Armed Forces Debate 2006

I though I'd place Lord Boyce's speech in here in full for everyone to read as it is full of relevant points the Minister (Lord Drayson) subsequently fails to address!

House of Lords Hansard: 29.6.06

Lord Boyce: My Lords, I, too, welcome this debate and the opportunity to raise further the profile of our Armed Forces. I recognise that such an opportunity occurred last week in the Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill, but it is good to be able to reflect more specifically on the operational tempo that our sailors, soldiers and airmen are being asked to sustain, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Attention on our Armed Forces today tends, not unreasonably, to be focused on the high-profile land operations in those two theatres, but myriad other defence tasks are being done, not least by maritime and air units in support of the Middle East operations. I mention for example the regeneration of the Iraqi Navy by the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines in Umm Qasr, which receives little if any publicity but is a real success story.
Wherever one looks, our servicemen and servicewomen are unquestionably busy. In particular, their task in the difficult Middle East environment in which they are operating—both in terms of weather and the nature of opposition forces—is undoubtedly made tougher by the fact that they find themselves on the one hand pitted against hostile elements who have no concept of playing by any sort of rules and, on the other, by a sometimes hostile British media if our people are not perceived to be obeying every letter of the law and beyond. All that in a campaign that does not enjoy popular support. What sustains our service people? It is undoubtedly their training, their professionalism and their esprit de corps and, in theory, the knowledge that their well-being and their interests are being properly safeguarded back home.

I say "in theory" because practice does not always bear that out, which brings me on to resources. On that point that you will see a weariness and scepticism in the eyes of those on the front line because they know that the front line today is underfunded and no amount of calming "lines to take" given to Ministers cuts any ice with those in operational units who look at their broken kit and know that it will not be repaired because the supply line is bankrupt.

The fact is that, in the round, our Armed Forces are operating well above the level expected and resourced for under defence planning assumptions. The impact of lack of adequate funding is hurting. The Minister will no doubt claim how well the Armed Forces are doing under this Government, but we all know that defence spending has fallen from 2.6 per cent to 2.2 per cent of GDP in the last few years—no doubt, to an extent, a victim of the Ministry of Defence's own success at delivering at the front end, being a department delivering substantial efficiencies and providing best practice across government—unlike some other government departments, where failure is rewarded with more money.

On a strategic level, it is that lack of money for running and operational costs, primarily in the support area, that no doubt lay behind the ill-advised decision to slash the destroyer/frigate force by 20 per cent a couple of years ago. It is ill-advised because the destroyer/frigate is the workhorse of the fleet and its deployability, reach and endurance provides a keystone to our defence policy and its expeditionary and global aspirations. Or it should do, but our force is spread too thinly—thinner still if we consider those who are not at the defence planning assumption required states of readiness. I shall say more about that in a minute. How can one ship sensibly manage to patrol the Caribbean, the west coast of Africa and the South Atlantic?

On the subject of the destroyer/frigate force, and looking to the future procurement programme, what can the Minister tell us about the total number of Type 45 destroyers that we are to have and when? Also, can he say whether there is sufficient provision in the programme for an orderly replacement of the Type 23 frigates, whose end-of-life dates are now well inside the planning horizon? I really hope that it is understood that we are standing into danger if we continue to fail to provide a capable escort force commensurate with our foreign and defence policy aims.

The Minister may want to reflect on how the dwindling naval force levels of this nation, with its great maritime reputation, will be perceived on the world stage, where there is now a serious debate about the need for a multinational, multidisciplinary, civil/military 1,000-ship navy to deal with the global problems of maritime security and to provide the geographical spread of effort that the problem demands.

I return to underfunding, an effect of which is especially noticeable in the shortage of cash to support the front line on a day-to-day basis. If the Minister does not accept this, perhaps he can explain why, for example, the Royal Navy has now undergone two years of reduced support. By the way, that is a policy under which, if you are broken you don't get fixed unless you are designated to be at the very highest level of readiness. There have been two years of reduced support period in an attempt to bring down the cost of front-line support. Recovery from that institutionalised unreadiness and regeneration from it will be a long-term process, the full implications of which are not yet fully understood.
Meanwhile, the shortage of money to support the fleet means that a significant number of ships are not at their required defence planning assumption states of readinesss. That is bad for fighting effectiveness because ships' companies are not properly trained because their equipment is either not there or not working for them to train on. It is also bad for morale because our professional sailors take no joy from knowing that they are under-trained—which, incidentally, can hold up their promotion—and because it is demotivating to be in a unit that cannot do what it is designed to do. It is further demotivating for technicians when they see their working kit being stripped out to service a higher priority unit—appropriately known as "store robbing". I should stress that there are parallel examples in the Army and Air Force.

