With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the strategic defence and security review. There are four things that I would like to say up front. First, this is not simply a cost-saving exercise to get to grips with the biggest budget deficit in post-war history. It is about taking the right decisions to protect our national security in the years ahead, but let me say this: the two are not separate. Our national security depends on our economic strength, and vice versa.
As our national security is a priority, defence and security budgets will contribute to deficit reduction on a lower scale than most other Departments. Over four years, the defence budget will rise in cash terms, and fall by only 8% in real terms. It will meet the NATO 2% of gross domestic product target for defence spending throughout the next four years. But this Government have inherited a £38-billion black hole in our future defence plans. That is bigger than the entire annual defence budget of £33 billion. Sorting this out is vital not just for tackling the deficit, but for protecting our national security.
Secondly, this review is about how we project power and influence in a rapidly changing world. We are the sixth largest economy in the world. Even after this review, we expect to continue with the fourth largest military budget in the world. We have a unique network of alliances and relationships—with the United States, as a member of the EU and NATO, and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We have one of the biggest aid programmes in the world, one of the biggest networks of embassies, a time zone that allows us to trade with Asia in the morning and the Americas in the afternoon, and a language that is spoken across the globe. Our national interest requires our full and active engagement in world affairs. It requires our economy to compete with the strongest and the best, and it requires, too, that we stand up for the values that we believe in. Britain has traditionally punched above its weight in the world, and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come, but we need to be more thoughtful, more strategic and more co-ordinated in the way we advance our interests and protect our national security. That is what this review sets out to achieve.
Thirdly, I want to be clear: there is no cut whatsoever in the support for our forces in Afghanistan. The funding for our operations in Afghanistan comes not from the budget of the Ministry of Defence, but instead from the Treasury special reserve, so changes to the Ministry of Defence that result from today’s review will not affect this funding.
Furthermore, every time the chiefs of staff have advised me that a particular change might have implications for our operations in Afghanistan, either now or in the years to come, I have heeded that advice. In fact, we have been and will be providing more for our brave forces in Afghanistan: more equipment to counter the threat from improvised explosive devices; more protected vehicles, such as the Warthog heavy protection vehicle, which will be out there by the end of the year; more surveillance capability, including unmanned aircraft systems; and, crucially, at last, the right level of helicopter capability.
Fourthly, the review has been very different from those that went before it. It has considered all elements of national security, home and abroad, not just defence on its own. It has been led from the top with all the relevant people around the table and, crucially, it will be repeated every five years. The review sets out a step change in the way we protect this country’s security interests. We will move from a Ministry of Defence that is too big, too inefficient and too over-spent to a Department that is smaller, smarter, and more responsible in its spending; from a strategy that is over-reliant on military intervention to a higher priority for conflict prevention; from concentrating on conventional threats to having a new focus on unconventional threats; and from armed forces that are overstretched and under-equipped and that have been deployed too often without appropriate planning to the most professional and most flexible modem forces in the world, fully equipped for the challenges of the future.
I want to take each of those in turn—
I shall give the hon. Gentleman all the figures he requires.
First, even though the Ministry of Defence will get real growth in its budget next year, the Department will face some significant challenges, so the MOD will cut its estate, dispose of unnecessary assets, renegotiate contracts with industry and cut its management overheads, including reducing civilian numbers in the MOD by 25,000 by 2015. We will also adjust and simplify civilian and military allowances. The new higher operational allowance stays, but there will be difficult decisions, although these will be made easier by the return of the Army from Germany. Taken together, all those changes in the MOD will save £4.7 billion over the spending review period.
Getting to grips with procurement is vital. The Nimrod programme, for example, has cost the British taxpayer more than £3 billion; the number of aircraft to be procured has fallen from 21 to nine; the cost per aircraft has increased by more than 200%; and it is more than eight years late. Today, we are announcing its cancellation.
Secondly, from military intervention to conflict prevention, Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the immense financial and human costs of large scale military interventions, and although we must retain the ability to undertake such operations, we must get better at treating the causes of instability, not just dealing with the consequences. When we fail to prevent conflict and have to resort to military intervention, the costs are always far higher. We will expand our capability to deploy military and civilian teams to support stabilisation efforts and build capacity in other states and we will double our investment in aid for fragile and unstable countries so that by 2015 just under a third of the budget of the Department for International Development will be spent on conflict prevention.
Thirdly, we need to focus more of our resources not on the conventional threats of the past but on the unconventional threats of the future. So, over the next four years we will invest more than £500 million of new money in a national cyber-security programme. That will significantly enhance our ability to detect and defend against cyber attacks and it will fix shortfalls in the critical cyber infrastructure on which the whole country now depends. We will continue to prioritise tackling the terrorist threat both from al-Qaeda and its affiliates and from dissident republicans in Northern Ireland. Although efficiencies will need to be made, we are giving priority to continuing investment in our world-class intelligence agencies and we will sharpen our readiness to act on civil emergencies, energy security, organised crime, counter-proliferation and border security.
Fourthly, and crucially, we need to move from armed forces that are over-stretched and under-equipped to the most modern and professional flexible forces in the world. We inherited an Army with scores of tanks in Germany, but that was until recently forced to face the deadly threat of improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan with Land Rovers designed for Northern Ireland. We have a Royal Air Force hampered in its efforts to support our forces overseas by an ageing strategic airlift fleet and we have a Royal Navy locked into a cycle of ever smaller numbers of ever more expensive ships. We cannot go on like this.
The White Paper we have published today sets out a clear vision for the future structure of our armed forces. The precise budgets beyond 2015 will be agreed in future spending reviews. My own strong view is that this structure will require year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015. Between now and then the Government are committed to the vision of 2020 set out in the review and we will make decisions accordingly. We are also absolutely determined that the Ministry of Defence will become much more commercially hard-headed in future and will adopt a much more aggressive drive for efficiencies.
The transition from the mess we inherited to that coherent future will be a difficult process, especially in the current economic conditions, but we are determined to take the necessary steps. Our ground forces will continue to have a vital operational role, so we will retain a large, well-equipped Army, numbering around 95,500 by 2015—7,000 fewer than today. We will continue to be one of very few countries able to deploy a self-sustaining, properly equipped, brigade-sized force anywhere around the world and to sustain it indefinitely if needs be. We will also be able to put 30,000 into the field for a major, one-off operation.
In terms of the return from Germany, half our personnel should be back by 2015 and the remainder by 2020. Tank and heavy artillery numbers will be reduced by about 40%, but the introduction of 12 new heavy lift Chinook helicopters, new protected mobility vehicles and enhanced communications equipment will make the Army more mobile, more flexible and better equipped to face future threats than ever before.
We will also review the structure of our reserve forces to ensure that we make the most efficient use of their skills, experience and outstanding capabilities. That review will be chaired by the vice-chief of the defence staff, General Houghton, and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who has served for many years in the reserves, will act as his very able deputy.
The Royal Navy will be similarly equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We are procuring a fleet of the most capable nuclear powered hunter-killer Astute class submarines anywhere in the world. Able to operate in secret across the world’s oceans, those submarines will also feed vital strategic intelligence back to the UK. We will complete the production of six Type 45 destroyers —one of the most effective multi-role destroyers in the world. We will also start a new programme to develop less expensive, more flexible, modern frigates. Total naval manpower will reduce to around 30,000 by 2015—that is a reduction of 5,000—and by 2020 the total number of frigates and destroyers will reduce from 23 to 19. However, the fleet as a whole will be better able to take on today’s tasks—from tackling drug trafficking and piracy to counter-terrorism.
