House of Commons
Monday 23 November 2015
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The strategic defence and security review will shortly set out for the hon. Gentleman and the House how we will invest more in bigger and stronger defence for Britain. The British defence industry plays a vital role in delivering more planes, ships, armoured vehicles and battle-winning capabilities for our armed forces. We are looking at how we can drive greater innovation into defence procurement, maximise the use of small and medium-sized enterprises, and ensure that investment decisions contribute to a more dynamic and productive economy.
The important Ajax armoured vehicle programme for the Army has been in the pipeline for years, yet it will use Swedish, not British, steel. We are told that our specialist steelmakers are up to the task, so when did the Government ask British firms whether they could produce the steel?
As with all major defence equipment programmes, the contractors determine the materials, which includes sourcing steel on the basis of competitive cost, time and quality. In 2010, no UK steel manufacturer was able to meet the prime contractor’s requirements, so no UK bids to supply steel for the Ajax programme were forthcoming. I can confirm for the hon. Gentleman, who takes a great deal of interest in this matter because the Ajax vehicles, after the 100th vehicle, will be assembled in Merthyr Tydfil, next to his constituency, that some 2,700 tonnes of steel—about 30% of the total requirement —remains open to competition, and that a competition is under way to supply sets of training armour that is open to applications from UK firms.
A number of colleagues and I visited our magnificent new aircraft carriers in Rosyth last week. It was therefore with some interest that we learned this morning that the Government apparently intend to order a large number of joint strike fighters to equip not only those aircraft carriers, but the Royal Air Force. Will my hon. Friend confirm the truth about that substantial increase in our fighting capability?
It was excellent to welcome the Minister to Barrow-in-Furness again last week and make another show of the bipartisan support across the House for renewing the UK’s nuclear deterrent submarines. Is there still a prospect of having the maingate vote before Christmas?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding the House that on Thursday last week, I accompanied him to his constituency to recognise the signature of the contract for the fifth Astute boat, Anson. It was good to be able to thank many of his constituents who have been involved in its construction. With regard to the investment decision for Successor, I think that that subject will come up shortly.
Of course, it is true that the defence industry can no longer source its requirements from the UK steel industry in many instances because of a loss of capability. Will the Minister work with colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the defence industry and steel producers to put in place a long-term plan to ensure that UK steel develops the capability to meet the needs of the defence industry?
The Ministry of Defence is participating in the working group that was established last month by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General. Although steel is clearly a significant and important component in much defence manufacturing, the steel involved in all our current major programmes represented less than 1.5% of the steel manufactured in this country in 2013. Relatively speaking, although defence is important, it is a small contributor to the total steel output of this country.
We are a maritime nation, so I welcome the newspaper reports—we will see whether they are true shortly—that the Prime Minister is to reverse his own decision and procure maritime patrol aircraft that are able, among other things, to defend our submarine fleet. One of the most visible signs of the botched 2010 strategic defence and security review was the photographs of our Nimrods being cut up into pieces, which we all saw in the newspapers at the time. When will the first of the new Boeing P-8s enter service?
The hon. Lady may recall that the programme she refers to, which was commissioned by the previous Labour Government, was more than £1 billion over-budget. It was reduced in scale by that Government to nine aircraft—more than half what was originally procured—and the prototype aircraft that was produced had more defects than any previous aircraft in production. We were not sure whether it would ever fly. That was the right decision to take at the time, and now it is the right decision —if the Prime Minister is about to announce it—to have a replacement capability. We will have to hear when that will be available.
The UK has been without that vital capability for four years as a result of the 2010 decision—right or wrong—to which the Minister refers. Today we read that Britain had to call on our French and Canadian allies to provide aircraft to search for a Russian submarine off our shores. Can the Minister at least give the House a definite date by which we will again have our own maritime patrol aircraft?
Arctic and High North
The UK respects the sovereign responsibilities of the eight Arctic states while promoting our own interests in the region. We engage with the security of the region through the Arctic security forces roundtable, and directly with Arctic nations. We maintain naval and air assets capable of deploying to the region, and Arctic trained and equipped forces, including elements of 3 Commando Brigade.
The Minister for the Armed Forces recently confirmed to me in a parliamentary answer that the Russian spy ship, the Yantar, passed through UK waters unhindered by the fleet ready escort. Scotland is on the front line of emerging threats from the High North, yet our defence footprint continues to shrink. Will the Minister confirm when UK naval surface ships will be rebased at Faslane and Rosyth, and say when we will see the re-establishment of RAF Leuchars?
There can be no question but that the retreating ice provides significant commercial opportunities, and that will lead to military stresses if we do not handle it correctly. The UK has a fantastic offer—namely, the Royal Marines who are trained in the Arctic; I have seen their work—so can we expand that capability? Secondly, we have not used under-ice submarines for a number of years. We have that capability so is it time that once again we used our submarines to operate under the Arctic ice?
Perhaps I can help the Minister with a question that does not involve waiting until half-past 3. A lot of our focus is currently on the middle east and north Africa. Does he agree, however, that with two Russian Tupolev bombers off our coast recently, as well as a Russian submarine, it would be naive for us to take our eye off the strategic risk to the UK from the High North and Arctic region?
Maritime patrol aircraft featured large in last year’s referendum, but does my hon. Friend agree that they are pretty pointless, either manned or unmanned, unless there is the data-gathering and analysis technology to go with it, and the wherewithal to respond to any threats that emerge—something that the SNP failed to offer last year?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman) says, the High North is becoming one of the world’s strategic hotspots. Does the Minister agree that, for a nation with a maritime history such as ours, seeking the assistance of France and Canada in locating a possibly hostile submarine is deeply embarrassing? Will he confirm that this is the third time the UK has had to call on such assistance?
The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until 3.30 pm for the detail, but I just remind him that the Defence Committee shared the Government’s view that the Nimrod programme was dying. I am very glad that it should be possible to give some better news a little later today.
The lack of naval capability in the High North is indeed a worry. Given that just 14 months ago the workers at Scotstoun and Govan were guaranteed a bright future should they vote no to independence, will the Minister like to take this opportunity to make sure the promise made to them of 13 Type 26 frigates, is kept? Does he agree that if, at 3.30 pm, that promise is not kept, it will be a shameful betrayal of that workforce?
17. What contribution the UK is making to international efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. (902273)
The United Kingdom is already making a significant contribution to the international counter-ISIL coalition, with strike aircraft, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and in helping to train Iraqi forces. In addition to the intelligence co-operation and border security support we have offered to France, the House will wish to know that yesterday I authorised the use of RAF Akrotiri as a diversion airfield for French aircraft striking in Syria.
Many of us, on all sides of the House, will support the Government as they make the intelligent case for extending the air campaign into Syria, and we reject totally the accusation that such a move would be a gesture. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our allies—not us, our allies—have been diminishing ISIL’s command and control, restricting its ability to move en masse, and restricting its ability to take control of more ground? Is it not time to stop subcontracting our security to our friends?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We should not leave the fight against ISIL to French, American or Australian aircraft. While we are working through the Vienna talks, which aim to help to establish an inclusive transitional government to end the civil war and build more security for the Sunni areas of Syria, that should not either delay or deter us from degrading ISIL in eastern Syria, from where ISIL is directing the war in its region and directly threatening us.
The Chief of the Defence Staff has said that not striking ISIL in its heartland in Syria is like a football team trying to win a match without entering the opposition’s half. Is it not long overdue that we pushed up the pitch and stopped defending our goal line?