Resourcing of the future procurement programme is equally shaky—and that is before the outcome of spending round 2007 starts to fall round our ears. The Minister will no doubt not wish to comment on last week's Evening Standard article claiming that the Treasury is warning that the defence budget will have to be cut to the tune of £1 billion. It would be very nice to hear him say that it is not true.

On the other hand, it was certainly most encouraging to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer extolling the virtues of defence in promoting stability in his speech at the Mansion House last week as being,
"strong in defence and fighting terrorism, upholding NATO, supporting our Armed Forces at home and abroad, and retaining our independent nuclear deterrent".

What a pity such stirring words are not carried over to resourcing properly our Armed Forces, which provide such a major contribution to the global stability that he so rightly craves. Perhaps the Minister will say how the Chancellor of the Exchequer's sentiments square with the statements purported to have come from the Treasury, which I have just mentioned.
En passant, can the Minister reassure the House that the money for our independent deterrent, which the Chancellor has implied will be replaced, will not be taken from the already underfunded future equipment programme? Were that to happen, another major programme would have to be cancelled to compensate. That in turn would seriously compromise, if not derail, the viability of our defence policy.

Given the high level of commitments that we are experiencing, it is important more than ever to give attention to sustaining morale—something to which my noble and gallant friend has already alluded. I shall
cover just one aspect of that. Morale is fed as much by external as by internal publicity, and the external publicity—public relations at the Ministry of Defence—is bad. Why? I believe it is to no small extent due to the decision taken by the Secretary of State for Defence two years ago to disband the posts of the directors of public relations—or corporate communications, to use the then vernacular. Will the Minister say whether these posts are to be reinstated so that we can regain the confidence of our service people that their spokesman, who manages the defence and media interface, knows what he is talking about? Incidentally, the move would also be thoroughly welcomed by responsible journalists, who would not have as interlocutor a civil servant whose aim is to protect the interests of Ministers and not those of our servicemen, even if such an interlocutor knew what he was talking about.

The servicemen and servicewomen are doing their best for their country. You cannot do better than put yourself in harm's way, as our soldiers, sailors and airmen are regularly required to do. I am afraid that neither they nor I can detect that the Government are matching their commitment to the budget given to defence.


Lord Drayson:The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, raised issues about the overall resource levels which were provided to our maritime fleet. I can confirm to the House that, this year, the resource levels have been restored to normal after a two-year period when resources were reprioritised for overseas operations.



War Hero
Re: Armed Forces Debate - House of Lords: 29.6.06

Lord Drayson on the other hand is a patronising [email protected] Noticeable that there is no acknowledgement of the sacrifices made and future problems accrued. More to the point, no intention to do anything to rectify the situation....

Agree with Chalky though. Boyce is the only senior officer to call New Liabour on th shower of sh1t they have been dishing out. BZ well earned!


Lantern Swinger
Re: Armed Forces Debate - House of Lords: 29.6.06

Is Lord Boyce the ex- FOST from Portland in the eighties I wonder? Anybody know? If it is he gets my vote.


Lantern Swinger
Re: Armed Forces Debate - House of Lords: 29.6.06

sootblower said:
Is Lord Boyce the ex- FOST from Portland in the eighties I wonder? Anybody know? If it is he gets my vote.
Don't know about the 80s but he was definitely FOST in the early 90's and gets my vote either way - a gentleman and a strong leader and we need more like him.

Hyperlink below gives a bit of career detail


Lantern Swinger
Re: Armed Forces Debate - House of Lords: 29.6.06

I wrote him a letter, based on that speech.

Dear Lord Boyce,

I am writing to you to thank you for your contribution to the Armed
Forces debate in the Lords on 29/09/06.

