On the Politics Show, Sunday 12 July 2009, Jon Sopel interviewed Lord Drayson
Q: I am joined now in the studio by the defence minister, Lord Drayson. Thank you very much for being with us. The Chancellor said yesterday, let me just read the quote, "if they need equipment whatever it is to support them on the front line, then of course the government is ready to help". The truth is that they've been needing that equipment for years.
DRAYSON: And they've been getting it. The total cost of the operation in Afghanistan has gone from around £700 million back in 2006 to £3.5 billion so there has been a dramatic increase in equipment, materials going into the theatre already.
Q: But there have been years where they have had inadequate equipment.
DRAYSON: There have definitely been times when the tactics that the enemy has used have shown that we have weaknesses in some of our equipment and we've addressed those, but this is a war. There's a battle going on. The enemy changes its tactics, now they're focusing on using IEDs much more than they were. We have to make sure that we provide our troops with the equipment to tackle those new threats.
Q: So IEDs, Improvised Explosive Devices, that we've seen that were so deadly in the past few days but if we had more helicopters, then you wouldn't have, you would be able to move the troops around differently?
DRAYSON: Jon, we have provided more helicopters but we need to provide more. We will be sending Merlin helicopters into theatre later on this year but it's not just about more helicopters which are important or indeed more armoured fighting vehicles. These are needed but this is not the sort of battle that we can win by flying around in the air or driving around in tanks. This is a battle about the people of Afghanistan -
Q: OK just, just on, just on the armoured vehicles, we read in the papers today that the armoured vehicles that you are going to be supplying the British Army with are vehicles that have been rejected by US forces because of survivability and that they're not very good.
DRAYSON: That's not correct. That vehicle, the Husky vehicle, is used by the US forces. Look, we recognise that in a bloody conflict like this we are going to take sad losses. This has been a tough week. This is a campaign which we're going to have to fight in the long term but it's a campaign where we're fighting amongst the Afghan people for the Afghan people and for ourselves. We need to make sure that we provide the equipment to enable our troops to do that, and we are doing it.
Q: OK let's talk about the number of soldiers on the ground, feet on the ground. It's clear isn't it that the army top brass wanted to send more troops so that ground that had been taken from the Taliban could be held and that the Treasury or the Prime Minister has said no?
DRAYSON: No that's not correct. It's true that the army wanted to see more troops going in, and more troops are going in, so nine thousand UK troops out of a total coalition force of over sixty thousand, a significant increase for example from the United States, and remember -
Q: Sorry, which bit of what I've said wasn't true then?
DRAYSON: It wasn't true that there was a decision not to provide these additional troops. Quite the opposite, additional troops have been provided particularly for this - can you just let me finish - particularly for this period where we need to secure the area between Gereshk and Lashkagar to make sure that these regional elections in Helmand can take place. We keep the numbers of troops under review, we will make sure that we provide what is needed to win this. What the British people want to know is that we can win this fight.
Q: I'll come to that in a second. I just want to clarify this position. So Sir Richard Dannatt has never gone to either the Treasury or the Prime Minister to ask for more troops and been turned down, never?
Q: He's got exactly what he wants in terms of troop numbers?
DRAYSON: The - let me make this point -
Q: Just answer, just address that narrow point. Has Sir Richard Dannatt got what he wants in terms of troop numbers?
DRAYSON: I was at a dinner with Sir Richard Dannatt last night, and he's going out to Afghanistan today to review the position there. He has said, and he has been quoted publicly, that there were more troops needed to go into Afghanistan but he has not made the specific point about whether they should be UK troops or other coalition forces. We need to remember there are forty-two countries, an international -
Q: So he has asked for more troops?
DRAYSON: He has asked for more troops and more troops have been provided.
Q: But he still hasn't got the number of troops that he feels are necessary.
DRAYSON: I don't think that's correct, I really don't.
Q: Well you just said that at the dinner he was saying, I'm sorry to - but it's an important point. He said that there were more troops, OK he didn't specify whether they were UK troops or from other countries but he believes there should be more troops on the ground and he hasn't got them.
DRAYSON: That's not correct. There are a total of over sixty thousand troops in Afghanistan from the forty-two countries fighting together to secure Afghanistan. Of those we are the second biggest contribution from, after the United States.