Yes. ISIL does not recognise the border between Iraq and Syria, and moves between both while the RAF can currently strike only in Iraq. It is illogical for us to be hitting ISIL targets in Iraq, while not targeting ISIL’s core leadership, its lines of communication and its oil revenue base, which are all to be found in Syria.
20 . What steps is the Secretary of State taking to squeeze ISIL’s supply chain, particularly with regard to munitions and ammunition? ISIL is not just supplied by organisations in the region; countries and establishments outside the region must be supplying ISIL with arms. (902276)
Yes, we are intensifying our effort to cut off ISIL’s sources of finance, in particular its ability to sell oil on the international market. We are also directly targeting its supply routes between Syria and Iraq, particularly in the region around Sinjar.
23. The Democratic Union party—the PYD—holds political power in all three provinces of Rojava, in northern Syria, including the war-torn province of Kobani. Will the Government be communicating or liaising with the PYD as it continues to resist Daesh in the region? (902280)
Yes. I discussed this matter in Ankara recently with the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Defence Minister of Turkey, who obviously want ISIL/Daesh pushed back from their own border in the remaining Manbij pocket between the two Kurdish areas. I emphasise, however, that all parties in Syria—Kurds, Shi’a, Sunni, Alawite, Christian and Druze—have to be brought into the process to deliver in Syria a more inclusive Government that can end this civil war.
History gives us practically no examples of a determined enemy surrendering in response to conventional air bombardment, so what ground forces are credibly and seriously fighting ISIL/Daesh in Syria, other than some unpleasant Islamist groups, the Kurds—in a limited area—and the Syrian Government army?
There are moderate forces fighting Daesh in Syria that have also been engaged in the civil war. The key is to bring the civil war to an end as quickly as possible so that we can focus on dealing with Daesh. Troops are already involved in the conflict. We have been helping to train them and supplying non-lethal equipment to them, and we will continue to work with them to ensure that Syria is rid of both Assad and Daesh.
The Secretary of State will be aware of a report published today in The Independent stating that in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, Islamophobic hate crime in the UK increased by 300%, the vast and overwhelming majority of victims being young Muslim women. When will the Secretary of State join the cross-party consensus in the Chamber and follow the example of President Hollande, who refused last week to give the terrorists the legitimacy they craved and instead rightly described them as “Daesh”? Does he not accept that the language we use is important and that language connecting Muslims and terrorism is dangerous and misleading?
I agree with almost all of that, although I am afraid I have not had time to read the report in The Independent. I myself prefer the term “Daesh” because it is more accurate and does not embrace the word “Islam”, but “ISIL” and “ISIS” have become accepted terms in the British media, and it might be too late to make that change.
I agree, and I know my hon. Friend will have noted the UN resolution passed to that effect. We have to confront this terror organisation with all means at our disposal, not simply by defending our territory here but by striking at its roots and dealing with it politically, culturally, financially and ideologically.
People on both sides of the House will welcome the UN Security Council resolution passed on Friday night calling on member states to take all necessary measures against ISIL/Daesh, but will the Defence Secretary reassure Members on both sides of the House that, along with any proposed military action in Syria, there is also a parallel plan to secure peace, end Assad’s reign of terror over his own people, put in place a timetable for a transitional Government in Syria and for the protection of religious and ethnic minorities?
Yes, I fully accept we have to persuade those with doubts about military action that there is a political track as well. Towards the end of the week, the Prime Minister will be replying to the questions posed—quite legitimately—by the Foreign Affairs Committee that deal with exactly that point: how a transitional Government can be put in place that has the support of all sections of the different communities in Syria and how that can lead to the provision of security, particularly in the Sunni areas, in northern Syria. However, that should not delay our dealing with a terrorist menace that has already brought slaughter to the streets of Paris and resulted in the deaths of our own citizens on a beach in Tunisia and one in Paris itself.
24. Further to the answer given to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), it is dangerous to wound an enemy and not kill him, especially if fighting a wild beast. Given that no air campaign alone has ever dislodged a determined enemy, what is the plan after we have bombed Syria? Where is the strategy? What ground troops are we going to put in? (902281)
In Iraq, we are assisting the legitimate Government of Iraq, the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish forces to push ISIL out of Iraq, and we are having some success in that. Of course in Syria we will in the end need ground forces that are local and locally supported. Prime Minister Abadi in Baghdad does not want British troops or American troops on the ground; that would further radicalise opinion, particularly in the Sunni areas. On the ground, the battle has to be won by local forces that have the support of the local population, but that should not deter us from making a start in dealing with ISIL’s headquarters, from where this terrorism and slaughter is being directed.
Procurement: UK-produced Steel
Steel is sourced by our contractors from a range of UK and international suppliers, reflecting the need to ensure a competitive price and delivery at the required time and quality. UK suppliers have provided significant quantities of steel for major defence equipment procurement programmes, whenever they have been able to meet specified standards. Our new Government guidelines, published last month, will help UK steel suppliers to compete effectively with international suppliers for major projects, including those in defence.
The Minister will be aware that Swedish steel was used in the construction of offshore patrol craft and also in Scout armoured vehicles. Many in the steel community feel that that is a betrayal. Does he, like me, feel that British-produced steel should be specified in defence procurement contracts in order to protect steel, a strategically important industry?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that the steel that is specified needs to be the steel that can do the job. We are open-minded about who can supply that, but we are adopting the new Government guidelines. For the offshore patrol vessels, some 20% of the requirement—about 775 tonnes—was sourced through UK steel mills.
You can bet your bottom dollar, Mr Speaker—or rather, your bottom euro—that European countries will not be abiding by European Union law as far as procurement is concerned. Can my hon. Friend confirm—I am sure he can—that we will do all we can to procure British steel, providing it is of the right quality?
No one who has listened to the Minister’s answers today would have any confidence that he was going to take any serious steps to ensure that British steel was used in the purchase of the line of Type 26 frigates, which we expect to hear about shortly. Can he say a little more about what serious steps he will take, to justify the answer he has just given to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant)? Let us support the British steel industry through this very important Government contract.
The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the Type 26 procurement programme as the next major platform where there will be a significant steel component. We are determined, as a Government who are keen to support our steel industry, that defence contractors will have the opportunity to source that steel from the UK, and we will do as much as we can to help them in that endeavour.
Clinical studies and audits have been undertaken by the Ministry of Defence to assess the effects of Lariam. Those reports and their conclusions are a matter of public record. Lariam is not our first-line treatment and makes up about 1% of our anti-malarial stocks, but for some people, deployed in certain parts of the world, it will be the best drug to protect them from malaria.
It is becoming patently obvious that those who have had Lariam were not assessed fully before using it. Some of my constituents are those who are suffering most. Given the high level of potential suicide among service personnel, increased mental health concerns and stress-related issues, can the Minister confirm that the MOD will do a thorough review of the use of Lariam and that all service personnel will be assessed before Lariam is used again?
Before any drug is prescribed, an individual risk assessment of the patient is undertaken. In addition, as soon as a prescription is entered on to the electronic records system, a warning is flagged to ensure that the prescriber is absolutely sure that the recipient has not had a mental health problem. That policy is audited by defence primary healthcare organisations. If Members have constituents about whom they are concerned, they should encourage them to see their GP or their medical officer.