My colleagues and I received your speech with much enthusiasm. It is
comforting to see people within our legislative structure standing up
to say that which is required to give our men and women in uniform the
support they need in terms of finance, training and equipment to serve
with the distinction expected of them, as well as the knowledge that
there are those in the public eye who have their best interests at

As a serving TA soldier and aspiring Royal Navy officer, I have been
saddened by this government's paper-thin recognition of the difficult
job they commit Her Majesty's forces to.
On a more personal level, I have reconsidered my career choice on
several occasions, both as a reservist in the current defence climate
and as a potential officer in any future environment.

However, if your representation and presence in the House of Lords,
along with that of other sympathetic peers, can continue to make a case
for more robust support of the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air
Force then I can say without hesitation that our celebrated history,
our distinguished present and our dynamic future can be preserved.

Thank-you again.

Yours sincerely,


Not great, but then English isn't my forte.


Lantern Swinger
Re: Armed Forces Debate - House of Lords: 29.6.06

Thanks dubapusser - the same guy then. A great leader and woe betide any CO whose ship came throught the breakwater late or looking shoddy. swords & medals at FOST HQ. We could do with more like him.


War Hero
Re: Armed Forces Debate - House of Lords: 29.6.06

Good on him for raising the issues in the House and proving once again that the Cabinet doesn't give 2 hoots about the RN in particular and the Forces in general.

I can fully appreciate why he didn't ask some of those questions more publically when he was 1SL, but it is a pity that the questioning didn't get more coverage in the Media - probably got something to do with eliminating the posts of DCC!!!!
Re: Armed Forces Debate - House of Lords: 29.6.06

This is amazing! I can't find a single post on this thread that I can disagree with. I do note, though, that the noble Lord Drayson says "The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, raised issues about the overall resource levels which were provided to our maritime fleet."

The point to watch is "our maritime fleet". It is a recurring theme. No mention of Navy. Gentlemen, the Navy is the Maritime Command of HM Armed Forces. Embrace jointery; it's the future! There again, I have been known to border on the paranoid.
Another tribute to Lord Boyce follows, in Bernard Jenkin's speech yesterday, plus some other pertinent points of interest to shipmates:

House of Commons Hansard: 6 July 2006
Columns 1042-1043.

Mr. Jenkin: I am suitably corrected by you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The point that I am trying to make is that the failure of planning, and the lack of appreciation of the scale of the challenge of what is sometimes mis-called the global war on terrorism, is having a devastating and intolerable impact on the long-term effectiveness of our armed forces personnel, and on their lives and families.

I will fast-forward to Afghanistan, where we are involved in another extremely complex operation. The planning for that operation has not fully provided for what our armed forces personnel are having to face. I agree with my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Defence that the price of failure would be intolerable and that it would have global security implications, but I am not at all sure that enough people back here understand what our armed forces personnel are having to face. They are fighting a counter-insurgency war. Afghanistan is not like Northern Ireland, which has 175 miles of open borders; it has 1,500 miles of open borders with Pakistan, and it is impossible to see how the unlimited supply of insurgents will cease pouring across the Pakistani border.

We talk about bringing democracy to Afghanistan, and I am lost in admiration for the ability of our armed forces—the people on the ground—to understand the complexities involved in dealing with a village in the dusty heat, to build relationships, to extend the hand of friendship between nations and to build confidence in the security situation, at the same time as dealing with the threats posed by the Taliban. But this is a country in which the armed forces have had a sporadic presence for more than 100 years, and its culture is not to rely on outside forces. A 30-year commitment could be required to stabilise Afghanistan. Is there an appreciation in the Ministry of Defence, at the heart of Government or in this House of the fact that stabilising and building up security and using—dare I say it?—the blood of our armed forces to build that country is a very much greater commitment than was suggested when the then Secretary of State came to this House to announce this substantial deployment. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring that we need to match commitments and resources. We need to have our commitments matched by other countries, as he pointed out, which is clearly not happening. We need to support our armed forces personnel in the field, and that applies as much to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force as to the Army, about which I have been talking.

We need to develop a more comprehensive doctrine for combating international terrorism, weapons proliferation and rogue states. I suspect that that means, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex intimated, substantially increased defence spending. The present state of doctrine and policy sells our armed forces short and ill serves the personnel on whom we rely so much and whom we expect to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice.

