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Strategic Defence Review (Green Paper)

Volume 505: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2010

Today I am publishing a defence Green Paper that paves the way for a strategic defence review, set in the context of the national security strategy, early in the next Parliament. At the present time, Afghanistan is the main effort for the Ministry of Defence. Where choices have to be made, Afghanistan will continue to be given priority. Our forces there are fighting hard, protecting our national security by preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists.

Two hundred and fifty three British service personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. Many more have suffered life-changing injuries. Their bravery in the face of a ruthless enemy has been a stark reminder to us that all conflict is difficult and dangerous. We certainly cannot assume that the conflicts of tomorrow will replicate those of today, but we must anticipate a wide range of threats and plan for the requirements necessary to counter them.

We have come a long way since the last major defence review in 1998, which gave us the platform to modernise our armed forces. Looking forward, we will need to make decisions about the role that we want the United Kingdom to play in the world and about the capabilities that our armed forces need to support that role. We will need to balance those considerations against financial implications in what will inevitably be a resource-constrained environment. The Green Paper does not attempt to answer those fundamental questions. Instead, it is intended to set out our emerging thinking on the future security environment and on other key issues facing defence ahead of the review.

Although there is no external direct threat to the territorial integrity of the UK, there are a wide range of emerging threats for which we must be prepared. We can work to diminish the threat of international terrorism and to counter the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; we can work to prevent emerging threats—for example, by improving our approach to cybersecurity—and to contain and resolve the threat from failing states; and we can work to ensure that the impacts of climate change and resource competition are managed peacefully, but my judgment is that conflict and instability in this new age will be an ever-present risk. In the face of those threats, no nation can hope to protect all aspects of national security by acting alone. We cannot simply defend from the goal line, and our defence posture must reflect that.

In the coming decades, our armed forces must be prepared, if called upon to do so, to protect our interests, often in distant places and, most likely, as part of a coalition of international forces. The Green Paper therefore reaches two key conclusions. First, that defence must accelerate the process of reform and be able to change swiftly to address new and unforeseen challenges as they emerge. We need to be more adaptable in how we structure, equip, train and generate our armed forces. We need a more agile defence organisation, and we need more responsive strategic planning. Today, I am proposing that we should legislate for regular defence reviews to ensure that the armed forces continue to adapt rapidly to changing trends and threats.

The second conclusion is that defence must improve its ability to work in partnership with our key allies and security institutions to make the most of our combined resources. Our alliances and partnerships will become increasingly important and will define how successful we will be in meeting the challenges that we face. We will strengthen our alliance with the United States if we strengthen our position in Europe. We will continue to press our European allies to contribute more to our collective defence effort, but, make no mistake, this is not about Europe taking precedence over the US, or vice versa—the two are mutually reinforcing relationships.

In the UK, we need to improve further our partnerships with key Whitehall Departments and others to ensure that the contribution of our armed forces is joined up with our diplomatic and development efforts. In addition to its conclusions on adaptability and partnership, the paper poses six key strategic questions that the review will need to address. They are as follows. Where should we set the balance between focusing on our territory and region and on engaging threats at distance? How far are future conflicts likely to share the characteristics of our engagement in Afghanistan, and what approach should we therefore take if we employ armed force to address threats at distance? What contribution should our armed forces make to ensuring security and contributing to resilience within the UK? How could we more effectively employ armed force in support of wider efforts to prevent conflict and to strengthen international stability? Do our current international defence and security relationships require rebalancing in the longer term? Should we further integrate our forces with those of our key allies and partners?

Although the defence budget has grown by over 10 per cent. in real terms since 1998—and not a penny will be cut from next year’s budget—the forward defence programme faces real financial pressure. We will need to rebalance what we do in order to meet our priorities. In December, I began that process. I made a series of decisions to ensure that we found extra resources for vital equipment for Afghanistan. This included 22 new Chinook helicopters, which will provide necessary strategic lift capability for Afghanistan and for other military operations in the years ahead. However, our commitment to reducing the deficit resulting from the global financial crisis means that future resources across government will be constrained.