I very much endorse what the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said and I welcome the Minister’s reply. Having suffered the consequences of Lariam myself, I ask her to look at the alternatives, of which there are several that have far fewer negative side-effects.
I thank my hon. Friend and I can reassure him that Lariam is not our first-line drug. However, in certain parts of the world and given the particular medical history of some individuals, the drug is sometimes currently the only course of action. A new drug is coming on line, and it will be looked at.
Free Syrian Army
Supporting moderates is a key part of our work to resolve the Syrian conflict, so that they can take their place in the inclusive transitional Government needed to defeat ISIL and provide security throughout Syria. In the last 12 months, we have helped train vetted members of the moderate armed opposition and provided support to help save lives, bolster civil society, counter extremism and lay the foundation for a better future in Syria.
Do the Government not recognise that as part of the solution to the ISIS issue we need peace in Syria? Do they not recognise that what they are proposing is a failed policy, and that by investing in a client as a proxy in a civil war, all we are doing is simply escalating the war and perpetuating a greater number of deaths?
I do not wholly agree with that. The work we are doing in Iraq to support the democratic Government of Iraq at their request has stemmed the onrush of ISIL and has started to push ISIL back, north up the Tigris and west of the Euphrates. We need to do the same in Syria, coming to the aid of moderate forces there who want to be free both of Assad, who is bombing his own civilians, and of ISIL, which represents a threat to us all.
The picture in northern Syria in particular is confused; it is not a simple conflict with front lines as we would normally understand them. It is our long-term objective for Syria to be free of both Assad and ISIL, and we continue to work with moderate elements in Syria to provide them with the equipment they need and, where we can, with training outside Syria.
7. What plans he has for consolidation of Royal Air Force stations. (902263)
Any consolidation of Royal Air Force stations is being considered as part of the Ministry of Defence footprint strategy. The attacks in Paris remind us that the threats we face are growing in scale, diversity and complexity. We are therefore determined to configure our defence estate to optimise our support of military capability.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. He will know that Lincolnshire is the home of the RAF, and while I appreciate that he cannot give definitive answers today, he will no doubt agree that that should remain the case and that there are very good reasons for consolidating more personnel and assets in our great county.
My hon. and learned Friend is a champion, not only of his constituency but of Lincolnshire. He is right to say that that county has had a long association with the RAF. He is right that I cannot give any further details today—not even after half-past 3—but I hope to be able to provide further information in due course.
The Government provide a comprehensive programme of support for ex-service personnel. For those returning to civilian life, that includes an excellent resettlement package, a high-quality pension and compensation schemes and measures to meet veterans’ health and welfare needs. The armed forces covenant stresses the importance we place on ensuring that veterans are not disadvantaged as a result of their service in the armed forces.
Research shows that veterans represent the largest single cohort in the overall prison population. What is the Department doing to address the issue, and will the Minister acknowledge the significance of charities such as Care after Combat, whose Phoenix project is intended to reduce reoffending in this important group?
As my hon. Friend will know, armed forces veterans in prison are the responsibility of the Ministry of Justice, but the latest figures that I have suggest that approximately 3.5% of the UK prison population are veterans. All prisoners with a military history are eligible for the full range of interventions and services that are available from the National Offender Management Service, and armed forces charities, including the Royal British Legion, SSAFA, Care after Combat and Combat Stress, send caseworkers to support veterans in some prisons.
Members of our armed forces not only put themselves in great physical danger but subject themselves to great psychological pressures in order to protect our country and our people. What is being done to help veterans of my excellent local regiment, the Mercian Regiment, and others who are struggling with mental health issues?
The MOD is determined to ensure that veterans with mental health issues are given appropriate support. NHS England spends £1.8 million a year on mental health services for veterans, including the provision of 10 veterans mental health teams. Up to a further £18 million is funding the Combat Stress six-week intensive post-traumatic stress disorder programme. Subject to the forthcoming spending review, a further £8.4 million of Government funding will be provided over the next five years.
I recently announced that we were about to undertake a review of best practice. Following conversations with the chair of the Local Government Association, we intend to carry out that review to ensure that best practice is spread across local authorities throughout the United Kingdom.
The social care crisis is affecting people all over the country, including those who have sustained an injury or condition while serving our country. Those who were injured on or after 6 April 2005 receive a payment under the armed forces compensation scheme, which local authorities disregard when assessing them for social care, but those who were injured before that date receive the war pension, which is not disregarded. When will the Government address this inequality?
We expect small businesses to take an increasing share of our increasing defence budget, as they provide a vital source of innovation and flexibility in meeting defence and security requirements. In October, we announced a new target to increase the proportion of Ministry of Defence procurement spent with SMEs to 25% by the end of this Parliament. That target is 10% higher than the one that was set during the last Parliament.
The Successor submarine programme will be one of the Department’s largest projects, and we expect about 850 suppliers across the UK to be involved. They will employ thousands of people in what is a very high-skilled domain, using cutting-edge technology. That will include the supply chain for Rolls-Royce nuclear propulsion systems based at Raynesway. Many of those companies will be SMEs, and I am sure that many of them will be from my hon. Friend’s constituency in Derby.
I pay tribute to the workforce in Lancashire, especially in view of the work that they will do in contributing to every single one of the F-35s. That is the largest defence procurement programme on the globe. Further particulars about the innovation fund will be announced in due course, and some may even be announced in the next hour.
As I have just indicated to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy), the Successor submarine programme will be the largest UK procurement of military capability for decades to come. That will filter through; I have referred to the 850 suppliers that we think will be participating, but the number may be greater than that. It will be an enormous programme that will last for many years and sustain thousands of jobs across the breadth of the country.
Armed Forces Covenant
18. What plans he has to strengthen the armed forces covenant. (902274)
The covenant came into force under the Armed Forces Act 2011. Since then, the Government have undertaken a range of actions to build the covenant. Our fourth annual report to Parliament is due to be published in December 2015 and that will detail the progress we have made during the year. The Government are committed to continuing to honour our pledges and encouraging wider society to think about their contribution.
I, too, am grateful for the support that councils, including Sutton, have demonstrated to our armed forces community. All have signed the community covenant and many are extremely proactive. I recently had a meeting with the chair of the Local Government Association and the Minister for Housing and Planning to discuss what more we can do to encourage local authorities as they look to support our armed forces community. As a result, I understand that the housing Minister intends to write to all local authorities setting out examples of best practice and reminding them of the need under the covenant to honour their commitments.
A veteran in my constituency suffers from mental health issues as a result of military service. He is on the local council housing list, but is one or two steps away from priority status. May I urge the Minister to beef up the military covenant to ensure that our veterans are given priority status for housing as a matter of course?
The Government are determined to honour the commitments made by the armed forces covenant to ensure fair treatment of veterans and their families in need of social housing. That is why this Government changed the laws so that seriously injured serving personnel and veterans with urgent housing needs must always be a high priority for social housing. It is, however, for local authorities to make judgments about the competing housing priorities in their areas, but if my hon. Friend writes to me with the details of this case, I will of course raise it with my Department for Communities and Local Government colleagues.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the £40 million invested in the veterans accommodation fund. I work very closely with a number of charities to ensure that we address this issue. He can see for himself at the Beacon home in Catterick, for example, or the Mike Jackson House in Aldershot, if he wishes to visit, and I would encourage him to do so.