What of the relationship between the military and the politicians? Ministers rely on advice from the service chiefs and it is the worst defence of Ministers to say, when something goes wrong, that they relied on the advice of the service chiefs. Do the politicians really want to hear the truth at all times from our most senior armed forces personnel? I recall that Admiral—now Lord—Boyce warned about putting our hand into the mangle of Afghanistan and embarrassed the Secretary of State by saying that our armed forces were overstretched. His term was cut short. I submit that the way we treat our service chiefs is just as important as the way we treat our armed forces personnel lower down the chain of command. We have to recognise that they are servants of the Crown and rightly loyal to the Ministers they serve. In the spirit of the armed forces, they are most unlikely to stand up publicly and say that this cannot be done and we will not do it—indeed, I question whether they should. That is not their job. But we are putting them in an impossible situation, loading the armed forces with new commitments. It is their spirit to say that they will do their best with what they have got, on any job the politicians give them to do.

I am reminded of what Admiral Sir John Woodward, the commander of the Falkland Islands task force, said when explaining what preparing for a military commitment actually means. He said that the first question one asks is, “What have we got?†That is because what one has now is all one has. I submit that the House needs to understand that to serve our armed forces personnel effectively, in the present global climate and the present commitment load, we have not got enough. It is the armed forces who will suffer the consequences of that the most, because we have hardly begun to understand the consequences of 9/11 or to appreciate the real nature of what must be done to defeat international terrorism in the modern world.

And on another pertinent issue, Brooks Newmark (Columns 1063-1066, same debate):

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): Like my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) and for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), I begin with a tribute to the men and women who serve in our armed forces. Even when they are properly resourced—I hasten to add that I am still not convinced that they are—they work day in, day out in the most challenging circumstances imaginable.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence police in Weathersfield, in my constituency. Whether they are guarding the UK’s nuclear arsenal or other critical defence establishments, the MOD police do not live in the limelight. They stand apart from the other armed services, but, like those services, they are quietly efficient and utterly vital to this country’s interests. I mention the MOD police not only because they are headquartered in my constituency, but because I suspect that they are typical of much of this country’s defence establishment, in that they do an essential job that goes largely unnoticed and unappreciated.

In his contribution to the armed forces debate in another place last week, Lord Drayson was adamant that there was no public relations crisis facing the military. As evidence, he cited a MORI poll that confirmed that 80 per cent. of the population regard our armed forces as among the finest in the world. I have no doubt that they enjoy even greater support among the general public than that poll suggests, but my point is that, when most people think of the armed forces, they think, on the whole, of past services rendered. They are less quick to think of those who are on active service today, using sub-standard equipment, waiting hours or days for a flight home for deployment or worrying about their families living in inadequate accommodation back at home.

I congratulate the Government on instituting veterans day. It is right that we remember our veteran servicemen and women, but it is time that we placed greater emphasis on those serving today, and on the need to ensure that they will continue serving our country. We also need to look ahead and take action to ensure that generations of new recruits will want to follow them into the services. Recruitment relies on good public relations and, although I do not doubt the very high esteem in which the services continue to be held, we must admit that there is a difference between respecting an organisation and wanting to join it.

I was struck by the example of Field MarshalSir William Robertson, who served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff during much of the great war. In 1919, he became the first man in the British Army to rise all the way from the rank of private to the rank of field marshal. But despite that conspicuously successful career, his working-class mother was horrified when he enlisted. He records her saying in his autobiography:

“I will name it to no one; I would rather bury you than see you in a red coat.â€

That late 19th century distrust of the military is something to which we would not wish to return.

As we all know, steady recruitment is the lifeblood of all our services. It depends, in no small measure, on the families of potential recruits trusting that they will be looked after and not placed in unnecessary danger because of inadequate equipment or operational overstretch. The issue of trust is central to this debate because there are increasing signs that servicemen on active duty no longer trust that they will receive adequate support from the Government.

My father-in-law, Sir John Keegan, is a distinguished military historian, which, I must admit, is something of an advantage when it comes to preparation for a debate on the armed forces. As we are commemorating the 90th anniversary of the battle of the Somme, I would like to quote briefly from one of his books, “The Face of Battleâ€, which contains an analysis of that campaign from the perspective of the ordinary soldiers who fought in it. He says of the British Army of 1916 that

“it was a trusting army. It believed in the reassurances proffered by the staff. It believed in the superiority of its own equipment over the Germans’. It believed in the dedication and fearlessness of its battalion officers—and was right so to believe. But it believed above all in itself.â€

Some 90 years later and the essentials remain the same. The armed services are still trusting and that human quality sometimes does them a disservice. I hope that we do not need a military catastrophe in Iraq or in Afghanistan to shake the foundation of that trust as it did on the Somme.