The Royal Air Force will also need to take some tough measures in the coming years to ensure a strong future. We have decided to retire the Harrier, which has served this country so well for 40 years. It is a remarkably flexible aircraft, but the military advice is clear: we should sustain the Tornado fleet as that aircraft is more capable and better able to sustain operations in Afghanistan. RAF manpower will also reduce to around 33,000 by 2015—again, that is a reduction of 5,000. Inevitably, that will mean changes in the way in which some RAF bases are used, but some are likely to be required by the Army as forces return from Germany. We owe it to communities up and down the country who have supported our armed forces for many years to engage with them before final decisions are taken.
By the 2020s, the Royal Air Force will be based around a fleet of two of the most capable fighter jets anywhere in the world—a modernised Typhoon fleet, fully capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, and the joint strike fighter, the world’s most advanced multi-role combat jet. The fleet will be complemented by a growing number of unmanned aerial vehicles and the A400M transport aircraft together with the existing fleet of C-17 aircraft and the future strategic tanker aircraft. This will allow us to fly our forces wherever they are needed in the world.
As we focus our resources on the most likely threats to our security, so we will remain vigilant against all possible threats and we should retain the capability to react to the unexpected. As we cut back on tanks and heavy artillery, we will retain the ability to regenerate those capabilities if need be; and while in the short term the ability to deploy air power from the sea is unlikely to be essential, over the longer term we cannot assume that bases for land-based aircraft will always be available when and where we need them, so we will ensure the UK has carrier strike capability for the future. This is another area where I believe the last Government got it badly wrong. There is only one thing worse than spending money you don’t have, and that is buying the wrong things with it—and doing so in the wrong way. The carriers they ordered were unable to work effectively with our key defence partners, the United States or France. They had failed to plan so carriers and planes would arrive at the same time. They ordered the more expensive and less capable version of the joint strike fighter to fly off the carriers. And they signed contracts, so we were left in a situation where even cancelling the second carrier would actually cost more than to build it. [Interruption.] I have this in written confirmation from BAE Systems.
That is the legacy we inherited—an appalling legacy the British people have every right to be angry about, but I say to them today: we will act in the national interest. We would not have started from here, but the right decisions are now being made in the right way and for the right reasons.
It will take time to rectify these mistakes, but this is how we intend to do so. We will build both carriers, but hold one in extended readiness. We will fit the “cats and traps”—the catapults and arrester gear—to the operational carrier. This will allow our allies to operate from our operational carrier, and it will allow us to buy the carrier version of the joint strike fighter, which is more capable, less expensive, has a longer range and carries more weapons. We will also aim to bring the planes and the carriers in at the same time.
Finally, we cannot dismiss the possibility that a major direct nuclear threat to the UK might re-emerge, so we will retain and renew the ultimate insurance policy—our independent nuclear deterrent, which guards our country round the clock every day of the year. We have completed a value for money review of our future deterrent plans, and as a result we can do the following. We can extend the life of the Vanguard class so that the first replacement submarine is not required until 2028; we can reduce the number of operational launch tubes on those new submarines from 12 to eight; we can reduce the number of warheads on our submarines at sea from 48 to 40; and we can reduce our stockpile of operational warheads from fewer than 160 to fewer than 120.
The next phase of the programme to renew our deterrent, the so-called “initial gate,” will start by the end of this year. But as a result of the changes to the programme, the decision to start construction of the new submarines need not now be taken until around 2016. We will save around £1.2 billion and defer a further £2 billion of spending from the next 10 years. So, yes, we will save money, but we will retain and renew a credible, continuous and effective minimum nuclear deterrent that will stand constant guard over our nation’s security.
Finally, the immense contribution of our highly professional special forces is necessarily largely unreported, but their immense capability is recognised across the world. We are significantly increasing our investment in our special forces to ensure they remain at the leading edge of operational capability, prepared to meet current and future threats, and maintaining their unique and specialist role. This enhanced capability will allow them to remain at “extremely high readiness” for emergency operations.
We were left a budget £38 billion overspent, armed forces at war, overstretched, under-equipped and ill prepared for the challenges of the future, and the biggest budget deficit in post-war history. I believe we have begun to deal with all these things, sorting out the legacy and fitting Britain’s defences for the future. I commend this statement to the House.
May I start by joining the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the men and women of our armed forces? I also want to pay tribute to their families, who sustain their loved ones as they prepare for, serve on and recover from operational service. They are the best of Britain, and we should recognise that in the House here today. We must ensure that their interests are protected in all the decisions we make.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance notice of his statement—in today’s papers, yesterday’s papers, Sunday’s papers, Saturday’s papers and Friday’s papers. It almost did not matter that I got his statement at 3.15 pm because I had read so much of it in the newspapers, but, as someone who takes Parliament seriously, I have to say to the Prime Minister that the process of announcement of the review has been a complete shambles. I genuinely hope he will learn the lessons from it.
On issues of defence and national security, we will always seek to be constructive. I believe the Prime Minister approaches the challenge of national defence, as all Governments have done, with the right intentions, and it does neither our politics nor our armed services any good to imply anything different. That is the approach I shall follow today.
The cuts announced today clearly represent a significant reduction in our defence spending, but what matters in our defence spending is what the money does for our defence and security needs. That is what I want to focus on today. First, I remind the Prime Minister of the concern expressed by the Defence Secretary in the letter to him. He said that
“this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR”.
The Prime Minister will know that the concern that the Defence Secretary expressed was expressed not just by the Defence Secretary, but by the Chair of the Select Committee, by many Members of the House and by many independent observers.
Is it not instructive that the strategic defence review of 1998 took 15 months to complete and involved much greater consultation and in-depth study? May I ask the Prime Minister to respond to the widespread perception that the review has been driven only by short-term considerations? Does he think, on reflection, that it would have been better to have had a longer-term strategic defence review, continuing after the spending review?
Secondly, may I ask the Prime Minister about the most immediate and pressing issue of Afghanistan? I reiterate that we support the mission in Afghanistan and will work in a bipartisan way with him to stabilise the country and bring our troops home safely. I was reassured by what he said in his statement about Afghanistan, but may I ask him for some further assurances that he has been told by the Chief of the Defence Staff that no decision announced today will in any way undermine or disadvantage our military operations in Afghanistan?
I welcome what today’s statement said about delivering new equipment, but may I raise with the Prime Minister the issue of extra helicopters? People will remember that he made much of the issue of helicopters in the previous Parliament. The order, as I understand it, was for 22 extra helicopters, but the document produced today states on page 25 that “12 new Chinook helicopters” will be ordered. I simply ask the Prime Minister to explain the discrepancy between the 22 helicopters that I believe he wanted in the previous Parliament, and the 12 that have been ordered.
Thirdly, I am sure the Prime Minister would agree that a key part of preparing for the challenge of the future is the targeting of limited national resources on the most pressing threats. He mentioned terrorism in his statement, and the national security strategy identified terrorism as a tier 1 threat. Given that today’s announcement forms only a partial response to yesterday’s national security strategy, can he assure the House that nothing announced tomorrow in the changes to the Home Office budget will in any way undermine or weaken our ability to counter terrorism in all its forms?
Fourthly, on the issue of preparing our armed forces for future challenges, we agree that savings can be made on the legacy cold war capability, such as in the number of Challenger tanks and in heavy artillery. However, I seek reassurance from the Prime Minister that he is content that the decisions made today do not in any way compromise our ability to support current operations and defend our interests round the world. In particular, what does the capability gap arising from the scrapping of our Harriers and the withdrawal of Ark Royal mean for our force projection, which was made much of in the national security strategy document yesterday? What does it mean for our ability to defend our overseas territories? In that context, will he also reassure the House that the best strategic decision for the next decade really is for Britain to have aircraft carriers without aircraft, which is the decision he announced today?
