current position from getting worse; it would enable all the most important parts of the defence programme to be properly funded; and it would control the Treasury’s insatiable appetite for ensuring that whatever sum is allocated to defence is not in practice made fully available to be spent at the time. It would also send a clear message, which does not exist at the moment, to those thinking of joining the services or staying on in them, that the Government are really serious about their responsibilities and will match resources to the Armed Forces’ real needs and commitments, which our foreign policy believes are in the national interest. If there is no surge at all, the situation will become infinitely worse."

Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank: "There are many examples of equipment and shortages—some have been given. I am not going to give noble Lords a long list, but one example is a brigade being deployed to Afghanistan not having been trained on medium machine guns before it goes, because the medium machine guns all have to be out in Afghanistan. That is a serious matter and risks people’s lives. There is a shortage of three battalions worth of HF radios. I could go on, but I will not, because the point has already been made.  Recently, senior officers, including the Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, have thought it necessary to speak out. It is regrettable when senior officers think it necessary to do that. I do not think that it is the British way or that it is constitutional, but it indicates how they are at the end of their tether. What the Government are expecting them to do and deliver is absolutely unreasonable with the resources that they have.  We find ourselves in a very dangerous world at the moment. Long gone are the days when we could remain safe in our own country, isolated from troubles elsewhere. If the Government are really serious about defence and security, as the Prime Minister clearly said last week—it is interesting that government support behind the Minister has just gone up by 50 per cent, which does not indicate that members of the Government in this House are taking it very seriously—funding must be increased or the Government will seriously damage one of the state’s greatest assets beyond quick repair."

Lord Inge: "As many noble Lords have mentioned, the fact that at this time the Secretary of State has a second job is extraordinary. He is known to some in the military as “Two jobs Des”. It is a very bad message to send to the Armed Forces. The relationship is hugely important and should not be underestimated. Where there is trust, that relationship works really well. It is interesting to talk about trust, given the Prime Minister’s writing about heroes. These are the very people that we are talking about. Trust is a powerful asset. When it runs deep, it strengthens any relationship. When there is no trust or, even worse, when trust is broken, co-operation becomes much more difficult to sustain. The Prime Minister needs to think very hard about that."

Commenting on these interventions, Dr Liam Fox, Shadow Defence Secretary said: “There are clearly still shortages of equipment and the Government has consistently increased the tasks that it is asking our troops to carry out, yet it is not matching the commitments with resources.  The overstretch which effects servicemen and women, and their families, is now reaching a critical level.”


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