In the past five years, we have seen the pay and pension entitlements of service personnel cut in real terms, 30,000 redundancies and a failure to recruit the number of reserves that the Government planned to fill the gap. Now we read that annual increments and special allowances are also to be cut. Does the Minister accept that treating service personnel so shoddily will impact on morale and can be seen as a breach of the military covenant?
I was hoping to avoid these words, but the hon. Lady will have to wait until 3.30 pm. I am confident that the remuneration package will remain an excellent package for our service personnel, but she will just have to wait a few more minutes to find out exactly whether or not to believe all the press reports she reads.
This Government believe we can, and indeed will, succeed in reforming and renegotiating our relationship with the EU. The cornerstone of our security is NATO, but the EU plays an important role complementing NATO, for example recently in imposing sanctions on Russia. Defence remains a sovereign issue.
The UK, together with other EU partners, has worked hard in areas—such as in Mali on EU training missions—which have made a significant contribution to defence. Will the Government give close consideration to how such missions would continue if Britain were to withdraw from the EU?
If this county were to vote to come out of the EU, would not the Minister welcome the tremendous advantage of that to the armed forces? The UK sends £350 million to the EU each week, and some of that money could be diverted to the armed forces. Would that not be a good thing?
My hon. Friend is not going to tempt me into speculating about what might happen after a withdrawal. I will say, however, that I am delighted to be part of a Government who are committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence, and I think that he is going to enjoy the announcement at 3.30 pm.
We have seen ISIL attacks in Tunisia, Ankara, Sinai and elsewhere around the world, including on British citizens, most recently in Paris, as well as plots to commit murder on our own streets. ISIL poses a very direct threat to the United Kingdom, which is why we need to work with the international coalition to degrade and destroy ISIL in Iraq and why we need to consider what more we can do to deal with its headquarters and heartland in Syria, from where this threat comes.
Given that ISIL is using its base in Syria to plan attacks on the UK, does the Secretary of State agree that it is absolutely absurd to restrict the British armed forces to acting only in Iraq, and not to empower them to act against those who threaten Britain and who are based in Syria?
I agree that there is a compelling case for us to do more in Syria, not least because it is illogical to tackle ISIL only in Iraq. Those borders are meaningless to that organisation. As the Prime Minister has said, we must tackle the head of the snake in Raqqa, and we will be making our case to the House and to the country, starting with his response to the Foreign Affairs Committee report later this week.
When major cities such as London are targets of terrorism, how is the Secretary of State collaborating with the Home Office to deal with out-of-London areas, including the shopping areas in constituencies such as mine, which could easily be under just as much threat as central London?
We work closely with the Home Office, particularly on counter-terrorism and on providing assistance to back up civil capacity. We have 5,000 troops trained and ready to support armed police officers at 24 hours’ notice, and we will be increasing that number shortly. In the end, we can guarantee the safety of the United Kingdom only by defeating ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and I hope that my hon. Friend shares the new confidence of the Chairman of his Committee that the Committee’s conditions can be met following the murders on the streets of Paris.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the concept in international law that when a sovereign state is unable or unwilling to take action against a non-state actor carrying out acts of aggression from its territory, there may be a justification for action. To what extent does he think that that applies to Daesh, and what comparisons would he draw between this situation and the operation of the Taliban in Afghanistan when it was supporting al-Qaeda?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct to say that there is already a clear legal basis for military action against ISIL in Syria which does not require a United Nations resolution. None the less, I hope he will welcome UN Security Council resolution 2249, which provides clear and unanimous political endorsement by the entire international community for the military action already being taken by the counter-ISIL coalition.
The Government are not turning a blind eye. On the contrary, we are doing our best to interdict those supplies of oil and to stop ISIL selling its oil on the international market. I have discussed this with Syria’s neighbours. We also need to stop ISIL selling its oil to the Syrian regime itself.
My immediate priorities are our operations against ISIL and the strategic defence and security review. July’s announcement that the defence budget would increase in every year of this Parliament and that we would continue to meet the NATO 2% target means that we will be able to decide very shortly on what further capabilities and equipment we need to keep this country safe.
In March, I was delighted to host the Secretary of State on a visit to MBDA in my constituency. Is it not a sign of the Government’s commitment to national security and economic security that they have signed a £300 million contract to equip our Typhoons with the latest missiles and that these will be manufactured at a new MBDA site in Bolton, thus safeguarding 400 high-tech jobs?
Yes. I do recall my visit and this is part of our now £178 billion equipment plan to provide the very best capabilities for our armed forces. These advanced, short-range, air-to-air missiles will equip our Typhoon jets with battle-winning technologies, helping to protect British airspace, to defend our NATO allies and to sustain hundreds of highly skilled jobs in MBDA’s new £30 million plant in Bolton.
One of the many things briefed officially to The Times and The Daily Telegraph this morning was that the MOD will only purchase five fewer frigates than planned. Does the Minister share my concern about needing enough frigates to protect our carriers on operations, with any reduction to this fleet meaning that the capability to operate the carriers will be impaired?
Yes, I can assure the hon. Gentleman, whom I am delighted to see in his place, that we will have enough frigates to protect the carriers. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be making the frigate replacement programme very clear in just a few minutes’ time.
T2. Will the Minister advise the House on how central innovation is to the work of the MOD? Will he take this opportunity to spell out the role he sees the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down playing in the future strategy of defence in the UK? (902283)
We fully recognise the importance of innovation, and DSTL does vital work with industry and academia in leading science and technology initiatives to provide capability advantages for our armed forces. We expect it to continue to do so, including through the support it gives the university technical college and the proposed Porton Down science park in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
T4. Médecins sans Frontières has reported that one of its hospitals in Damascus was hit in an aerial attack on Thursday, further increasing the number of civilian casualties from air strikes in Syria. In the light of Friday’s UN resolution on Syria, will the Secretary of State detail the additional measures that will be taken to provide safe passage and resettlement for civilian refugees should the UK vote to participate in air strikes? (902285)
Prior to that incident, I met a number of non-governmental organisations to discuss a range of issues that the hon. Lady touches on, and I can assure her that this is at the forefront of our minds. Part of the reason for wanting to do more in this space is to prevent innocent civilians from being brutally slaughtered.
Let me reassure my hon. Friend that policy on this side of the House is decided by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet—indeed, the whole Government and the whole parliamentary party are united on the manifesto commitment we made to renew the deterrent. I urge moderate Labour Members to turn up tomorrow and vote to support a deterrent that every previous Labour Government have supported since it was introduced.
T5. What assessment have the Government made of Assad’s high-tech military capability, provided by Putin, for example, surface-to-air missile systems; where they are located; and what risk there is of those missile systems or other high-tech equipment falling into the hands of ISIS? (902286)
We make sure that our own aircraft are equipped with the defensive aids that are necessary in each particular theatre. What we need to do is bring the civil war in Syria to an end and then focus on the task in hand, which is degrading and destroying ISIL in its heartlands. Syria needs to be free of both Assad and ISIL.
T6. With Blandford Camp at the heart of my constituency, will the Minister assure me that, with the evaluation of the defence estate being undertaken, its socioeconomic importance for Blandford Forum as an important market town in North Dorset is taken into consideration? (902287)
Although the defence estate is primarily configured to support military requirements, the Ministry of Defence does support local authorities in understanding any potential impact of changes, particularly when it comes to the opportunities to provide local resources as part of future town planning.