The report of Bernard Gray into defence acquisition set out clearly the pressures facing the defence budget. It also set out the importance of improving our procurement processes and addressing the shortfalls in our acquisition systems. The strategy for acquisition reform published alongside today’s Green Paper sets out how we will tackle the challenges facing this major area of defence expenditure. The major reform that it proposes will deliver enduring change by introducing greater transparency. It will ensure that our equipment plans are efficient, strategically focused, affordable and achievable.

But it is not just in equipment acquisition that we will need to do better. We are aiming to deliver efficiency savings of more than £3 billion over the current spending review period. We have a strong programme of work to achieve this, including an independent review into the use of civilians in defence that is being led by Gerry Grimstone.

Our biggest capability is our people. We rely on the ability of people, both military and civilian, to deliver defence. We need to attract the best people—people who are highly motivated and highly skilled. Our people have already shown their capacity to adapt to new challenges. We must continue to ensure that the structures and training that support them are fit for purpose, and that includes continuing to strengthen joint approaches across the services.

There has been a great deal of interest in, and speculation about, whether any major capabilities will be confirmed in the Green Paper, but that is to misunderstand the purpose. I can say that we do not plan to revisit the conclusions of the 2006 White Paper on the nuclear deterrent. We have committed to a wide range of major capability improvements over the past few years including, most recently, signing contracts for two new aircraft carriers. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Only two.

Recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the importance of being able to deploy and sustain significant numbers of highly trained and equipped troops in a variety of roles, including providing the aviation and air support that they need. Unless the defence review takes a very radical new direction, it is the Government’s position that those capabilities are likely to remain critical elements of our force structure. However, we need to know first what roles and missions we will expect our forces to undertake in the future before we can take final decisions about the capabilities that they will need. These will be key issues for the defence review.

Let us be clear—change is needed, and there will be some tough and important decisions ahead. In my view, we must, as far possible, put aside our special interests, in politics, industry and the services, to take rational decisions that benefit defence and the security of our nation.

In preparing the Green Paper, I consulted widely with academia, across government and with the main Opposition parties, and I am grateful for the help that I received. I would like to thank in this House the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), and Lord Robertson of Port Ellen in the other place, all of whom sat on my Defence Advisory Forum. Where the defence of the nation is concerned, we must seek as far as possible to reach consensus on the main issues.

I hope that the Green Paper that I am publishing today helps that process and leads to a mature and well-informed debate about the future structure of our armed forces.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for prior sight of it, although we seem to be the last to have seen the Green Paper, since every journalist I have met this week has been telling me about its contents. The Secretary of State deserves genuine praise for his attempts to find a cross-party consensus. When the history of this dreadful Government is written, his will be one of the more honourable mentions.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) for the effort that he put into producing a balanced and open-minded Green Paper. I know that his experience in the Ministry of Defence was very much appreciated in the process.

The Green Paper indicates that the Ministry of Defence is coming out of denial, but that the Prime Minister is not. We are used to the Prime Minister briefing against his perceived enemies in the corridors of Westminster, but not normally undermining a Secretary of State on the front page of The Times. How far away from the No. 10 briefing this week is paragraph 9 on page 9 of the Green Paper, which states:

“We cannot proceed with all the activities and programmes we currently aspire to, while simultaneously supporting our current operations and investing in the new capabilities we need. We will need to make tough decisions”?

Of course, this week we have seen the truth of the current Prime Minister’s approach to defence. The former Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon) has said that there was a strong feeling that the last defence review was not fully funded. The former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Walker, told us that the defence chiefs threatened to resign as a result of the savage cuts that the then Chancellor tried to apply to defence in the middle of two wars. Today the former permanent secretary, Sir Kevin Tebbit, talked about having to operate a permanent crisis budget.

The Defence Secretary introduced defence cuts in December, but the Prime Minister this week was talking about increasing the defence budget. In his statement the Secretary of State said, “There has been a great deal of interest in, and speculation about, whether any major capabilities will be confirmed in the Green Paper”. We all know why. It is because No. 10 has been briefing all week that any project that has any job implications for the Prime Minister’s constituency will be spared in any defence review. That is taking a core strategy way too far.

