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Strategic Defence and Security Review

Volume 596: debated on Monday 8 June 2015

I hope you will allow me, Mr Speaker, to welcome the new Minister for the Armed Forces and the new Minister for defence personnel and veterans, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster), to their places.

Work has now begun on the 2015 strategic defence and security review, led by the Cabinet Office, and we expect the review to report towards the end of the year.

But before we had seen any timetable for the SDSR, the Chancellor last week announced £500 million-worth of defence cuts. Leaving aside our NATO commitments and the fundamental importance of keeping this nation safe, should we not assess our security needs first and then set the budget?

The savings announced last week were in-year savings that do not affect the core baseline defence budget, from which we will negotiate spending for the next three years; they do not affect manpower numbers; they do not affect our commitment to increase the equipment programme by 1% ahead of inflation; and they will have no effect on current operations. The strategic review on which we have now embarked will be, quite properly, aligned with the spending review, because defence, to be deliverable, has to be affordable.

Surely my right hon. Friend must accept that, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) made clear, we need to establish the security requirements—the strategic prospects for the United Kingdom in a very dangerous world. I am extremely alarmed, as others are, at the prospect of another Treasury-driven review, at a time when we face a much more dangerous world than we did in 2010.

My hon. Friend speaks with great experience on these matters, as a former Defence Minister. Let me be clear with the House: this is a strategic defence and security review. It is not a Treasury-led review. It is a review across the whole of government to assess the threats to our country—and the future threats to it that may emerge; the capabilities we need to address those threats; and, of course, the resources we need to finance those capabilities.

19. The Secretary of State will know that the defence industry contains 300,000 jobs, 55,000 of which are reliant on exports. Will he guarantee that the impact on employment will be included in the SDSR? (900134)

Absolutely. This five-yearly review gives us the opportunity to look again at our defence industry to see how it is competing with our major defence competitors and whether enough is being done to advance those exports in certain markets, and to ensure that our smaller and medium-sized companies also enjoy the benefit. The defence industry is a major employer and this will be a key part of the review.

In 2010, the SDSR largely neglected the threat from Russia. That situation has now changed. It was also not able to address the upheavals in the middle east, because they had not happened, but we now face a serious threat emanating from the middle east. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that those two factors will be clearly placed as assumptions in the next SDSR?

I can reassure my hon. Friend on that. We are building on the foundations of the 2010 review, much of whose analysis holds good, but, as he has told the House, it did not predict the sudden rise of ISIL in the middle east or the return of Russian aggression, with the attempt to change international borders by force in Europe. Let me assure him that both those threats will be a key part of this review.

In the forthcoming SDSR, what cognisance will the Secretary of State give to the fact that in last month’s general election a clear majority of the Scottish electorate voted for parties that put opposition to Trident at the forefront of their manifesto and that 57 of 59 Members returned from Scotland do not want Trident renewal to go ahead? What cognisance will he give to the fact that the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Churches and the Scottish trade unions are also opposed to Trident—

Successive Governments have supported the renewal of our nuclear deterrent that has helped to keep this country safe, and we are committed to replacing all four Vanguard submarines with new submarines that will serve this country until at least 2060. The deterrent is a major employer. Thousands of jobs are at stake in Faslane, in the hon. Gentleman’s own constituency, so I hope that he will consider the consequences of his policy on his own constituents.

Given that there was precious little strategy involved in the 2010 SDSR and that it was in fact little more than a cost-cutting exercise, will the Minister ensure that the process of renewing and purchasing United Kingdom maritime patrol aircraft will be undertaken immediately and that those aircraft will then be based where they should be historically and logically—in Scotland?

The 2010 review necessarily involved some tough decisions because we had to balance the budget as a result of the mess that we inherited from Labour. Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that we will be looking again at all these different capabilities and at the importance of Scotland. I hope that he noted that I was able to be on the Clyde this morning cutting the first steel on our very latest warship, HMS Medway, which is being built on the Clyde to defend the whole of the United Kingdom.

When the SDSR finally arrives, it must incorporate three promises: the Prime Minister’s promise during the general election campaign that there will be no cuts whatsoever in the regular forces; the promise that the Prime Minister made shortly after the last election that there will be real growth in defence spending; and the promise recently reiterated by the Secretary of State about the 1% increase in real terms in defence equipment spending from now onwards. Given those three commitments—leaving aside for a moment the 2% commitment to NATO—where will the Secretary of State find any cash at all to save if he is asked to by the comprehensive spending review?

My hon. Friend is right that he and I were elected on a mandate to replace the nuclear deterrent with four new nuclear ballistic submarines; to maintain the current size of the regular armed forces; and to increase our spending on the equipment programme by inflation plus 1% each year. It is our task now in this review to ensure that those commitments are held to and that our armed forces have the equipment and the resources that they need.

I congratulate the Defence Secretary on his reappointment and wish him and his ministerial team well for the future. I also pay tribute to all the crew on HMS Bulwark who are doing such a fantastic job in the Mediterranean at this time.

Owing to a lack of transparency—almost secrecy—nobody outside a small inner circle in the Government has a real clue about what is going on with respect to the forthcoming strategic defence and security review. At a time when Britain is being accused of resigning as a world power, should the Government not get a grip, abandon warm rhetoric and set out a clear timetable for discussing how we address our role in the world and the military capability that we need to match it?

I am grateful to the shadow Defence Secretary for what he said and congratulate him on hanging on in there, at least for the moment. I thank him for his tribute, which I hope the whole House will echo, to the crew and the air crew on HMS Bulwark. I visited Bulwark myself on Saturday afternoon and saw at first hand how the crews were preparing to cope with this extraordinary number of migrants who need rescuing from the sea.

As far as the strategic review is concerned, I have set out the timetable to the House today, and the scope and the ambition of the review, which has already started and will be concluded towards the end of this year. We will also consult key external voices, such as academics and those in other areas who have something to contribute to the review. I hope that will include the hon. Gentleman.

That answer really shows just how complacent the Government are. Just yesterday, the US President spoke to the Prime Minister. The US Defence Secretary said that our actions seemed to indicate disengagement. I ask the Secretary of State again: when will the Government set out their plans to discuss, with Parliament and the rest of the country, the threats we face, our global role and the military capability we need? For example, when will they discuss the lack of a maritime patrol aircraft and what the availability of two aircraft carriers actually means—just two examples of the decisions facing the country? This is the Defence Secretary’s chance to launch a wide-ranging debate about the forthcoming SDSR. Will he do it?

Yes, of course we will engage with Parliament and I look forward to engaging with the newly established Select Committee on Defence. However, the hon. Gentleman has chosen two rather odd capabilities to put on the table. We are addressing the gap in maritime patrol aircraft because the previous Labour Government were supposed to deliver 23 Nimrods but, when we came into office in 2010, the programme was eight years behind schedule, £800 million over budget and not a single Nimrod had been delivered. He then went on to mention aircraft carriers, but it is this Government that are building two aircraft carriers and this Government that are committed to sailing them both.