Q: So Sir Richard Dannatt, just to clarify, has got everything he wanted?
DRAYSON: Sir Richard - I really - you know when we're in a fight like this it is really important that these issues which can get into politics are really taken out of politics. It's down to the fundamentals. It's the fundamentals that our troops know that they have 100[%] support from the British people and that the British people know that we have a plan to win and that we are committed to making sure that we succeed in Afghanistan. Now when generals like for example Sir Richard make the points which they have, have made that we need more troops, those points are listened to. That is why we have seen the surge going into Afghanistan at the moment. But I don't understand why you make this division between whether they're UK troops or US troops or whatever. What's important is that the international community together, recognising that this has been a major centre for terrorism, works together to win the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Q: Are we on course for victory?
DRAYSON: We are going through a pretty tough period at the moment. We do believe that we're having success. The, the reports that we're getting back from operations are telling us although we have taken some pretty terrible losses over the last few days, we're inflicting much greater losses on the enemy. Their morale is low. We do believe that we're seeing now some of the foreign insurgents starting to leave. We need to make sure that we convince the Afghan people that we are going to beat the Taliban, we're going to create an environment where the rule of law can be created and where democracy can flourish, and stop the terrorism which has come out of Afghanistan and affected all of us, including here in London.
Q: OK Lord Drayson, thank you and I know you're going to be with us later in the programme on a separate subject but for the moment, thanks very much for being with us.
Lord Drayson on British space policy
Q: And Lord Drayson is still with us, not just defence minister but also space minister too. We're getting great value for money from you today, thanks very much. And you've got a big announcement coming up on British space policy. In a nutshell, what is it?
LORD DRAYSON: To make British space policy and the leadership we have in space much higher profile. It's kind of a hidden gem. As you've had, heard in your package you know this is an industry which employs something like twenty thousand people, creates six billion contribution to the UK economy but it's not very well understood and so we want to raise the profile because we believe that space research and the technology that supports that is going to be increasingly important in the future.
Q: So do we have our own kind of NASA at the end of this?
DRAYSON: We don't. We're going to look at whether or not, as you've just been hearing, we need to change the way we organise our space policy to address what are valid criticisms of better co-ordination across departments because we believe that the more we can get that to work, the more we can really leverage the expertise we have, particularly in satellites, robotics.
Q: This is going to cost money?
DRAYSON: Yeah it's, it's an industry which requires us to invest for the long-term but the benefits are worth it, like for example GPS in cars. They're only possible because of the satellite systems which we've put up there. Monitoring climate change, we're not going to know what's working unless we measure the changes on our planet.
Q: We started our programme today interviewing you about Afghanistan, wearing your hat as defence minister and talking about whether there was enough, sufficient funding. Won't people who've been with us through the programme think surely we can't be spending money on space if there's still the potential that our troops on the ground in somewhere hostile haven't got the right equipment?
DRAYSON: We have to, because understanding from space what's going onto our planet is central to addressing the biggest challenge the whole world is facing: climate change, raising sea levels.
Q: But do the British need to do that? I'm just wondering whether the British -
DRAYSON: I mean we're one of the leading nations in science. We have to make sure that we're making our full contribution. We're the fourth largest contributor to the European Space Agency. That is right. We're not going to increase our funding. We think the funding's about right but we've got to get more bang for the buck from the money that we're putting in and that's being more efficient about the way in which we, we organise ourselves and manage the project.
Q: So in your dream world, what happens with you know the British space industry and the British space programme?
DRAYSON: Well this is an industry that's already succeeding so in my dream world, it's having a clear sense of what are the priorities, what are the real areas of leadership that the UK has that we can contribute and focussing on those.
Q: And you did say I've got a fabulous quote here, that "the innovation growth team for space will create a twenty year strategy for British leadership in space, it will set up the challenges and opportunities that govern future value creation, competitiveness and growth in the space sector".
DRAYSON: A clear plan.
Q: Yes. That, so that piece of gobbledegook is just about having a clear plan?
DRAYSON: For twenty years into the future, yeah.
Q: But no British NASA, no British competitor to the US?
DRAYSON: Well we are looking at the way in which we're organised in managing space, getting better co-ordination across departments, so watch this space.
Q: Lord Drayson, thank you very much for being with us throughout the programme today. Thanks very much indeed.
END OF DISCUSSION
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