There are some things on which we are clearly agreed. We know from bitter historical experience the difficulty of predicting future conflict—either its nature or its location. We cannot base our future security on the assumption that future wars will be like the current ones. That is why we must maintain generic capability and be able to adapt to any changing threats.

There is no doubt that in Afghanistan we have been too slow to give the Army, in particular, the agility and flexibility that it needs to maximise its effectiveness. But we must also remember that we are a maritime nation dependent on the sea lanes for 92 per cent. of our trade. A time when the threat of disruption is increasing is no time for Britain to become sea blind.

We agree that France and the United States are likely to be our main strategic partners. For us there are two tests: do they invest in defence, and do they fight? Sadly, too few European allies pass both these tests.

The Secretary of State talked about a 10 per cent. increase in the defence budget in real terms. He also talks in the Green Paper about the higher level of defence inflation. Can he tell us how much of the increase in the defence budget has gone into pay, allowances and pensions, and what proportion of the increase has been available for equipment and other programmes over the period that he outlined? Can he confirm that the Department’s budget for next year will be £36.89 billion, as previously set out? He says that not a penny will be cut, notably from next year’s budget. What cuts do the Govt envisage after that?

Unlike the Opposition and the House of Commons, the Government have access to all the costs of the contracts and all the penalty clauses for the major programmes. Why will the Government not give honest answers about the implications of the cost overruns in the years ahead? We know that there has been serial mismanagement at the MOD, with the equipment programme being somewhere between £6 billion and £35 billion above what can currently be afforded. How will it be reconciled?

After 12 years of indecision, we finally get a Green Paper weeks before a general election, and, despite all its good words and all the good intentions of the Secretary of State, the future defence budget of the United Kingdom will have to be determined against the backdrop of Government debt of £799 billion, which is the equivalent of having borrowed £1.1 million every day since the birth of Christ. That our nation’s security should be compromised in this way by Labour’s historic economic incompetence is truly a national tragedy.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments— despite his motives in making them. Can I just point out one thing to him? He claimed that I made defence cuts in December, yet in the same response he said that we were a little late in providing the wherewithal for the Army in Afghanistan. We did not make defence cuts in December; we prioritised, over three years, £900 million of the core defence budget for equipment that was needed for the Afghan conflict. We are doing that, but he criticises us for not doing it, and then he claims that those measures were cuts when, in fact, they were reprioritisations. They were reprioritisations within a budget that never fell. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is prepared to admit or accept that. The budget never fell; I moved money within the budget. It was right to do so, and I make no apology for that, but one thing that I say in the Green Paper—and I think I say it with the genuine support of many people who know about these matters—is that our planning structures will have to be more adaptable. We cannot have planning assumptions that effectively prevent us from moving money within the budget when there are pressing needs; we have to have a structure that supports the adaptability of our armed forces. That must be the overwhelming priority.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the problems with the equipment programme, but I remind him that it was this Government who commissioned the Gray report. We did so to get to the bottom of problems that do exist but, when judged against international comparators, are no worse than hardly any and, indeed, better than many. But, those problems need to be addressed, and there are inefficiencies. We commissioned the Gray report, and I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman has the time to study it properly, he will see that there is a real way—albeit an uncomfortable one for future Ministers—of ensuring that we have a defence procurement methodology that prevents the overruns that we have had. Transparency will be the main tool for doing that, but regular defence reviews, enshrined in legislation, will help as well.

I thank the Defence Secretary for his statement and for the Green Paper, which is a well-judged attempt to frame the questions that the strategic defence review must answer. However, that agenda is unbalanced by the omission of one item: the replacement of Trident. A few minutes ago, the Prime Minister responded to a question about it by looking at the issue from a strategic security point of view, and I agree that that is the starting point, but surely the scale and the timing of any replacement of the Trident deterrent has profound opportunity cost implications for the entirety of the rest of the defence budget. A strategic defence review cannot be genuinely comprehensive if the biggest single strategic and spending decision is parked outwith its framework.