T9. Lockheed Martin submitted a bid for the new maritime patrol aircraft contract. With the proposed C130 multi-mission aircraft costing around 40% of Boeing’s, which also would have seen 80% of the project carried out by a UK workforce, will the Minister please enlighten the House about the process that was undertaken to award that contract ultimately to a costlier alternative that is not supporting British jobs? (902290)
Again, this is another occasion on which I have to tell the hon. Lady that she will have to wait for a few moments to be enlightened by the Prime Minister. What I can say is that, in the event that an MPA were to be procured as part of the P-8 programme, some billion dollars’ worth of the programme is supplied by British companies.
T7. I personally agree with the Government that ISIL/Daesh must be crushed in Syria as well as in Iraq, but the Secretary of State has made it clear that he wants to see the Syrian army forces defeated, too. We are reportedly being told to be more like Churchill than Chamberlain. Does the Secretary of State recognise that Churchill’s great strength was that he knew when to recognise which is the greater and the lesser of two evils, and that is why he was willing sometimes to fight alongside unsavoury allies against a common deadly enemy? (902288)
T10. With the UK armed forces being the smallest they have been since the middle of the 19th century, will the Minister accept that, if the UK were to exit the European Union, it would significantly undermine our intelligence and security relationships with our European partners at a time when we need those relationships the most? (902291)
No, I do not accept that. Of course the membership of the European Union has enabled us to be as one in Europe in imposing sanctions on Russia for the action it took in Crimea and in the insurgency it stirred up in Ukraine, but the bulk of our defence rests on our membership of the NATO alliance.
Yes, as I have already said, I was delighted last Thursday to announce, in Barrow, the £1.3 billion contract to complete the build of the fifth Astute-class submarine. We will save money for the taxpayer and deliver the submarine ahead of the schedule of the previous one, and we are on track.
I agree with the Defence Secretary that ISIL poses a very direct threat to the UK, but does he agree that, if the Government are to take military action against Syria, that action should be framed within a wider strategy? Military action can serve as only one strand of that wider campaign. The Government will also need to leverage the political, diplomatic, economic and cultural tools that they have at their disposal.
I completely agree. Any military strategy to deal with ISIL in Syria as well as in Iraq has to be embedded in a wider campaign to win the struggle against ISIL, politically and diplomatically, to construct a moderate Government in Syria who have the support of all sections of Syrian society and to show how that will lead to greater security in the Sunni areas in particular in northern Syria once ISIL is defeated in its heartland.
Non-action—the decision to do nothing —has consequences, and, as my hon. Friend implies, has had severe consequences not simply for the reputation of this country among its allies but in Syria itself, where we have seen a vicious civil war with hundreds of thousands killed and millions displaced as a result of a decision by the west not to get involved and begin to put a stop to it two years ago.
It seems strange that we give high-level British forces training to those fighting ISIL but we do not give them any of our equipment, so they end up fighting with Russian or other weapons. Will we look at changing that, so that they get body armour, medical supplies and, perhaps, more hardware?
I agree, and that is reflected in the United Nations resolution. ISIL made no demands of those whom it went to slaughter in Paris the week before last. This is not an organisation with which we can possibly negotiate or employ diplomacy; it has to be defeated using all means at our disposal, including military means.
Having seen at first hand the brilliant veterans breakfast clubs which were first established in Hull and run by Dereck J. Hardman and Peter Barker, what more can the Government do to support those initiatives started by veterans themselves?
National Security and Defence
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review.
Our national security depends on our economic security, and vice versa, so the first step in keeping our country safe is to ensure our economy is, and remains, strong. Over the last five years we have taken the difficult decisions needed to bring down our deficit and restore our economy to strength. In 2010, we were ordering equipment for which there was literally no money. The total black hole in the defence budget alone was bigger than the entire defence budget in that year. Now it is back in balance. By sticking to our long-term economic plan, Britain has become the fastest-growing major advanced economy in the world for the last two years.
Our renewed economic security means that today we can show how we can afford to invest further in our national security. This is vital at a time when the threats to our country are growing. This morning I was in Paris with President Hollande discussing how we can work together to defeat the evil of ISIL. As the murders on the streets of Paris reminded us so starkly, ISIL is not some remote problem thousands of miles away. It is a direct threat to our security at home and abroad. It has already taken the lives of British hostages and carried out the worst terrorist attack against British people since 7/7 on the beaches of Tunisia, to say nothing of the seven terrorist plots right here in Britain that have been foiled by our security services over the past year.
Of course, the threats we face today go beyond that evil death cult. From the crisis in Ukraine to the risk of cyber-attacks and pandemics, the world is more dangerous and uncertain today than even five years ago. So while every Government must choose how to spend the money it has available, every penny of which is hard-earned by taxpayers, this Government have taken a clear decision to invest in our security and safeguard our prosperity. As a result, the United Kingdom is the only major country in the world today which is simultaneously going to meet the NATO target of spending 2% of our GDP on defence and the United Nations target of spending 0.7% of our gross national income on development, while also increasing investment in our security and intelligence agencies and in counter-terrorism.
In ensuring our national security, we will also protect our economic security. As a trading nation with the world’s fifth biggest economy, we depend on stability and order in the world. With 5 million British nationals living overseas, our prosperity depends on trade around the world, so engagement is not an optional extra; it is fundamental to the success of our nation. We need the sea lanes to stay open and the arteries of global commerce to remain free-flowing. So the strategy which I am presenting to the House today sets out a clear vision for a secure and prosperous United Kingdom, with global reach and global influence. At its heart is an understanding that we cannot choose between conventional defences against state-based threats, or the need to counter threats that do not recognise national borders. Today we face both types of threat and we must respond to both types of threat.
So over the course of this Parliament our priorities are to deter state-based threats, tackle terrorism, remain a world leader in cybersecurity and ensure that we have the capability to respond rapidly to crises as they emerge. To meet these priorities we will continue to harness all the tools of national power available to us, co-ordinated through the National Security Council, to deliver a full-spectrum approach. This includes support for our armed forces, counter-terrorism, international aid and diplomacy, and working with our allies to deal with the common threats that face us all. Let me take each in turn.
First, the bottom line of our national security strategy must always be the willingness and capability to use force where necessary. On Friday evening the United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed resolution 2249 calling on member states to take “all necessary measures” against ISIL in both Syria and Iraq. On Thursday I will come to this House and make a further statement responding personally to the Foreign Affairs Committee. I will make the case for Britain to join our international allies in going after ISIL at its headquarters in Syria, not just Iraq, and I will explain how such action would be one element of a comprehensive and long-term strategy to defeat ISIL, in parallel with a major international effort to bring an end to the war in Syria.
But today I want to set out how we will ensure that our armed forces have the capabilities to carry out such a task, and indeed any other tasks that might be needed in the years ahead. We will invest more than £178 billion in buying and maintaining equipment over the next decade, including doubling our investment in equipment to support our special forces. We will also increase the size of our deployable armed forces.
In 2010 we committed to an expeditionary force of 30,000. Today I can tell the House that by 2025 we are increasing that number to 50,000. As part of this, we will create two new strike brigades, forces of up to 5,000 personnel fully equipped to deploy rapidly and sustain themselves in the field. We will establish two additional Typhoon squadrons and an additional squadron of F-35 Lightning combat aircraft to operate from our new aircraft carriers.
We will maintain our ultimate insurance policy as a nation, our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, and replace our four ballistic missile submarines. We will buy nine new maritime patrol aircraft, to be based in Scotland at RAF Lossiemouth. They will protect our nuclear deterrent, hunt down hostile submarines and enhance our maritime search and rescue. And we will buy at least 13 new frigates and two new offshore patrol vessels. These will include eight Type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigates. We will design and build a new class of light, flexible general purpose frigates as well. These will be more affordable than the Type 26s, which will allow us to buy more of them for the Royal Navy so that by the 2030s we can further increase the total number of Royal Navy frigates and destroyers. Not one of these capabilities is an optional extra. These investments are an act of clear-eyed self-interest to ensure our future prosperity and security.
Secondly, turning to counter-terrorism, we will make a major additional investment in our world-class intelligence agencies to ensure they have the resources and information they need to detect and foil plots from wherever they emanate in the world. So as I announced last week, we will invest £2.5 billion and employ over 1,900 additional staff. We will increase our investment in counter-terrorism police and more than double our spending on aviation security around the world. And I can tell the House today that we have put in place a significant new contingency plan to deal with major terrorist attacks. Under this new operation, up to 10,000 military personnel will be available to support the police in dealing with the type of shocking terrorist attacks we have seen in Paris.
We will also make a major new investment in a new generation of surveillance drones. These British-designed unmanned aircraft will fly at the very edge of the earth’s atmosphere and allow us to observe our adversaries for weeks on end, providing critical intelligence for our forces. We will also do more to make sure the powers we give our security services keep pace with modern technology, as we will see through the draft Bill we have published to ensure that GCHQ, M15 and our counter-terrorism police continue to have the powers they need.
Thirdly, we will use our formidable development budget and our outstanding diplomatic service to tackle global poverty, promote our interests, project our influence, and address the causes of the security threats we face, not just their consequences. So alongside the strategic defence review, I am also publishing our strategy for official development assistance. At its heart is a decision to refocus half of DFID’s budget on supporting fragile and broken states and regions in every year of this Parliament. This will help to prevent conflict, and, crucially, it will help to promote the golden thread of conditions that drive prosperity all across the world: the rule of law, good governance, and the growth of democracy. The conflict, stability and security fund will grow to over £1.3 billion a year by the end of this Parliament, and we will also create a new £1.3 billion prosperity fund to drive forward our aim of promoting global prosperity and good governance.
Building on our success in tackling Ebola, we will do more to improve our resilience and our response to crises, identifying £500 million a year as a crisis reserve and investing £1.5 billion over the Parliament in a global challenges research fund for UK science to pioneer new ways of tackling global problems like anti-microbial resistance. We will also invest £1 billion in a new fund for the research and development of products to fight infectious diseases, known as the Ross fund, and £5.8 billion in climate finance to play our part in helping poorer countries switch to greener forms of energy.
Taken together, these interventions are not just right morally—they are firmly in our national interest. They mean that Britain not only meets its obligations to the poorest in the world, but can now focus our resources on preventing or dealing with the instability and conflict that impinge on our security at home, investing at scale to create the economic opportunities that lead to long-term stability across the world and responding rapidly and decisively to emerging crises overseas. Acting on all of these fronts gives us greater influence in the world.
Finally, Britain’s safety and security depends not just on our own efforts but on working hand in glove with our allies to deal with the common threats that face us all, from terrorism to climate change. When confronted by danger, we are stronger together. So we will play our full part in the alliances that underpin our security and amplify our national power, and we will work with our allies in Europe and around the world, as well as seizing opportunities to reach out to emerging powers.
History teaches us that no Government can predict the future. We have no way of knowing precisely what course events will take over the next five years; we must expect the unexpected. But we can make sure that we have the versatility and the means to respond to new risks and threats to our security as they arise. Our armed forces, police, and security and intelligence services are the pride of our country. They are the finest in the world, and this Government will ensure they stay that way. Using our renewed economic strength, we will help them to keep us safe for generations to come. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.
As I said last week in the House, the first duty of a state is to protect its own citizens. At the moment, this country’s overwhelming focus is on the threat we face from terrorism and how we can best ensure the defeat of ISIL. Labour supports the increased expenditure to strengthen our security services that the Prime Minister has announced to protect against the threat of terrorism. However, faced with the current threat, the public will not understand or accept any cuts to front-line policing. Everyone will be very concerned about the warnings we know that he has had from security officials and the police that the cuts will reduce very significantly the ability to respond to a Paris-style attack. Cuts affecting neighbourhood policing will damage the flow of vital intelligence that helps prevent such attacks. Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking now that police budgets after the spending review will be sufficient to guarantee no reductions in police or police community support numbers and to protect areas such as helicopter cover?
Will the Prime Minister also confirm that the Government will meet in full the request from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and his advisers for the further resources they say are required to counter attacks such as those in Paris? The public, quite rightly, expect that.
We are naturally focused on the immediate threats today, but it is disappointing that there is insufficient analysis in the national security strategy of the global threats facing our country and people around the world, including inequality, poverty, disease, human rights abuses, climate change and water and food security—[Interruption.] I have no idea why Conservative Members find food security such a funny subject. The flow of arms and illicit funds enables groups such as ISIL to sustain themselves and grow.
Let me join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the men and women who serve in the services. We must look after their interests in the decisions we make and pay particular attention to their welfare while serving and, just as importantly, when they have retired. Is the Prime Minister concerned that the latest Ministry of Defence survey showed that 25% of those serving plan to leave as soon as they can or have already put in their notice, and that the number dissatisfied with service life has risen to 32%? Does he think it is a coincidence that those results come at the same time as the Government have capped armed forces pay and changed pension arrangements?
Although the Prime Minister is talking tough about defence spending today, the facts are that under his Government it has fallen in real terms by 14% and we saw many soldiers with many years’ operational service putting their lives on the line being sacked days before becoming eligible for full pensions.
Does the Prime Minister not agree that changes proposed by the Chancellor to tax credits breach the spirit of the armed forces covenant? Will he confirm that the plan to cut the annual income of a corporal with two children by £2,300 a year will now be reversed and that such a family would not be made worse off by any other welfare cuts the Chancellor may be planning? What damage does the Prime Minister think will be done by the big cuts being planned to the civilian support of the armed services?
The country is united in its respect for those who serve, but there is widespread concern about how far lessons have been learned from recent military interventions. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he will update and revise the review in the light of the forthcoming findings of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war? What is his response to this month’s United Nations report that all sides in the continuing conflict and anarchy in Libya are committing breaches of international law, including abductions, torture and the killing of civilians, and that ISIL militants have consolidated control over central Libya, carrying out summary executions, beheadings and amputations?
Last week, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg)—the former Deputy Prime Minister—wrote:
“Britain failed to provide meaningful backing to Libya in the wake of our air strikes there…We must learn from our mistakes.”
What lessons has the Prime Minister learned from the intervention in Libya in 2011, which, regrettably, has been followed by appalling chaos, persistent violence and the strengthening of ISIL?
Does the Prime Minister believe there is any prospect of Afghanistan maintaining its own security in the near future? How does he see Britain’s role in helping to ensure that that happens, given the huge commitment made over the past 14 years and the ultimate sacrifice paid by 456 members of the British forces? How will he apply lessons learned in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere to Britain’s role in the escalating war in Iraq and Syria, ensuring that further disastrous mistakes are avoided?
Britain does need strong military and security forces to keep us safe and to take a lead in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions, working with and strengthening the United Nations. I recognise the increased commitment to the UN in the Prime Minister’s statement. There is no contradiction between working for peace across the world and doing what is necessary to keep us safe at home—in fact, the very opposite is true.
