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Strategic Defence and Security Review

Volume 515: debated on Monday 13 September 2010

We are in the final stages of the Strategic Defence and Security Review. The Department has concluded its detailed policy and capability studies and concluded the force testing process. No decisions have yet been taken by the National Security Council.

I wish my right hon. Friend well in dealing with the numerous problems left by the previous Government. Does he agree that, despite the need for greater co-operation with our allies on procurement and acquisition, we still need to maintain our own world-beating design and manufacturing base if we are to have true operational sovereignty?

It is vital for the UK clearly to identify our sovereign capability requirements and to pursue them rigorously. That is why we will publish a consultation document later in the year, asking for full consultation on the process to ensure that we have the industrial capability, skills base and regulatory framework to ensure that what my hon. Friend has outlined is made possible.

Since the last strategic defence review, more than 10,000 defence jobs have been lost in Scotland. Bases have been closed and regiments amalgamated, and there has been a mammoth defence underspend of £5.6 billion. Will the Secretary of State tell us how the Ministry of Defence will take these facts into account and ensure that consideration and fairness is given to defence spending in all the nations and regions of the UK?

The priority in the defence review is to ensure that the UK has at its disposal what it needs for its wider national security and that the industrial implications of that are taken into account. I intend to have discussions with the devolved Administrations over the coming weeks to be fully apprised of their concerns about the industrial implications of the SDSR. Ultimately, in a constrained financial environment the No. 1 procurement priority is to ensure that the armed forces have what they need when they need it at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer.

Given the highly specialised tasks involved in defending our airspace for the indefinite future, does the Secretary of State agree that it would not, in any way, compromise the integrity of the strategic defence and security review if he were to state today, in the week in which we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the climax of the battle of Britain, that he will give no time to the strategically illiterate suggestion that the Royal Air Force should be abolished and absorbed into the other two services?

In general it would be wrong of me to pre-empt the SDSR, but I can give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance that the Royal Air Force will continue.

May I say to the Secretary of State that the leaders of industry, as well as the trade unions, are enormously worried that adequate evaluation of the industrial ramifications is not taking place ahead of the main decisions of the SDSR? He cannot do this in sequence without taking huge risks. Will he ensure that the industrial consequences of the review are fully evaluated—or is the timetable being dictated by the Treasury?

The biggest risk that we face in our security is that we have a muddled and incoherent defence programme left over from the previous Government. Before the Labour party lectures the coalition Government about the financial implications that we face, it might want to remember that with a defence budget of some £35 billion a year, it has left behind an overspend in the equipment programme of £38 billion by 2020, with which we are going to have to deal.