May I also ask the Prime Minister about two things that he did not mention in his statement? Will he confirm what he did not tell the House but what I think is set out on page 19 of the review—that he is today announcing a one-third reduction in the number of troops that Britain can deploy on both short-term and enduring bases? Will he also take the opportunity to respond to the huge disappointment that there will be in south Wales, following the decision announced in a written ministerial statement this morning to terminate the defence training college at St Athan, which he personally promised would go ahead?
Fifthly, there will be concerns that the review has failed to address strategically the important questions about the future of our nuclear deterrent. All parts of the House support the retention of the nuclear deterrent, alongside progress in multilateral disarmament talks, but can I say—[Interruption.]
There will be concern that the Prime Minister has announced a whole range of decisions on Trident, despite telling us for months that it was not part of the strategic defence review. He made much of the issue of the procurement budget, but will he confirm that by choosing to delay Trident, he is creating a large unfunded spending commitment in the next Parliament—precisely the problem he told us he wants to get away from in procurement.
We will help the Prime Minister and his Government as they seek to do what is best for our country’s security, but many people will believe that this review is a profound missed opportunity. It is a spending review dressed up as a defence review; it has been chaotically conducted and hastily prepared; and it is simply not credible as a strategic blueprint for our future defence needs.
The Opposition will support him where we can, but we will also give his strategy serious scrutiny, and where necessary and appropriate we will subject it to the principled and responsible opposition it deserves.
I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said about our armed forces. Anyone who does my job or that of Defence Secretary knows that we have in our armed forces the bravest of the brave, some of the most professional and dedicated people, and everyone in this House looks up to them and is proud of them.
I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is here at all, because of course today is the day of the TUC rally that he promised to attend. I am very glad that he got his priorities right, and I am sure that all the trade unionists who voted for him will fully understand.
The right hon. Gentleman complained that I had not got him the statement early enough, but I got the document to him two hours ago, which I do not remember his predecessor being very quick to do, but there we are. I might be being unfair.
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman should have started his statement with one word—“sorry”: sorry for the £38 billion of overspend in the MOD; sorry for the fact that the previous Government left more civil servants than we had sailors or airmen; sorry for the £2.3 billion that they spent on refurbishing the Ministry of Defence; and sorry for the completely unsustainable promises that they made.
The right hon. Gentleman asked a series of questions, and I shall try to answer every single one. He compared this review with the 1998 review, but one crucial difference is that the 1998 review did not include the funding to go with the promises that were made. Yes, we have made tough decisions in this review, but the funding is there to meet the promises that have been made.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the review was all about short-term considerations, but I have to say that we have made some long-term decisions: to invest £650 million in cyber at a time when one is making cuts is a long-term decision; to sort out the future of the carriers is a long-term decision; and scrapping many tanks and heavy artillery involves difficult but long-term decisions. On his idea that we should take longer over it, I have to tell him that these decisions do not get any easier by just putting them off. We have had a proper process—a national security process. I note that during his leadership election, he said:
“I think there is a strong case for carrying out our own Strategic Defence Review so that we can give appropriate scrutiny to the Government’s plan”.
I have not seen that review; perhaps it will emerge eventually.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s question about no decision doing damage to what we are doing in Afghanistan, I made it clear in my statement, and I make it clear again to him now, that that has been absolutely uppermost in my mind.
The reason I kept talking about helicopters in the last Parliament is that every time I went to Afghanistan, that is what the troops on the ground were worried about. Now, talking to our troops on the ground—I did a video conference call with the commander of our forces in Helmand only a few days ago—one finds that that is not their concern; they now have the helicopters they need. Let me answer specifically the point about the Chinook order. There was no order for Chinook helicopters—it was this Government who have had to fund that. The number of Chinooks is going from 46 to 60, and we will also be refurbishing the Puma helicopters to add to capacity.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Home Office budget; he will have to wait until tomorrow for that. However, I would stress again that this decision—this document—was brought about by the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, the International Development Secretary and the Business Secretary sitting round as a National Security Council making the right decisions. On his question about being able to produce 30,000 forces in theatre, that was in my statement.
Let me address very directly the issue of the capability gap, because this has been the most difficult decision for the Government to take. There is no gap in our flexible posture. With our air-to-air refuelling and our fast jet capability, we have the ability to deploy force around the world, but I accept that there is going to be a gap in carrier strike. The alternative would be to keep the Harriers but not to keep the Tornados. I think that that would be the wrong decision. The Harriers, in any event, would have to be in Afghanistan, not on an aircraft carrier. The Harrier, while a brilliant aircraft, is not as capable as the Tornado. There are fewer Harriers than Tornados, so there would be a question as to whether they could sustain the action in Afghanistan. The premise underlying the question is not right. The current carriers are not equivalent to the future carriers that we are building. I have to say to hon. Gentlemen who may think, “Well, why not try to keep all of them—the Tornados, Harriers and Typhoons—and develop the joint strike fighter?”, that that would be prohibitively expensive. As I say, it is the sort of decision that was taken in the last Parliament just to push these things off into the future. We have to make the tough decisions now to line up our forces for the future.
The right hon. Gentleman’s last question was on Trident. I have been saving that up for the end because I was so excited by his questions. We held a value-for-money review on Trident because we really wanted to find out what money we could save, and we are saving money, including £700 million in this Parliament—that is money available to invest in other things, and it does nothing to risk our Trident replacement. I believe that Trident is vital to our nation’s security and, having looked at all the evidence, that a proper full replacement of Trident is the right option for the future. These are responsible decisions, well made. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman, who is now running away from the Trident replacement that he supported, that that would be a profound mistake for this country.
Does the Prime Minister understand that many will view with great concern the decision to postpone the vital decisions on the future of the Trident nuclear deterrent until 2016—after the general election, when, for all we know, Lib Dem Ministers may still be there in Cabinet and, having been lifelong opponents of the nuclear deterrent, will continue to try to veto it, so that this decision looks like a subordination of the national interest to the political expediency of keeping the coalition going?
I really can reassure my hon. Friend. I am a very strong supporter of replacing Trident. We have sought the best military advice on what is right for its replacement, and the fact is that because we have been operating the Vanguard submarines for many years, we know what their life can be. We know that it is absolutely right to go through the initial gate this year—we are spending some £700 million in this Parliament on Trident’s replacement—but to go through the final gate of actually commissioning the building in 2016. We are on track to replace Trident and have a full-service nuclear deterrent. It is the right decision, and it saves money at the same time. That is what we should do.
Is not the Prime Minister doing precisely what he criticises with regard to Trident? He is putting off the decision and delaying the expenditure, thereby increasing it. He has also cancelled the Nimrod aircraft, rendering our nuclear deterrent less than invulnerable. How is that sensible, never mind strategic?
Let me first answer the right hon. Gentleman’s last question. What we are proposing would mean no reduction in continuous at-sea deterrence, which is vital. We set out that we were committed to Trident’s replacement but wanted a value-for-money review, and we asked the Ministry of Defence to go through all the possibilities and look to see how we could extend the life of the existing submarines, work on Trident’s replacement and ensure that we had continuous at-sea deterrence all the way through. Those are the sorts of questions, frankly, that the last Government should have asked. It would be irresponsible not to do so if we want to have a full-service nuclear deterrent but want value for money. That is the sort of thing that the last Government should have been asking about.
May I offer the Prime Minister some comfort in relation to Trident and say that I welcome the proposals, particularly as they are consistent with the Liberal Democrat position and also make an important contribution to multilateral nuclear disarmament? Will he confirm that between now and 2016, he will continue to pursue opportunities for multilateral nuclear disarmament, and also investigate the possibilities for greater military co-operation, including nuclear co-operation, with the French?
Of course we will continue to look at our responsibilities on nuclear disarmament, which we believe can be done on a multilateral basis, and of course we should be looking at co-operation with the French. Let me say to anyone who fears that that is a cloak for a European army that it is completely the opposite. Britain and France have very shared assets and very shared interests in developing our Army and Air Force and working out where we can work together to increase our sovereign capability. I will be having a defence summit with President Sarkozy before Christmas, at which I think we can take some very exciting steps forward.
The one place where I would probably part company with the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that although I know the Liberal Democrats are absolutely entitled to use the time between now and 2016 to look at alternatives, from looking at those alternatives I do not think that any of them would give us the assurance of having a full-service nuclear deterrent with the Trident submarine and missile system. I do not think the alternatives come up to scratch in anything like the ways some of their proponents propose, but under our coalition agreement he is free to continue to look at that. The programme for replacing Trident is on track and going ahead.
The Prime Minister has announced cuts and deferred defence decisions today, and tomorrow the Chancellor will announce cuts to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the BBC World Service, yet the national security strategy states:
“The National Security Council has reached a clear conclusion that Britain’s national interest requires us to reject any notion of the shrinkage of our influence.”
Given that statement, is it not true that the national security strategy is not worth the paper it is written on?
May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman a novel idea? Why do we not start looking at what we get out of public spending rather than what we put in? He will see in the strategy that we are actually ensuring that we get the things we need for our Army, Navy and Air Force. We are going to get greater efficiencies, even in vital bodies such as the intelligence services—that is what we have to do at a time when we have such large deficits and debts—but he can see the priority that this Government give to defence and national security in the decisions that we have taken.
With such a thankless task because of the economic background, may I commend the Prime Minister and his colleagues for ensuring that even though reductions in defence capability are inescapable at the moment, we will be able to reverse many of them if our economy improves and resources increase? May I also suggest that the whole House ought to welcome the prospect of saving £700 million on Trident without interfering with continuous at-sea deterrence? Is he satisfied that the technical evidence that he has been given supports that conclusion?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his question. As a lifelong supporter of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent and someone who wants us to have a full service replacement, I wanted to make absolutely sure that we would have continuous at-sea deterrence and that there would be no break between the Vanguard submarines and what will follow. I am satisfied from all the evidence I have seen that that is what we will get. The reason that we have been able to do that is that the Vanguard submarines have been operating for longer. We now know about their life extension and what is possible. It is possible to continue with the independent nuclear deterrent and its replacement without a break in capability.
Thoughts must go to servicemen and servicewomen in communities around the country. Many will be worried about their futures following the Prime Minister’s statement, including thousands at RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Kinloss in Moray. Does he understand that if both those bases close, it will mean a 25% cut in the uniform service posts in Scotland as a whole? Given that it will cost more to close RAF Lossiemouth than to maintain it as a Tornado base, will he or the Defence Secretary meet me to discuss its future?
My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. Clearly, RAF Kinloss will not be required by the RAF following the decisions that we have taken, but we are not announcing base closures today because more armed service personnel will come home from Germany than will lose their positions following my announcements. There is therefore an opportunity to use RAF bases for other military purposes. I hate to make too much of a political point, but one wonders how many bases and how much capability there would be if there were an independent Scotland.
The Defence Select Committee will wish to give the review very close scrutiny. It seems to take a real gamble with the short term in order to provide security and stability in the longer term, but how will my right hon. Friend answer those who say, as they will, “If we can get away with no fast jet aircraft carriers for 10 years, why do we need them at all?” Will he defend the Defence budget against such an attack?
That is absolutely the crucial question and the one that I personally spent the most time on. In many ways, the politically easy answer would be to keep Harriers in service and thereby pretend that there would be no real carrier-strike gap between the carriers we have now and those we will have in future, but militarily, that would be the wrong thing to do. Our greatest priority today is making sure that we have what we need in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the Harrier did great work, but the Tornado is more capable and carries a bigger payload, which is vital. Retiring the Harrier and keeping the Tornado is the right decision.
On our ability to project power around the world, as I said in answer to the Leader of the Opposition, we have air-to-air refuelling, the friendly bases, our allies and overfly rights. It is not easy to see in the short term the need for that sort of carrier strike, but we cannot rule it out for the longer term. I think that a good decision plus a carrier strike gap is better than a bad decision with what we might pretend is no gap. Actually, there is a big difference between our current carriers with the Harriers on board and the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers that we will have in future, with the joint strike fighter, which has a far larger range.
It is difficult, but, having heard all the arguments, I am convinced. I came at the problem as a politician quite tempted by the easy political answer, but the right military answer is the right thing to do for our country.
The Prime Minister will know that the country’s only remaining factory for the manufacture of battle tanks and heavy fighting vehicles is located in Newcastle upon Tyne. Is the factory of strategic importance to the United Kingdom—being the only one we have—and will he say what implications today’s announcement has for the factory?
Clearly—and everyone will accept this—we need to get away from the sort of cold war tactics of having massed tank regiments in Germany, as we have had in the past. The statement as a whole is extremely positive for Britain’s industrial base, in terms of things such as the joint strike fighter, in which we have a huge participation; the A400M, which we will be building; and the shipbuilding that will continue on the Clyde. Obviously, we need to retain key sovereign capabilities and we have to ask in each case what is strictly necessary. Clearly, we will retain a number of tanks and we need them to be properly serviced and workable, because we cannot predict all future conflicts—and it would be a mistake for a document such as this to try to do so.
May I welcome this review, and especially the careful analysis that has gone into it and the conclusions that have been reached? Does the Prime Minister agree that this is just the starting point for a fundamental transformation of defence in this country so that in 10 years’ time we will have a defence posture and capability capable of securing the way ahead for Great Britain?
My hon. Friend is right. The whole point about this review is that it has a vision for what our forces should look like in 2020—10 years’ time rather than just five years’ time. Because the Ministry of Defence and the service chiefs can now see their budgets for the whole of the spending review period, they can make proper plans and try to drive some efficiencies through the MOD so that they get even more for the money that they have. We must have reviews every five years. The problem has been that we had a review in 1998, which was not properly funded, and then a sort of scissors crisis, in which the commitments went in one direction and the ability to fund them went in another direction. To stop that happening in future, we need regular defence reviews and that is what we are committed to having.
We have now seen some of the biggest cuts ever in defence, as we saw when the Conservatives were last in power. The so-called party of defence is no longer the party of defence. The Prime Minister has already said that we should be out of Afghanistan in five years, no matter what. Do the assumptions he has made assume that that is still the case and that the capability will therefore reduce over those five years?
Along with our NATO partners, we believe that there is a clear programme of training up the Afghan national army, police and security forces so that they should be in the lead by 2014. That is our aim, and in addition I have said that by 2015 we should not be in a major combat role or there in major numbers. By then we will have been in Helmand province for longer than the entire second world war. We will have played our part, and I am confident that we are making good progress so that the 2014 calendar to which NATO is committed will go ahead. I do not accept that taking long-term, difficult decisions about the defence of our country makes us somehow anti-defence—the opposite is true. I am passionate about our armed forces, what they represent in our country and what they do on our behalf, but we do not serve them by putting off decisions for the future, making all sorts of airy-fairy promises and then not funding them.
It was sad to hear this morning that the appointment of Metrix as the preferred bidder for the St Athan project had been terminated, although we can understand the reasons. It is a disappointment for the armed forces who need those facilities, as well as for Wales and the Welsh economy. The statement also says that
“work on the alternative options will begin as soon as possible”.
Can the Prime Minister give us an assurance that the St Athan site will remain prominent among those options?
I absolutely can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The current programme and PFI for St Athan is not affordable, but this is not the end of the road for training at St Athan. Training, including fire training, takes place there now, and everybody knows that the MOD and our armed forces need to train together and in fewer places—and St Athan is perfectly placed to bid for that training. There will now be intense discussions between the MOD and others to try to bring that about.
For obvious reasons, the Prime Minister was not able to list in his statement all the vessels that will potentially be scrapped. Those vessels may include HMS Chatham, HMS Cornwall and HMS Ocean, but those are all due for refit in Devonport. Without that work, 300 jobs will be at risk and the skills base will also be at risk, because there is an 18-month trough in the period in which those vessels will be refitted. What discussions did he have on the issue of the skills base with the defence industries before this announcement?
I know the hon. Lady has a very strong constituency interest in this matter, and perhaps I can get back to her in greater detail on the refit programme. I can tell her that HMS Ocean will be going into refit. Clearly, as we have explained, the number of frigates and destroyers combined will be coming down to 19. The decision on the future of HMS Ocean and HMS Illustrious will have to be taken on the basis of what is the best platform for the use of helicopters. The best thing is for us, as we go through the details, to tell her more about what I think will be fundamentally good news for both Plymouth and Portsmouth, because we want to keep both naval bases—and keep them busy. The communities there are hugely supportive of our armed forces and give them tremendous backing. I have never believed that it is right to put all our defence eggs into a very small number of bases, as it were, so Portsmouth, Plymouth and Faslane will of course all go ahead.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s determination to adopt a more thoughtful and strategic approach. Has he had a chance to read the Public Administration Committee’s report “Who does UK National Strategy?”, in which the outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff commented that the UK had
“lost an institutionalised capacity for, and culture of, strategic thought”?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a more co-ordinated approach to strategic thinking across Whitehall, and will he adopt the report’s recommendations?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. That was one of the reasons why yesterday we published the national security strategy separately—so that people could see that the defence review flows from strategic thinking about Britain’s place in the world, about the threats we face and about how we can bring all of the Government together to try to deal with that. The National Security Council and the national security adviser, Peter Ricketts—I pay tribute to him and his team for their work—are working well at bringing the Government together to interrogate the experts and really think about what our strategy should be and what that means for the decisions we have to take. That is much better than a two-way battle between the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury.
The Prime Minister says that savings can be made in this Parliament by delaying Trident, but can he say what the increased cost overall to the deterrent programme will be of this delay and how this needless risk and uncertainty are showing leadership in the long-term interests of the country?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has a strong constituency interest in this matter. I can tell him that overall the cost will be lower—this was a value-for-money exercise. We are driving costs out of the programme, and overall we believe that it will be less expensive. Further good news is that the Astute class submarines are going ahead. Obviously he will have a tortured time ahead as he considers the fact that this Prime Minister and Government support the Trident replacement when his own party is going a bit soft on it.
My right hon. Friend has it in his power to secure the future of the nuclear deterrent until 2055 by holding the vital vote and making the main gate contract decisions in this Parliament, not the next one. He could do that at no extra cost, even if he wishes to delay the introduction of the system. Will he explain his reason for delaying this vital vote into the next Parliament, other than to make our ultimate deterrent a political gambling chip to satisfy the Liberal Democrats?
I worked with my hon. Friend for many, many years, and I know that he takes an extremely close and professional interest in this matter. I remember he did it when there was not a single supporter of nuclear deterrence on the Labour Benches. He did a great service to the country. However, I would make two points to him: first, the military advice is that we need to go through the main gate in 2016, not earlier. I would also like to make another, slightly more frivolous point: I am not as lacking in confidence as he is that there will be plenty of supporters of Britain’s strong and independent nuclear deterrent in the next Parliament.
Given that the Prime Minister, in his previous answer, cast doubt on the Labour party’s commitment to Trident, and given that we know that his coalition partners are against it, may I return to the question he was just asked? Why is he afraid to put this to a vote before 2015?
I really think that I have answered the question. The military advice is that 2016 is when we need to go through the main gate. We are going through the initial gate this year. We now have the Backbench Business Committee, so if anybody wants to hold a vote in this Parliament, they can do so, to check that we are going through the initial gate, which we are steaming through this year. I question the Opposition’s position, because the leader of the party said throughout the leadership election:
“I have been clear…I believe the right approach is to include the decision about the replacement of Trident in the…defence review”.
He is therefore not automatically committed to the full replacement of Trident, so perhaps the hon. Lady ought to have a word with him and put him right on that.
I can say yes to both those questions, particularly the second, which is: do we have the naval assets to meet the tasks of tackling piracy, combating drug running, maintaining patrols and suchlike? Yes, we do have that capability, and it is extremely important that that should be on the record.
The Prime Minister announced a reduction of 7,000 to the Army. Will he give the House an assurance that this will not include front-line infantry units such as the Royal Irish Regiment, which is currently deployed in Afghanistan? Secondly, I welcome the establishment of the review of the reserve forces and the appointment of our hon. Friend the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier). Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that the review will seek to expand the role of the reserve forces in support of our regular forces? Finally, will he ensure that the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the special forces deployed there receive the support that they need to deal with the threat from dissident republicans?
That was very ingenious: the right hon. Gentleman managed to get round your restriction on questions, Mr Speaker, and I think managed to get in at least three. As for regiments, I can confirm that no infantry regiments will be abolished or scrapped as a result of the review. The reduction in the Army numbers will be achieved by reducing the number of headquarters, particularly the divisional and regional headquarters. There may be some impact on logistics and artillery, but no infantry battalions will be altered.
On the reserves, I was personally keen that we should look widely at what other countries are doing on the balance between regular and reserve forces, and ensure that our reserve forces are properly equipped for the sort of modern wars that we have to fight and the modern services that they have to undertake. I do not think that we have done that work yet, which is why I have taken it out of the defence review and said that we should have a proper, separate look.
On Northern Ireland, I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that the last Government gave a number of commitments on the devolution of policing and justice, and the funding that this required, and we will continue with those. We have had a discussion in the National Security Council about these issues and how we best tackle the threat from dissident republicans. I can give the right hon. Gentleman my word that we will continue to give the issue our highest attention, and he will have noticed in the national security strategy that we have put it down as one of the highest priorities for our country, which is right.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement that there will be no shrinkage in Britain’s role on the world stage. The Royal Navy has fulfilled a number of deployments around the globe for many decades. Can he reassure me that with the reduction in the number of frigates, there will be no reduction in the number of the Royal Navy’s commitments?
The Royal Navy has said that it is able to undertake its task with this lay down of frigates and destroyers. We obviously have the new Type 45 destroyers coming into service, which are costing something like £1 billion each, and we will have the less expensive, more flexible future frigates coming forward as well. I genuinely mean this point about no strategic shrinkage. We are having to take some difficult decisions, but when we think about how much time we spend in this House talking about natural disasters the world over, and about our role in trying to tackle them, one argument that we need to develop is about how the money that we spend through our aid budget plays a key role in ensuring that there is no strategic shrinkage.
The nuclear non-proliferation treaty commits this country to long-term nuclear disarmament and to take steps to achieve that. The Prime Minister has just announced the replacement of the Trident nuclear system at some point in the future. Is this not illegal under the terms of that treaty, and how much money will it cost us to develop another generation of weapons of mass destruction, when what we need is peace and a nuclear-free world?
Our proposals are within the spirit and the letter of the non-proliferation treaty. Also, I did not necessarily come to the House today to try to make the hon. Gentleman happy, but I did announce that we would be reducing the number of warheads on each submarine from 48 to 40, and our operationally available warheads from fewer than 160 to no more than 120, which is all contained on page 38 of this excellent document today, which I commend to him.
The communities of Wootton Bassett and Calne, as well as that of Lyneham itself, will deeply regret the loss of the RAF from my constituency to that of the Prime Minister. Will he accept that those communities are absolutely ready to accept soldiers into the vacated base, and that the base itself, which will be vacant by the end of next year and is close to Salisbury plain, is ideally suited to brigades returning from Germany?
My hon. Friend has stood up for Lyneham with vigour and tenacity for many years, and I commend him for that. This is a good opportunity to put on record the respect that everyone in this House and in the country has for the people of Wootton Bassett for what they have done. I am in the embarrassing position of having in my constituency the premier RAF base, Brize Norton, which, I am afraid, does not particularly suffer from the announcements made today. My hon. Friend has made a good suggestion for the future of Lyneham, and I am sure that he can pursue it with the Ministry of Defence.
There are human costs attached to the 42,000 job losses across the Ministry of Defence and the military that have been announced today. Can we have an assurance that those people who are losing their jobs in the Ministry, the civil service, the military and the defence industry will be given help and support to relocate, and that their housing needs will be addressed, given the housing cuts that have been announced in the past few days? Can we have an assurance that the people who have served and offered their lives for this country are not going to be discarded?
I can absolutely give the hon. Lady that assurance. We want to ensure that as many of the job losses as possible are found through voluntary redundancy and retirement, rather than through making people redundant. I can also confirm what has been said before, which is that we will obviously not be making anyone redundant who is in Afghanistan or whose units are in Afghanistan. That will not be happening; that is extremely important.
In terms of the industrial base, of course there will be impacts—for instance, with the decision on Nimrod—but if we look across British industry as a whole, and at the decisions on shipbuilding, on the A400M and on the joint strike fighter among many others, we can see that there is a strong future for defence manufacturing in our country.
Let me just put on record how much we should value the MOD’s civilians and how hard they work, because I know that they sometimes feel undervalued. I was at the Permanent Joint Headquarters today and saw many civilians working alongside their military counterparts to co-ordinate our efforts in Afghanistan; they were doing a fantastic job. It is right that we reduce the number of civilians in the MOD—it has got too big—but we need to ensure that we do it in as sensitive a way as possible.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the honour that he has done me in putting me on to the commission. I also find it deeply humbling that five parliamentary colleagues have been among the 27,000 men and women who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq as reservists over the past eight years. I welcome this wide-ranging study, and my right hon. Friend made it clear that it goes across all three services and will look at the balance between regulars and reserves. Has he thought about who else he might put on to the commission?
First, I thank my hon. Friend for taking part in this. I want the vice-chief of the defence staff, General Nick Houghton, to lead it, and I think that my hon. Friend should be the deputy. General Lamb, who has served our country outstandingly in Iraq and Afghanistan and was taken on personally by the Americans in Afghanistan because of the great work he has done, has also agreed to serve. My Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne) is one of the many people in the House who has served in the reserve forces, but I am afraid that he will not be free to do this. I once suffered a capability gap when he went to Iraq during the last Parliament in the rather hard-to-explain role of liaising with the Italian forces—something I know everyone thinks he is uniquely qualified to do.
Given that a nuclear attack on the UK by another state was judged by yesterday’s national security strategy to be of “low likelihood” and in the light of the formal exclusion of Trident from the strategic defence and security review, will the Prime Minister use the delay in the Trident main gate decision to allow a full public review of the necessity of nuclear weapons?
I think that there will be a continuing debate in this country about nuclear deterrence. I have been through the arguments in my own mind a thousand times, and I always come up with the same answer, which is that, in an uncertain, unsafe and dangerous world, with countries like Iran trying to get a nuclear weapon, it would be a profound mistake for Britain to discard her nuclear weapon. But this debate can always take place in this House. I think that my party has a very settled view on it, and the White Paper safeguards that, but it is for others to make up their own minds.
I remind the House of my interest. Will the Government match their commitment to conflict prevention with an expansion of the stabilisation unit and greater use of our specialist reserves in a military stabilisation and support group?
My hon. Friend, who has served in Afghanistan and has expertise in bomb disposal—we should give him credit for that—makes a good point. The whole point of taking the reserves out of the review and of having a separate, longer and more thoughtful look is precisely to answer the sort of question that he puts. When it comes to what is called “hot stabilisation”, I think it is right to try to develop units where we bring the military and civilians together. Then, in that vital golden hour when we have gone into a community, we can start to get things done so that the population is on our side rather than against us. If we are to have more of what have been called “wars among the people”, we must make sure that we are properly equipped to deal with them.
I have always supported the case for greater conflict prevention, but conflict prevention needs to be understood and practised by the military themselves. How will the Prime Minister guarantee the continuing and proper focus of the Department for International Development on women, children and achieving the millennium development goals if a third of its budget should be reallocated to conflict prevention, which is something quite different?
I would say that conflict affects women and children and that broken states have the worst records on poverty and development. Far be it from me to recommend a reading list to the right hon. Lady, but Paul Collier’s work on the bottom billion and broken states backs up the case for how we should use our DFID budget—yes, for meeting the millennium development goals; yes, for vaccination and malaria reduction and all those extremely worthwhile things; but I think we are mad if we do not put money into mending broken states, where so many of the problems of poverty arise.
I strongly support our defence industrial base, which is one of our great industries and a great export earner for our country. We should support it. However, when we were looking at how to make this very difficult budgetary situation work, I checked the figures and found that between 2011 and 2015, we will be spending £17 billion with BAE Systems. We are an enormous customer for it. Just as it behoves us as a Government to spend responsibly and think of our industrial base, so it must ensure that we get value for money for the very many millions we spend.
I find it passing strange that the Prime Minister made no reference in his statement to the defence training academy at St Athan and then failed to answer a direct and simple question from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Has the Prime Minister not been told that the academy is cost effective, delivers savings and will improve the quality of training for our armed services? He talks about professionalism and flexibility, so how does it make sense to axe it?
This is what the defence review was all about—asking some of these difficult questions. The conclusion on St Athan was that the current private finance initiative is not right and is not working. That is why, although we recognise St Athan as a great base for training—important training takes place there now and much training can take place there in the future—we need another look at ensuring that it is right and provides value for money at the same time. That is what is going to happen, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, as a former Secretary of State and former First Minister, will want to get involved in that.
We are supporting and, of course, upgrading Eurofighter because it is important that it has a ground attack capability. What this document sets out is the total force of Typhoon and joint strike fighter that we anticipate having as part of our 2024 structures.
The Prime Minister may not be aware that my son is serving in 40 Commando Royal Marines, and has just returned from duty. He tells me that when he asked the RAF for a helicopter to take his men into the field, he was told, “We do not fly in the day because we are being shot at.” Will the Prime Minister have the matter investigated?
I thank the Prime Minister for his commitment to the aircraft carriers—I am very grateful for that—but is he in a position to confirm that Plymouth Devonport in my constituency will continue to play a major role in the defence of our country, and will remain a premier naval port?
I can absolutely confirm that. The decisions that we make through this process will clearly have impacts on Portsmouth and on Plymouth Devonport, and we shall have to work through those because of the different lay-down of ships and forces. However, I can confirm my belief that fundamentally, for the long term, this is good news for both Plymouth and Portsmouth.
Thousands of aerospace workers across Lancashire, including hundreds in my constituency who work at BAE Warton and Samlesbury, will want to know the practical implications of these warm words about a Typhoon fleet, the joint strike fighter and a growing fleet of unmanned air vehicles. Incidentally, all those were previously Labour Government policy. As the Prime Minister has already given us an ambiguous answer on the issue of Eurofighter Typhoon, will he now give us a more substantive answer on whether he will support research and development and investment in Taranis?
Of course all those things, and many others were Labour policy. That is the problem. There was no prioritisation, and no sign of how any of it was to be paid for. It is the easiest thing in the world to rack up a defence budget that is £38 billion overspent, but it is a difficult thing to come in and work out what is to be kept and what cannot be kept, and that is what we have had to do.
As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), this is, in some ways, the start of a process. The document makes clear how many fast jets we expect to have in 2020. We now have to make decisions between the joint strike fighter and the final tranche of Typhoon. There is extra money for unmanned aerial vehicles, and I think that anyone who has been to Afghanistan and seen the incredible work that is being done there knows that that is a capability in which we should be investing. Let me repeat, however, that it cannot be invested in unless difficult decisions are made elsewhere. We have done that, and the Labour Government did not.
One of the fundamental problems of the last eight to 10 years has been the split between foreign policy and defence. Will the Prime Minister please tell us what steps are being taken to ensure that not just the National Security Council, but the Joint Intelligence Committee and the Foreign Office, really drive us to have the right resources and the right priorities?
I am going to sound a bit like a stuck record on the National Security Council, but it really has struck me over the last few months that when it comes to issues such as how we respond to the Pakistan floods, what we do to help Haiti, how we go through the defence review and what is the future of our development programme, the fact that the Foreign Secretary, the Secretary of State for International Development, the Business Secretary and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are all sitting around the table discussing the issues means that decisions are not being made in silos. Much of what the Ministry of Defence does has a huge impact on our foreign policy. Our fleet of frigates is hugely influential in building relationships the world over. I think that the fact that we are all working together much more positively than has been the case in the past solves the problem to which my hon. Friend has alluded.
Can the Prime Minister tell us whether Rosyth dockyard’s frigate refit orders between now and 2013 will go ahead? If I understand the document correctly, he has put back the Queen Elizabeth’s entry date, and we note that there is no entry date for the Prince of Wales. What does that mean for the work force at Rosyth and elsewhere? Will we simply see a continuation of the policies of the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), and the destruction of the Scottish shipbuilding industry?
Given that the Government are going ahead with building both carriers, I think that that is not exactly gratitude.
The Queen Elizabeth is not being “put back” in terms of its manufacture. Once it has been manufactured, we will fit the “cats and traps”—the catapults and arrester gear—to the operational carrier, so that it can then work with the carrier version of the joint strike fighter, which is a better aircraft than the one that the last Government ordered. That will make it fully interoperable with our closest allies, the Americans and the French. So there is not a delay in the production of the carriers, as the hon. Gentleman says. Some extra equipment needs to be added.
The Prime Minister will be aware that his words of support for Plymouth naval base will be extremely well received in the west country this evening, but can he say a few more words about the Royal Marines? Does he agree that they will have a glorious future in serving our country and its defence as well as a glorious past?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. The Royal Marines have done fantastic work for our country over recent years, not least in Afghanistan. I know how loved they are, not just in the south-west but across the country. There will not be a reduction in their capabilities but clearly, just as with the Army, there will be some regard to ensuring that there are not issues of top-heaviness, if I can put it that way. The Royal Marines are here to stay. They do a fantastic job and will go on doing so—so much so that I have actually employed one as a private secretary.
The national security strategy yesterday and the Prime Minister today both emphasised cyber-threats and communication. The Prime Minister will be aware that there is tri-service training in communication and information systems at the defence college at Blandford in my constituency. The 3,000 people who depend on that for their jobs will welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement this morning on the Metrix decision, but can the Prime Minister assure me that defence training decisions will be focused on centres of excellence such as Blandford, and not on political considerations?
May I ask the Prime Minister about the important issue of the defence training college at St Athan? As he knows, there will be profound disappointment in both the military and south Wales generally at the cancellation or postponement—I cannot tell from the statement which it is. He has referred several times today to the PFI deal as somehow not being right. What is wrong with it exactly, because we understood it to be providing good value for money?
The contract is not working. The work for which contracts have already been met will continue to completion, but new contracts will not be started. Turning to the future, we continue to believe that technical training co-located on as few sites as possible is the best solution for our armed forces. St Athan was previously chosen as the best location at which to co-locate that training, and it was chosen for very good reasons. Those good reasons remain. That is why I have said that this is not the end of the road for St Athan, and we can work hard to try to find a good solution for the future.
I have noted time and again in the past that brave new talk of co-operation with the French has dribbled into the sands partly because of British Aerospace’s understandable preference for commercial relationships in the United States. Will the Prime Minister explain how he will drive this process forward personally with President Sarkozy, because we are the only two nations in Europe that can propel our power, and we will either swim together or sink separately?
I am delighted that someone with such impeccable Eurosceptic credentials shares my view that this is a really worthwhile thing for our country to do. Let me explain what has changed: first, President Sarkozy is extremely keen on this defence relationship; secondly, he has put France straight into the heart of NATO; and thirdly, we both face the same pressures. We both have full-service armed forces: we both have very effective navies and air forces, and troops that really can make an impact on the ground. We both want to maintain and enhance those capabilities and I believe that, together, there is a huge number of things we can do. I am working on a programme with President Sarkozy—I have already discussed it with him—in advance of our summit that will take place soon, and I hope my hon. Friend will be pleased with the results that I think we will be able to deliver.
Can the Prime Minister confirm that the 2010 GDP pledge does not include the cost of Afghanistan?
On the NATO figures, what I can confirm is that in terms of the NATO definition of what 2% should include, we are comfortably ahead of that 2%. Obviously, it does include current military operations and other military expenditure. It is all set out. If the hon. Gentleman likes, I can give him all the figures I have seen, because there are quite a lot of competing figures for who spends what. Fundamentally however, in terms of GDP we are the third highest in NATO. The Americans are first; the Greeks are second, for some historical reasons that I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand; and the UK is third, ahead of France and the others.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s considered statement and, in particular, his important reference to cyber-security? Does he agree that if cyber-security is to be effective, there needs to be a real working partnership with the private sector, particularly as regards critical national infrastructure?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is not about some great big Government organisation spending lots of money on cyber; there has to be engagement with private sector organisations that have the expertise. As hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will know, when the Government come up with a new programme and some new spending, everyone suddenly becomes in favour of extra cyber-things. We have to make sure that the money is well spent and well targeted, and that we use experience from the private sector.
Perhaps the Prime Minister would listen to me. Will he answer a simple question? He refers to more flexible, modern frigates being less expensive. I know that he would not want to put our sailors at any risk, and that those ships will therefore have the same, if not better, defensive capabilities. Will he describe what this modern, cheaper frigate looks like?
They should have a range of capabilities. The point that I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that the Type 45 destroyers, which are extremely capable, are costing £1 billion each. When one looks at the tasks that we want our Royal Navy to perform in the future, which include combating piracy and drug running, and undertaking other patrol duties, there is a case for saying that the future frigate programme should be less expensive and more flexible. That is what the commissioning process will try to deliver.
As a former soldier, may I thank the Prime Minister for the close personal interest that he has taken in making sure that the review came out in the way that it did? Does he agree that it will only be possible to rebalance our force structures within this sort of spending envelope if we get to grips with the disastrous procurement process that we inherited, and will he confirm—
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: procurement is extremely difficult, but we have absolutely got to do better. One of the decisions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has made is to get Peter Levene back into the Ministry of Defence to look at some of those issues. It is vital that we try to improve on the record that we have inherited.
Two years ago, when jobs were threatened at the QinetiQ Hebrides range—that is where Type 45s, among other defence assets, exercise—the current Defence Secretary and Armed Forces Minister joined me and the Hebrides range taskforce in forcing the then Labour Government into a U-turn. Will the Prime Minister join them in their support of the Hebrides range by valuing its work?
I welcome the statement, but does the Prime Minister agree that one of the problems with delaying decisions over the years is that one ends up with a military strategy that does not meet modern threats? Does he agree that, for the future, it is vital to have a flexible, adaptive strategy that means that we are up to date with modern technologies, whether they are action in cyberspace, unmanned aerial vehicles, or other technologies?
My hon. Friend is right. One of the reasons for having more regular defence reviews is so that we force ourselves to ask these difficult questions more often. Where one can sometimes bring forward a programme that has been delayed, one should. That is what we are doing with the A400M because, frankly, we need to replace the ageing transport fleet, and the sooner we do it, the better.
In his statement, the Prime Minister made quite clear his support for Eurofighter Typhoon and the joint strike fighter. Can he tell the House how many fighters of the tranche 3B type he will be ordering, and whether he will be ordering the joint strike fighter for the new aircraft carriers?
We aim to have 110 Typhoons by 2020—the figures are all set out in the document—but clearly the balance between the two is something that we have to make decisions about. I think that one can see the general thrust, which is that we will be based around two fast jet types, the Typhoon and the joint strike fighter. I am sure that that is the right strategy.
My constituency of Devizes is home to more than 10,000 soldiers, plus a huge number of families and MOD civil servants, many of whom will welcome some of the uncertainty that has been removed by the Prime Minister’s statement today but who will have great concerns about the detail underlying it—about the boarding school allowances, the Army recovery centre at Tidworth and so on. When will they finally get information about what will stay and what will be cut?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We have not yet announced the full range of allowance changes. This is important—we are seeking some savings, and I do not hide from hon. Members the fact that this will involve some difficult decisions. There is one bit of reassurance—the Army is coming back from Germany, which involves 20,000 troops. I think that we spend something like £250 million a year on allowances for those troops in Germany. Obviously, having them back at home will change the cost structure and enable us to change some of the allowances, but we will be making further announcements.
May I unequivocally welcome the announcement on the aircraft carriers? It took long enough. However, may I clarify whether the provision of the catapults and the rest of the gear will delay in any way the production of the carriers and have any job implications and whether it is intended that the Type 26 work will proceed to the already announced timetable?
The answer to the second half of the hon. Gentleman’s question is yes. On the carriers, it will not delay their manufacture and production. What it means is that as the first is produced, the most logical step would be to fit the “cat and trap” to that carrier, which will therefore come fully into service when the carrier version of the joint strike fighter arrives at the same time. We will have solved one of the inherited problems of bringing the two things together. Clearly, an alternative would be to fit the “cat and trap” to the second carrier, but the most logical way ahead is the one that I have set out.
My constituents and I—and, it seems, many other Members in the Chamber—are naturally disappointed that the Metrix proposal for St Athan will not go ahead. Will the Prime Minister confirm that St Athan remains central to defence training and will he make available some of his officials to provide a detailed breakdown of why Metrix was not suitable?
I am very happy to do that. I know how strongly people feel about this in south Wales and I know how important this decision is, so I am happy to make officials and Ministers available to meet my hon. Friend to explain the thinking. As I have said, this is not the end of the road for St Athan. There are many opportunities to concentrate training at that excellent resource and so, I think, he can continue to fight hard for his constituents.
Lord Robertson’s strategic defence review was so well regarded internationally that he was made Secretary-General of NATO and his thinking shaped NATO’s strategy for a decade. Next month, the Prime Minister goes to the NATO summit in Lisbon to agree the new strategic concept. All four of his priorities are already in the concept. What is new enough and strategic enough for this defence review to shape NATO’s policy over the next decade?
There are a number of things that are new. The emphasis on a national security strategy in the round is new. The emphasis on cyber is new. The fact that we have prioritised national security tasks is quite high risk, frankly. If things happen that are in priority two or three, people will clearly be able to say that that should have been priority one. We have taken some risks with this process. I would also say that the force structure and the equipment going with the forces—making them more adaptable and flexible—is something, too. I expect other NATO countries will have to go through this process of making changes to their defence posture at the same time as trying to deal with their deficits.
Despite the futility of the Afghanistan war, our troops deserve the greatest support. In part, they have suffered from a lack of equipment and numbers. Can the Prime Minister guarantee that this review will not only ensure that there are no cuts in support but that there is increased support, should our troops require it in the future?
Yes, absolutely. As I say, Afghanistan is funded through the Treasury reserve but we cannot entirely insulate what happens in funding for Afghanistan from decisions made elsewhere in the defence budget. As I said in my statement—I wanted to get this in—any time the chiefs of staff said that a decision could impact on Afghanistan either now or in the future, such as the decision on whether to go ahead with the Puma refit, I took the decision that we should go ahead with it to ensure that there is no danger of any shortfalls in equipment. That should be our first concern. They are on the line for us every day, and I never forget that.
May I say how much I agree with the Prime Minister, particularly on the occasions at the conference in Manchester on which he said that he was committed to the defence training academy, and with his hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), who said it had to be won because it was the right military thing to do? However, I am still not clear, and perhaps the Prime Minister could answer me on this point. Is there are future for the defence training academy at St Athan, whether it is run by Metrix or anybody else?
Fundamentally, yes, there is a future for defence training at St Athan, as I have said. We need to make sure that more is done on a tri-service basis and that more is concentrated in fewer places. St Athan is uniquely well qualified for that but the current private finance initiative was not working—the MOD could not get it to work in the way that it wanted—so we have to start again. This is not the end of the road.
With the announcements that we have made in the national security strategy and today, I do not think that we will be lagging behind. We have considerable expertise both in our private sector and with GCHQ, and this is an opportunity to build some competitive advantage.
This is financial, not strategic. The defence academy in south Wales has been cancelled, the Royal Navy will be without carriers for the first time since world war two—[Interruption.] There will be an eight-year gap. Does this herald the end of “Britannia rules the waves” and the start of “Cameron waves the rules”?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman’s break from Parliament did not do anything for his temper or his nature. He is completely wrong. We have to get these decisions right for the long term and, as I have tried to explain, a politically easier decision would have been a militarily wrong decision. That is a good way to start.
Last week, the Public Accounts Committee heard from Sir Bill Jeffrey, who said that the lack of a strategic review over the last couple of years had made the situation in the defence budget more difficult. I welcome the Prime Minister’s assurance that there will be a strategic defence review every five years, but what can he do to entrench that and to ensure that the shambolic position of there having been no review for 12 years never happens again?
I hope that it can become accepted between all parties in the House that we have five-yearly reviews. There is a provision for similar reviews in America. Given all the things that have happened since 1998—Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and 9/11—I think that future generations will find it very hard to understand why there has been no defence review.
Earlier, the Prime Minister sounded the death knell for Kinloss as an RAF station, but he did not respond to the question about Lossiemouth. Will he tell the House and the people of Scotland, all of whom are interested in this, what the future is for Lossiemouth and for RAF recruitment in Scotland?
I said that we are going to look at all the bases and see clearly what impact there is on Kinloss and Lossiemouth from the announcements about what the RAF’s lay-down is going to be. Clearly, there will be opportunities as British forces come home from Germany, so we will look at all bases and see what can be done. As I said in the statement, it is important that we consult all the communities who have given so much support to our forces over many years and that we do not rush these things.
Order. I am sorry to disappoint some colleagues, but I have allowed the statement to run rather longer than is customarily the case for statements, in recognition of the enormous importance of the issue, but we must make progress. [Interruption.] I could never forget the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) and I would not try.