My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) will be leading a review about how we deliver that strong, modern protection for the people of Britain. Our review will seek to learn the lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and look at our military capabilities and requirements in that light. We owe it to the members of our armed forces and to the country as a whole to engage in the kind of review which is sadly lacking today.
The review will consider carefully and fully, on the basis of evidence and with the widest consultation and expert input, whether it is right for the UK to commit so much of the defence budget to continuous at-sea nuclear patrols, and if not, what alternative investments in our security and military capabilities would be required to meet the threats we face and ensure skills and jobs in our defence industries are fully protected. It will focus on the failure of the last Government to replace the Nimrod MR4A, leaving Britain to rely on asking for French planes for its airborne maritime capability. Why have the Government now chosen a replacement with virtually no UK defence content when it is in service?
Will the Prime Minister confirm—he was just talking about this—that the reduction in the number of Type 26 frigates we are procuring from 13 to eight will not impact on the Navy’s ability to protect the carriers? Can the Prime Minister give some reassurance to the workers on the Clyde? Last year, they were told that 13 ships would be built; now it is eight. Can he confirm this is simply a first batch and the commitment of 13 frigates still stands?
Our review will question the wisdom of British arms sales to repressive regimes with links to the funding of terrorism, and be firmly founded on the importance of human rights across the world. It will recognise that security is about much more than defence, and look to fulfil the huge potential this country has to lead the way in peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peace building.
We have a highly professional and experienced diplomatic corps—some of the best diplomats in the world—as well as world-class peace and conflict research academics. Does the Prime Minister not agree that the severe cut in the Foreign Office budget is clear evidence of the Government’s determination to sacrifice our place in the world on the altar of misplaced austerity? Will he commit to a human rights adviser in every embassy?
I return to everything that is uppermost in people’s minds—
Indeed, Mr Speaker. I am saying that we must have the police and security services fully resourced and able to do what is necessary to protect the public. I ask the Prime Minister to think very hard about the remarks made to him by senior police officers and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in this respect, and to assure the House today that those cuts in policing services will not go ahead.
I think the best that can be said about that is the longer the right hon. Gentleman went on, the less he had to say.
Most of the right hon. Gentleman’s statement was spent talking about the importance of having troops within the UN, the importance of shipbuilding on the Clyde, the importance of investing in defence, and the importance of having high morale among our armed forces. Yet only two months ago, he said:
“Why do we have to be able to have planes, transport aircraft, aircraft carriers and everything else to get anywhere in the world? Why?”
Is that the same right hon. Gentleman who is now sitting opposite us thinking of all these uses for our armed forces, when just a few months ago he thought there was none?
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the police. Let me tell him that we are safeguarding investment in our counter-terrorism policing, and indeed increasing the capabilities that they have. There will be a full statement on Wednesday on all the spending decisions that we make. He might want to have a word with his shadow Chancellor, who very recently signed up to a proposal, at a time when we face this heightened security threat, to
“Disband MI5 and special police squads”
and to “disarm the police.”
The Leader of the Opposition thinks that they should not use their weapons; the shadow Chancellor thinks they should not have any at all. That is presumably what passes for a defence policy.
The right hon. Gentleman asked a series of questions. Let me answer them all. First, he asked how we set out the threats. We publish a risk assessment. The whole point of a national security strategy is to bring together all the threats we face as a nation—state-on-state threats, terrorism, pandemics, climate change and others—and set out in one place how we evaluate them and how we will respond to them. That is something that never previously happened.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about morale in our armed forces. There are no proposals here to reduce the proposals we have made on pay and increments in our armed services or to change the very generous pension arrangements. One of the best things for morale in our armed services is that those serving in our Army, Navy or Air Force and those who are planning to join our Army, Navy or Air Force can see that there will be a bigger Navy with more ships, there will be a bigger Air Force with more planes and people, and our armed services will be better equipped and supplied than they ever have been.
The right hon. Gentleman asked why we do not have human rights advisers in all our embassies. To me, advising on human rights is part of the role of an ambassador.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about learning lessons from previous conflicts. We are determined to do that. That is part of what the inquiry into the Iraq war should be about. However, we have not waited for that inquiry to learn the lessons. That is why, as I will explain on Thursday, it is so important that we bring together military strategy with diplomatic strategy, political strategy and development strategy. All those things should go together.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what lessons were learned from the Libyan conflict. Clearly we need to make sure, in such situations, that there are Governments and states that can continue, but I do not apologise for one minute for stepping in, with France, to prevent Colonel Gaddafi from murdering his own people in his own country.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the maritime patrol aircraft. It is right that we order them not only to protect the deterrent, which he, of course, wants to get rid of, but to make sure that we have greater safety, greater security and greater search and rescue functions.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the frigates. There is a real opportunity for Britain here. We are ordering at least eight Type 26 frigates, which have the full capabilities, but we will also look at developing a new multi-purpose frigate not only for ourselves, but, hopefully, to sell overseas. That opens the possibility that the number of capital ships in the Navy will go up, rather than down.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about ship workers on the Clyde. We have seen a great boost in naval shipbuilding because of the carriers. We want to keep that going, which is why two maritime patrol vessels will be built even before the frigates start being built.
The right hon. Gentleman told us a bit about his review. We look forward to that review, which will be carried out by Ken Livingstone—someone who has absolutely no idea about defence, but every idea about attacking hard-working Labour Front Benchers who try to do their jobs.
Finally, on a day when we are discussing a better equipped Army, a bigger Navy and a bigger Air Force, perhaps we ought to end with a quotation from the right hon. Gentleman who, as recently as August, said:
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every politician around the world instead of taking pride in the size of their armed forces did what”
“have done and abolished the army and took pride in the fact that they don’t have an army”.
I know that it is depressing for Labour Members, but they might as well know about it. That is the view of the Leader of the Opposition.
Some difficult decisions were taken in the 2010 defence review so that our armed forces would be able to grow in the second half of the decade. May I welcome unequivocally the purchase of the new maritime patrol aircraft? If I may remind the Prime Minister, there was a gap because of Labour’s catastrophic management of the Nimrod programme. I also welcome the purchase of more F-35s. What impact will the decision to man the two carriers have on naval personnel numbers? What impact will the decision on the F-35s have on the future of the Tornado?
Because we want to operate both carriers and because of the great amount of equipment coming through in the Royal Navy, this defence review will see an increase in personnel in the Royal Navy of 400 people. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the maritime patrol aircraft. We did have to take difficult decisions in 2010 to get rid of the black hole in the defence budget. The Nimrod project was over time and over budget, and it was not clear that we would have been able to get it back on track. We have therefore had a gap in that capability, but today’s announcement shows how we will fill it.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to a contingency plan that will allow 10,000 members of the armed forces to support the police in the case of a terrorist attack. How long will it take to train those military personnel to allow for interoperability, and will he revise his plans to cut police numbers? One without the other is nonsense.
The thinking here is that just as in France it was necessary to surge the number of uniformed personnel on the streets—perhaps to provide a security cordon or keep people safe—so we should get rid of the divide that has existed for many years about the deployment of military personnel on the streets of Britain. The right hon. Lady asks when these people will be trained. The first 5,000 are already able to fulfil that function should it be necessary, and we will get to the figure of 10,000 that I announced. This is not about members of the armed forces supplanting or taking over from the police; it is about them being at the disposal of the police, perhaps to provide a security cordon or a certain amount of safety. In the past we had a rather artificial divide between those two functions, and it is time to get rid of that.