The statement rightly identified that the strategic defence review needs first to ask: what role does Britain want to play in global security? I agree with the Defence Secretary that it would not be appropriate for us to “defend from the goal line”, and that we should be prepared to go to distant places in our national interests, but are we going to learn from our mistakes? In particular, the 1998 assumption that we would be quick in and quick out of some engagements has not turned out to be correct. Should we not also learn the lesson that invading Iraq without the support of many of our usual allies and with dubious legal cover made the operation a great deal more difficult to prosecute thereafter?

I strongly welcome the Defence Secretary’s remarks about a greater importance for co-operation within Europe on defence matters. The Americans’ strategic interests and financial resources mean that in the next few decades they will not be able to make the contribution to European defence that they have made in previous decades. It is absolutely right that the Americans remain our key strategic ally, but we can contribute more to that relationship if we better harness the efforts of Europe in its own cause.

An interesting observation in the statement was the restatement of the 1998 assumption that there is no external direct threat to the United Kingdom. The Defence Secretary went on to talk about accelerating reform and the need to be more adaptable. I entirely agree, but I urge him to be bolder and to go further not only with reform, but with making ourselves agile enough to face emerging threats. We still have troops in Germany who seem to be prepared for the unlikely eventuality of the Soviets arriving with their tanks. There is a great deal more work to be done, but I welcome the direction that the Defence Secretary has pointed out.

Finally, we still have troops in Afghanistan, and we will have for many years yet. We know that there is pressure on the defence budget, but surely we all agree that ensuring that those troops continue to have everything they need is the top priority that cannot be sacrificed to anything else.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response. He takes these issues seriously and studies them, and I hope that he finds the Green Paper a useful tool for his thinking as we move towards the strategic defence review.

The reason why Trident was not included in the Green Paper was that we had to take a strategic decision in 2006 to replace the deterrent if we genuinely wanted to maintain both the skill base in Barrow and our ability to build nuclear submarines. If we had not taken that decision, the risk to our ability would have been profound, and, having done so, we see no reason to attempt to revisit or re-take it. If we did so, that would be destructive. We took the decision, and the time scales in developing nuclear submarines are considerable. That is why the decision had to be taken when it was.

The hon. Gentleman will find that the Green Paper acknowledges that the possibility of quick in, quick out was thought about and hoped for. However, we have not been able or prepared to remove ourselves from some of our operations, and we have been enduring counter-insurgency as a result. That has profound implications, because if we want to maintain our ability to conduct operations like those that we are undertaking in Afghanistan, we must address that issue, among others.

I really believe that the US contribution will continue for the foreseeable future, but I do not believe, as some—not all—Conservative Members do, that there is an alternative to an Atlantic relationship or a European relationship. Our strength in Europe enhances our position with the United States of America. I believe that the two are complementary, and we should pursue both.

Our forces are based in Germany not in anticipation of the Russians coming over, although that is the historical reason why they are there. They are there because bases were built, and that is where they are based. Over time we have reduced our footprint, and over time I should expect us to continue to do so, but that is effectively their home. I am enormously pleased that they are made welcome in Germany, and that we will continue to have a close relationship with the German authorities.

I welcome the statement and accompanying papers and the emphasis that my right hon. Friend places on adaptability and partnership to meet not only the ongoing commitments in Afghanistan but the uncertainty that lies beyond that. He concluded by saying that he hoped that there would be “a mature and well-informed debate about the future structure of our armed forces.” Given that this time last year 29 per cent. of personnel deployed in Afghanistan were naval personnel, can he confirm that this work on the future structure of the armed forces will recognise the naval contribution?

In response to my hon. Friend’s final question, yes, of course, it is absolutely necessary and vital that we have that rounded debate and that we appreciate our geographical location and our dependence on the maritime environment. The existence of and necessity for naval capability is therefore an issue that we must consider seriously.

In many ways, the strategic defence debate has already started, and the Green Paper is a contribution to that. We have already been consulting widely and provoking other people to join in the debate. Papers are coming out of the Royal United Services Institute and other think-tanks and organisations, which are a great contribution to the debate, and those on the Front Benches and Back Benches are turning their minds to it, as are others in the country. I really wanted to encourage that debate when I embarked on this programme, and I hope that this Green Paper has made, and will make, a contribution to it.