I have already said a little about recruitment, but the need for it would be minimised by focusing more on retention. There are many factors affecting retention but some of the most significant are easily identifiable and must be addressed. Indeed, I ask the Minister when he will give a commitment to serving soldiers that they will not be hauled through the civil courts for actions undertaken while on deployment and operating under the most difficult circumstances.

Another R is for reserves—also lacking, both in the strategic sense of having some ability to adapt to changing circumstances which require an increased commitment, but vital in enabling our forces to sustain their current level of commitment. What are the Government doing to tackle that overstretch? Several hon. Members have already asked that question.

Overstretch should be a transient fault to be regretted and avoided wherever possible. But when overstretch becomes systemic, it is not really overstretch at all—it is underinvestment. If our armed forces are stretched too far they will lose their elasticity and ability to react quickly and decisively. Eventually, they will snap. For example, the 1st Battalion the Light Infantry is currently on its third tour of Iraq in three years, and there can be little incentive for the men in that battalion to remain in the Army. What are the Government doing to ensure that the interval target of 24 months between deployments is met for all our troops?

The lack of resources is the biggest threat to retention. The Government have reassured the House repeatedly that commanders in the field will be given what they need to succeed. I am not reassured, especially when Ministers quote senior commanders such as Lieutenant General David Richards, who said:

“Bottom line, I am content with what I have and I have the resources to carry out the missionâ€.

I am not reassured because it is hard to imagine a military officer admitting that he or his men are not up to the task in hand, however justified that might be by the lack of resources. Soldiers just get on with the job, whatever resources are at hand, but the persistent lack of resources is not the only problem facing the services.

The extended deployment of soldiers often interferes with another R—rehabilitation. Professor Guy Chapman was a young officer during the Somme campaign. He wrote:

“If you start a man killing, you can’t turn him off again like an engine.â€

Civilians take it for granted that their employers will offer them training, career management, counselling and a range of other services. In our cash-strapped armed services, those are the first things that are cut, and even medical care is now threatened. The net result has been that a tide of service personnel have left the forces as ill equipped to deal with civilian life as they were on active service.

Mr. Soames: I agree with much of what my hon. Friend is saying, although it is to the MOD’s credit that resettlement training in the Army is brilliant. However, does he agree that the big problem faced by people leaving the forces is that of adjusting to a civilian life?

Mr. Newmark: My hon. Friend brings me to my very point. The shameful statistic is that between one quarter and one fifth of rough sleepers have served in our armed forces. That is the point that I tried to make when I intervened earlier on my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox).

The Government’s duty of care to service personnel does not rest on a narrow legal definition, nor does it end when people leave the services. What are they doing to ensure that personnel receive more than just combat experience when they enlist?

My final R is retirement. It is the final stage of the through-life cost of service personnel—or, I should say, it is the final stage of the through-life duty owed to them by the Government. The Government must do more than honour veterans in spirit, or by giving them a badge. Veterans deserve more than our intangible respect: they need continuing support, medical and psychiatric but financial too—by which I mean better pensions.

I have spoken briefly about the five Rs—recruitment, retention, resources, rehabilitation and retirement. Unless we address each of them, we will not have armed forces that are, to use the Government’s mantra, fit for purpose.

I conclude by quoting Lord Garden, who warned in the other place that a renewal of the duty of care owed to servicemen is needed urgently if we want to avoid finding ourselves

“with a great deal of shiny equipment but nobody to operate it.â€â€”[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 June 2006; Vol. 683,c. 1369.]

It seems that much of our equipment is not in fact all that shiny, but I urge the Minister to pay heed to the warning.


Book Reviewer
All being well I shall be dining with Lord Boyce later in the year, I will of course draw Nozzys treatment at Ganges (I believe I can mention it as I didn't go there). Hopefully He will be in a position to redress the balance, or maybe suggest a reasonably priced dometrix (sp) for Noz to visit in the future
janner said:
All being well I shall be dining with Lord Boyce later in the year, I will of course draw Nozzys treatment at Ganges (I believe I can mention it as I didn't go there). Hopefully He will be in a position to redress the balance, or maybe suggest a reasonably priced dometrix (sp) for Noz to visit in the future

I've placed my response to this on the G****S thread... :lol: