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Strategic Defence and Security Review

Volume 586: debated on Monday 20 October 2014

2. What progress his Department has made on the next strategic defence and security review; and if he will make a statement. (905514)

The next strategic defence and security review will be conducted next year by my Department, the Cabinet Office, the Foreign Office, the Home Office and others. Until then, our priority remains delivery on the 2010 review, which gave us a balanced and affordable budget and maintained our armed forces’ reputation while modernising force structure and capabilities.

Is the Defence Secretary as concerned as Labour Members about the possibility that by 2020 there will be more seats in Wembley stadium than British soldiers in the Regular Army?

No. The 2010 review rightly identified the need for agile and flexible forces, and set out the numbers. It is too early to prejudge the review that will be conducted next year, but I am sure that the House will want to salute the achievement of our armed forces in so many difficult parts of the world.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the new SDSR acknowledges that Russia has radically changed the situation, first by creating a war in Europe and secondly by ensuring that NATO is undermined, and will it plan for what appear to be Russian planning assumptions for a major war in 2018-19?

My hon. Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee is right. The 2010 review did not predict the scale of Russian aggression in Ukraine, and the recent NATO summit at Newport reinforced the need for NATO members to maintain the level of their spending and to ensure a properly rapid reaction force that can be an effective deterrent to Russian aggression in future.

The last SDSR made no mention of the high north and the Arctic. Since then, the United Kingdom has never provided any fast jets for northern NATO air policing from Reykjavik, and it rarely provides any naval vessels to take part in northern NATO patrolling. In the last few days, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed that not a single civil servant is working exclusively on this important region. When will the MOD take the northern dimension seriously?

We do take the Nordic regions seriously: I meet my colleagues from Nordic members of NATO regularly; I look forward to attending the northern summit in Oslo shortly; and we have, of course, participated already in the Baltic policing mission.

The Secretary of State will be aware of HMS Sultan in my constituency, which is home to the Royal Navy’s school of marine engineering and the first Ministry of Defence training establishment to have received an “outstanding” Ofsted report. Will he confirm that such sites, which are incredibly valuable not only to the MOD but to the local community, will continue to be valued as part of the strategic defence and security review?

I certainly appreciate the valuable and positive benefits that all defence education and training facilities provide to the armed forces. I am not aware of any current plans to alter the establishment my hon. Friend mentions, and I know that she met my hon. Friend the Minister of State last week to discuss it further.

May I start by welcoming the Secretary of State to his place and thanking him for the way in which he has tried to work with me? As I have said, where possible I will try to work constructively with him in the national interest. With our armed forces engaged in a new combat mission against ISIL, intervention in west Africa to prevent the spread of Ebola and support in providing relief to humanitarian crises elsewhere, and with increased NATO commitments in eastern Europe, the next SDSR will be crucial in setting the strategic direction for Britain’s armed forces. How does he intend to ensure that preparations for this SDSR, unlike those for the last one, are well informed, properly scrutinised and not rushed?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s welcome, which I hope the House will extend to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who, as Minister with responsibility for the reserves, will make his first appearance at the Dispatch Box shortly.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his advice, but I am not sure we need too much advice from a party that failed to carry out a defence review for 12 long years. I assure him that this time, unlike the one for 2010, we will be starting from a much better base, where the defence budget has been brought under control and we have equipment programmes that are properly funded.

I had two questions, so I split them and was going to welcome the reserves Minister when asking this one, but let me welcome him now. I am sure we are all grateful for the Defence Secretary’s response, such as it was, but would it not be much easier if he simply published the 60 questions that, according to his permanent secretary’s evidence to the Defence Committee, are forming the basis for the next SDSR, as that would allow us to judge for ourselves? Some months ago, we wrote to his predecessor, who refused to share them. We then put in a freedom of information request, which has also been denied. In the national interest, and to ensure an open, transparent debate about the future of our country’s defence, will he today commit to publish the 60 questions and to consult this House properly on them ahead of the next SDSR?

Let me make it very clear that the next SDSR is being carried out next year. Work has not begun on it this year. Obviously, a certain amount of preparation, thinking and evidence gathering is going on, but we have not started on the review this year—that awaits next year.