I am grateful for prior sight of the statement and of the Green Paper, which is fine, and helpful. I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that the more discussion we can have on this, the better, and I am glad that he has started it off. The Bernard Gray report suggested a 10-year rolling budget. Does the Secretary of State agree that a 10-year indicative planning horizon is a watering down of that proposal, and was it the Treasury that objected?

The longer the planning horizons that we can have in this regard, the better off we are, so we have obviously been discussing that within Government. The provision of the indicative budgets will be a great help, particularly on the equipment side. However, that, on its own, will not get us to where we need to be. Transparency, uncomfortable though it will be, is something which the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee, the Defence Committee, has been advocating for some time, and it will be the big tool in getting us to a better place.

Order. A further 22 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I should like to accommodate everybody, but there is important business to follow, so short questions and short answers are required.

On Friday, I will be visiting BAE Systems’ plant at Samlesbury in Lancashire, where the joint strike fighter is being built. Some £800 million has been invested in the plant, and the aircraft are due to fly off the two aircraft carriers that my right hon. Friend mentioned. His colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), mentioned to the Defence Committee the Government’s commitment to an order of 140 aircraft. I am sure that when I visit the plant on Friday the work force would be pleased if I could confirm that the Secretary of State had made a similar commitment.

Over time, our plans are to base our air capability principally on two aircraft—the Typhoon and the joint strike fighter. The numbers and the particular capabilities of either of those will need to be considered in the defence review. I hope that my hon. Friend takes heart from the fact that even with the movement of resources in December towards the Afghan mission, I brought forward the Typhoon capability upgrade, which means that I understand the importance of maintaining our air capability.

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) for their kind words and say what an honour it was to serve on the Defence Advisory Forum?

Having heard the Prime Minister’s thoroughly slippery and entirely inaccurate answers on defence matters at today’s Prime Minister’s questions, will the Secretary of State confirm that good though this Green Paper is—and it is a good piece of work—a great deal more thinking needs to go on in respect of foreign policy? The foreign policy baseline needs to be the architecture on which the security and defence review will be based.

This Green Paper is clearly grounded in the security documentation that the Government have produced, and I hope that it is consistent with our foreign policy objectives; I have no reason to believe that it is not. The Foreign Office has had the same kind of input as the hon. Gentleman has had. We have been showing him drafts, and he has been providing input and helping to mould this work as it has gone forward. I do not think that his fears are well founded; I hope that they are not.

If I may say so, I found the Secretary of State’s statement rather depressing. There was no mention of a peace process, no mention of international law, and no mention of the United Nations. How on earth can one have a review of defence capabilities without including the nuclear question and the replacement of Trident, which forms such a massive part of our future expenditure? We could save £76 billion over the next 20 years by cancelling the Trident programme, so helping to bring about world disarmament.

I am not surprised that my hon. Friend and I have failed to reach a consensus on the nuclear issue. If he reads the Green Paper that I have produced—I commend it to him—he will see that the United Nations figures quite considerably. Of course, we want to support the security apparatus that provides not only for our own security but for good relations throughout the world, and the United Nations is a very important part of that. If we can promote peace in any and every way, and to the maximum degree of our ability, we should do so, but we should not be naive in thinking that that will always be the case. We therefore have to accept the need for capable armed forces of the kind that we have today and that we will need in future.

May I add my thanks to the Secretary of State for the way in which he has sought to engage with a wide range of people on this Green Paper? Does he agree, however, that this would not be the moment for an east of Suez retrenchment of the United Kingdom under financial pressures, that we cannot afford the luxury of withdrawing back to our home base, and that it is extremely unlikely that we can sustain our global role unless we maintain increases in defence expenditure?

The financial pressures are real, and they will have to be tackled. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should not retreat to the goal line, as I put it, and that we should continue to play our part in the world. However, if we are not increasingly efficient and agile in doing so, and if we are not prepared to accept that we have to do it with others—that we cannot be unilaterally secure—then financial pressures may well force us in the direction he describes.

I warmly welcome the thoughtful statement by the Secretary of State. In terms of emergent threats, where is the reference to cyber attacks, accepting and acknowledging that, for many, those present the greatest threat to our security?

Passages in the Green Paper refer to the cyber environment, because we must be mindful of the great vulnerabilities to which we may be subject as we become more technologically dependent. A lot of investment has already been made in cyber defence and associated matters, but it is an issue to which we must give constant thought.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the strategic defence review. I note with sadness that he chose not to have talks with all parties in the House; perhaps that can be remedied in future.

In Scotland, since Labour came to power, more than 10,000 defence jobs have been lost, regiments have been amalgamated, and bases have been closed. According to the Ministry of Defence’s own statistics, between 2002 and 2007 there was a £4.3 billion defence underspend in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State agree that the strategic defence review must take account of defence spending and the defence footprint across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom?

I personally get on very well with the hon. Gentleman: I want to say that at the start. However, I point out—sadly rather than in any other way—that in seeking to establish the Defence Advisory Forum and capture other political views, if I had thought I would get a constructive contribution from the Scottish National party, I would have included it. However, I genuinely thought that any points from its representatives would have been parochial point scoring rather than genuine input into the planning of the future of defence for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

My friend talks all the time about “our people”, but a steadily rising number of our people are recruits from the Commonwealth with no direct experience of life in the UK. Does the Green Paper say anything about future manpower planning, if I can use that term, and where the recruits are going to come from?

What my hon. Friend says was certainly true for a fairly long period, when we had an increasing contingency from across the Commonwealth. That trend has gone down, which may well be connected with the recession and job opportunities—I am not sure. We are now as near as we have ever been to full manning in the Army, but we need to maintain the high-level skills that we need at every rank. We are not talking just about officers, and when we see how our armed forces operate we see that they need more than bravery. The adaptability and brain power that the lower ranks bring to problem solving is impressive, so of course we must plan for how we can keep those people satisfied and employed in the armed forces.

Will the strategic review allow for more off-the-shelf procurement? Will it call time on the ruinously wasteful protectionism in the defence industrial strategy, and if not, why not?

The hon. Gentleman takes the view, which is not widely shared in the House, that we can simply buy cheaply and readily off the shelf from what is available on the market. There would be consequences for us in doing that. If we buy jets, helicopters or ships from abroad and lose the technological capability to produce such items ourselves, we will probably never be able to gain it again, and we will be sold what is effectively second-class equipment. That is the inevitable consequence. It may well be cheaper, but it will probably be second-class. That is why we have the defence industrial strategy, which decides where we can afford to go in the market, where we can afford to buy cheaply and where we need to maintain our own industrial capability onshore.

The public’s response to soldiers returning from conflicts has demonstrated that they want our armed forces and the members of them to be held in the highest regard. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that part of the review is the care and rehabilitation of soldiers returning from conflicts, who often come back traumatised and needing support, and particularly ensuring that those who are injured in the service of their country get the best form of treatment and that the families of the fallen are looked after?

We need to recognise that the way in which we treat our armed forces has an impact on our ability to recruit the high-calibre people whom we want. The detailed work on how we take forward our welfare programmes for both veterans and serving personnel is being undertaken by the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones). There are aspects that we yet want to improve, despite the improvements that we have made over the years in the service personnel Command Paper and so on, and we may make further statements in the near future on aspects of welfare for parts of our armed forces.

How can the Secretary of State justify taking the decision now to close RAF Cottesmore in Rutland before the completion of the defence review, when the economics of doing so must be totally unclear?

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is representing his constituents assiduously, but the needs of Afghanistan and the priority that needed to be given to it, and therefore the need to continue to take the money that was specifically available for the operation from the Treasury reserve and to adjust the core budget, were justifiable and overriding. There were consequences of that, and I am sad to say that one of them fell in his constituency.

May I ask the Secretary of State how successful he has been in building a consensus with the Opposition parties on the future of the Royal Navy and the need for there to be thousands of jobs in the UK in building aircraft carriers? In the drive to build a consensus, is he willing to meet representatives of the work force engaged in building the carriers, and will he use his good offices to try to arrange meetings with the leaders of the Opposition parties so that they can hopefully be drawn into that consensus?

We took the decision to build the carriers, and my hon. Friend was deeply disappointed that we did not decide to build five or six rather than the two to which we committed. However, we took that decision and are getting on with it, and the carriers are in the process of being built. I know that the Opposition’s policy needs to be flushed out—he is very good at doing that, and I wish him every success—but in producing the Green Paper I never sought to divide people. I sought to bring them together.

I commend the Secretary of State for raising as one of his strategic questions the matter of armed forces ensuring security and contributing to resilience in the UK. The Institute for Public Policy Research’s commission on national security, of which I was a member, stressed the importance of that. Has he looked again at the 1960s civil contingencies legislation and considered whether we should have a homeland security force, who would staff it and how it would work with the Home Office and local government agencies? That is a serious matter in protecting our critical national infrastructure, particularly if we get pandemics.

It is true to say that we have been going in the opposite direction, because other organisations, particularly the police, have developed better capabilities so that they do not depend on our armed forces. However, we need to think through how far that process should go. That is why the matter is flagged up in the Green Paper, so that we can consider it, tackle it and come to a conclusion.

The Secretary of State said, “Our biggest capability is our people…military and civilian”, and their ability to deliver defence. He was completely silent on the need for decent housing, whether it be single or family accommodation. Although I acknowledge the disaster of the privatisation of family housing by the previous Government, does he agree that the Government have had plenty of time to put that right? If retention is still an important part of the Government’s thinking, decent housing for our married soldiers is a priority.

The hon. Gentleman knows that we have invested hugely in the estate, and his constituency and constituents have been the beneficiaries of considerable investment. However, we need to consider to what degree our structures should encourage home ownership among our armed forces. Many of them are going that way in any case, so we must consider to what degree we should continue to encourage them to be tied to the provision of housing that goes with accompanied service. We have to grapple with that issue, and it is raised in the Green Paper so that we can think about it in the defence strategic review.

People worry about the potential effects of losing accompanied service accommodation, but societal trends appear to be going in that direction in any case. It seems to be the desire of most people to own their home, and that applies to service personnel as to anybody else.

Bernard Gray found that too many types of equipment were being ordered for too many tasks at too high a specification. Is it not a great sadness that the Government have only just commissioned this review, having been in office for so long? Does not the Secretary of State feel that some of the problems in defence lie at the very heart of his Department?

When one looks for international comparators, one struggles to find anybody who does such things in a pristine manner. We are no worse than many, many others, but there is huge ground for improvement in my opinion. That is why my predecessor commissioned Bernard Gray to do that report in the first place, and why the Minister of State, Lord Paul Drayson, took a hold of it and produced the acquisition reform strategy, which I think will address the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the developing world-class technology at BAE Warton in my constituency, which is seeing the production of unmanned and autonomous air vehicles. Will the debate he has triggered by the publication of the Green Paper enable a decision to be made as to whether that technology should be counted as a sovereign technology for the United Kingdom?

Yes, that is something that has got to be looked at. I would just remind the right hon. Gentleman that some of his hon. Friends suggested that I was paying for today at the expense of tomorrow when I moved some resources for the purchase of drones. I think such capability is exactly “tomorrow”, whether that means in Afghanistan or anywhere else. The kind of thing the right hon. Gentleman mentioned is what we need to think about.

May I assure the Secretary of State that we in Northern Ireland and our friends in Scotland and Wales are not parochial when it comes to providing our best young people—men and women—to serve in the armed forces? Will he advise the House what proposals are contained in the Green Paper to help to encourage young people to join, particularly in the light of the proposals on the university officer training corps and the Army Cadet Force?

I would add to what the right hon. Gentleman says by saying that Northern Ireland provides a home base for 19 Light Brigade, which is greatly appreciated.

We will get the talent that we need in the armed forces only if people think it is an organisation that has a future in which they can build their careers and to which they can make a real contribution. That impacts not only on welfare provision—soldiers are interested in that, but they are also interested in the kind of organisation that they are joining. They want to join capable armed forces. Planning properly for the future to ensure that they can fulfil a role is the biggest single contribution we can make to attracting the talent we need.

It is welcome that the Green Paper contains a number of references to reserve forces, following from the question asked by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson). In their review, are the Government going to address the questions why we strike the balance between reserves and regulars so very differently from most of our English-speaking counterparts, and why they are able to make so much more imaginative use of reserves than us?

I hope so. That is why those passages are there. I think societal trends will push us, in the long term, in the direction of making more use, not less, of reserve forces. Therefore, the need to ensure that they are highly trained and capable people is going to take on increasing importance. Those issues are flagged up in the Green Paper and the questions that we have posed are out there for debate, and I hope that that matter will be addressed in the strategic defence review.

Does the Secretary of State note, seeing as he has made the statement, that there is not a single reference to NATO in it, which is simply stupendous and quite astonishing? Why is there also no reference to the European Union? Europe is one thing and allies are another. Can he remember what happened with the French off Djibouti? Can he remember what happened when the Belgians would not provide us with any ammunition? Can he remember what happened over the Iraq conflict? Can he remember what happened with respect to the Germans in Afghanistan? Does he not realise that we must have a proper, coherent policy that includes NATO?

Unless I misread my speech or there was a late draft or whatever, NATO, the European Union and the United States of America were all mentioned. The hon. Gentleman will find that they are liberally mentioned—appropriately—in the Green Paper, which I commend to him.

Should there not be a step change increase in the use of our reserve forces if we are to provide Her Majesty with a more flexible, adaptable and cost-effective armed forces in future? Is this not the golden opportunity of a generation to do that?

Maybe. The question has been raised and the strategic defence review will have to answer it, and the hon. Gentleman has views that he will want to make known.

Was it not the Ministry’s preoccupation with the European Union project for the future rapid effect system that prevented it having the ability to respond to the needs of our soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan, leading to a shortage of appropriate equipment in both protected vehicles and, indeed, helicopters? Did I not note that the Secretary of State mentioned further integration as far as the European Union and defence are concerned, and may I warn him not to go down that route? If he does, caveat emptor.

The hon. Lady has looked into vehicle capability and developed quite a level of expertise in that area, but she knows that I fundamentally disagree with her. The vehicles that we have to have specifically to fight the mine threat in Afghanistan are superb and exactly what is needed, but they would be of little use in different scenarios, such as a high-end attack from a capable and well equipped enemy. A Mastiff would not last very long on a fast-moving battlefield. Therefore, as I have said, we must plan for the many threats that we might face. Directing all our resources towards Afghanistan is something that we would need to think very seriously about.

Will the Secretary of State expand his thinking about integration with our European allies? Would that ultimately lead to a situation in which some operations could not be conducted without their support?

One of the big questions we must face is to what degree we are prepared to integrate with, and therefore become dependent upon, our allies, whether that is NATO or the EU, or the US, with which we have a close association in military affairs. That is something that we must think about, but there are people in the House—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is one of them—who have a view that we can be secure unilaterally. However, I do not think that even the US can be secure unilaterally in the modern world. Therefore, we must invest in our friends and alliances—we have no choice but to do so.

Until 1997, there was an annual defence White Paper, which was, to a significant degree, the public presentation of the product of the long-term costings exercise inside the Department, which reconciled the defence programme 10 years out. The absence of that process or of any replacement for it means that the forward defence programme is now bearing all the risk. That was enumerated by Mr. Bernard Gray, who said in his report that

“the forward Defence programme faces”


“financial pressures”.

I am afraid that the Secretary of State and his predecessors, but most of all the Prime Minister, who has been either Prime Minister or Chancellor throughout that period, have to bear the responsibility for this disaster for defence—that is what it is—and reconcile it with the worst fiscal crisis for the Government since the Invergordon mutiny.

Equally, I heard the Prime Minister not so long ago tell the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends that it was they who went into the last election pledged to a £1.5 billion cut in the defence budget.