The Defence Select Committee will be assessing the SDSR against a checklist of the threats and vulnerabilities that were published in our report at the weekend, but I am sure that most Members will find at least some relief in the plugging of gaps such as naval aviation and maritime patrol aircraft, and especially in the emphasis on flexible and versatile armed forces to deal with our inability to predict crises before they are upon us. Will the Prime Minister say a little about press reports concerning the pay of armed forces, and will he indicate when the maingate contracts for the successor to the Trident submarines will be brought before the House for debate and decision?
I am sure that members of the Defence Committee have a checklist and will scrutinise that document thoroughly, and I look forward to their conclusions. We are keeping the annual pay upgrade and the increments that our armed forces have. A package has been set out for new joiners, and I am sure the Committee will consider that carefully. My right hon. Friend welcomed the maritime patrol. On the maingate decision, we will be moving ahead with the four submarines and at the appropriate moment we will hold a vote in this House.
I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the effective Opposition four minutes to respond to it.
Let me reiterate our support for measures in the SDSR that were pre-announced following recent terrorist incidents, including support for intelligence agencies, as well as other counter-terrorism capabilities such as special forces and cybersecurity. The Prime Minister has announced a 2025 target for two deployable strike brigades, which is welcome in support of UN-sanctioned operations. Holding an SDSR every five years is a worthwhile exercise as it provides context and allows analysis of policy decisions. In the 2010 SDSR, there was no mention of the northern dimension, the High North or the Arctic—not a single mention when considering risks, opportunities or necessary responses, and not a single mention about our immediate northern backyard.
Five years ago, the Prime Minister made the disastrous decision to scrap and waste the entire fleet of Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, throwing away £4 billion of taxpayer investment. That meant that—uniquely among the armed forces of our northern European neighbours— the UK has had no MPA and has had to muddle through. Among other things, the Ministry of Defence has had to urge Scottish fishing vessels to report on passing Russian forces. The previous Defence Secretary confirmed that social media was a helpful source of information about Russian naval forces and—as is currently the case —the UK has been relying on French, Canadian or American MPA assets to patrol and screen around UK waters.
Not only has there been an MPA deficit, but the MOD has not been taking the northern dimension seriously. With the Atlantic to our west, the Iceland gap to our north and the North sea to the east, one would have thought that was a basic requirement. However, the UK has never, ever provided a single fast jet for NATO northern air policing from Iceland. Similarly, in recent years the Royal Navy has not provided any assets— not one single vessel—for NATO northern maritime patrol groups. These are facts. Today we learn there is some good news and that we can rectify the capability gap. It is welcome that there will be maritime patrol aircraft and that they will be based at RAF Lossiemouth. Will the Prime Minister say more about their in-service date?
Staying with the northern dimension, the UK does not station a single ocean-going conventional patrol vessel anywhere except the south coast of England. We have been told over a number of years that in Scotland we should be delighted that 13 Type 26 frigates will be built on the Clyde. In fact, voters in Scotland were promised 13 Type 26 vessels just so long as people voted no in the independence referendum. That was a clear promise. It is just over one year since the referendum, and no voters and shipyard workers are being betrayed in this SDSR, with a 40% cut in Type 26 vessels.
Under this Prime Minister, we have seen defence decimated in Scotland. Two out of three air bases have ceased flying operations. There has been a disproportionate cut to units and manpower. Tory Ministers promised an Army super-base in West Lothian and the doubling of Army numbers in Scotland with returns from Germany. Instead, that was dropped. Army headquarters in Scotland was downgraded and service personnel numbers in Fife and Moray are down considerably. Total personnel numbers are at a record low in Scotland.
The extended lifespan for fast jets is to be welcomed, but may I raise safety issues relating to traffic collision avoidance systems, which have still not been installed? Will the Prime Minister confirm that they were first recommended in 1990 and have still not been installed in all Tornado and Typhoon aircraft?
Moving on from issues relating to necessary and sensible conventional defence spending to the elephant in the room, Trident replacement, a weapons system of mass destruction that can never be used, we learn that the cost of its replacement is ballooning and squeezing out defence alternatives. How expensive does Trident need to be for this Government to realise that it is a super-expensive vanity project that does not deter? It has not deterred terrorism, cyber-attack or conventional attacks on the UK, its allies and friends. Even at this late stage, I appeal to the Government and to the Labour party to realise that it is a huge mistake to renew Trident. I remind them both that in Scotland an overwhelming majority of our parliamentarians and civic organisations, from our national Churches and faith groups to the Scottish Trades Union Congress, are all opposed. What kind of family of nations with a respect agenda imposes something on one of its members against its will?
Listening to the right hon. Gentleman, one would not think that Scotland was getting more Typhoons, more maritime patrol aircraft and more ships. The truth is this: the United Kingdom punches above its weight in the world and Scotland punches above its weight because it is in the United Kingdom and such a proud partner in our defence.
Let me answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question about maritime patrol aircraft very clearly. The fact is that in 2010 we had to take difficult decisions. This was an aircraft that was not properly in service. We acted on advice because the costs were not clear and the capability was not clear. In any event, it was, as he would put it, guarding a deterrent that he does not want in the first place. He should welcome its replacement and he should welcome the fact that it will be based at RAF Lossiemouth.
On the in-service date, at least three of the aircraft will be in place by the end of the Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the role we play in defending northern Europe. We are looking very carefully at some of the patrolling missions, but UK Typhoons already provide Baltic air policing missions, which are hugely welcomed by those countries.
Finally, let me answer the question about naval issues and Trident. On the shipbuilding programme—we will be publishing a paper in 2016 on our shipbuilding strategy—the fact is that Scotland now has the opportunity to build more than 13 frigates because of the changes we are making. There will be eight of the Type 26 frigates and at least another five of the new type of frigate, probably more. They can be built in Scotland if the conditions are right. The only way these ships would not be built in Scotland is if Scotland was independent and did not have the national resources of the Royal Navy. That is what the right hon. Gentleman should be saying to ship workers in Scotland: the UK and our defence budget help to keep their jobs safe.
Finally, Trident is clearly not squeezing out other defence requirements, as today’s document clearly shows. Here is the rub: the SNP describes itself as the effective Opposition—yes, they are wholly opposed to Trident and therefore wholly unsuited to government.
I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, particularly his comments about the extra investment in counter-terrorism and his reiteration of the money going to the intelligence and security agencies. In that context, will he help the House in identifying how the Government will carry out the necessary audit process—both for that massive expansion and for other expansion in expenditure—to ensure value for money?
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. The new NSC sub-committee, which we will establish under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), will ensure that these commitments are properly delivered and, along with other governmental organisations, that there is good value for money.
I also welcome the additional resources for counter-terrorism. We have the best counter-terrorism officers in the world, and this is the right time to increase the budget. Last week, the global terrorism index showed that last year 32,600 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 67 countries. In his statement, the Prime Minister is integrating what is happening in this country with our strategy abroad. He mentioned Tunisia, for example. How will the Tunisian Government be assisted by a national security strategy in our country, bearing it in mind that what happens on the streets of Tunisia or Sana'a, in Yemen, ends up on the streets of London?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Countries as diverse as Tunisia, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia can take heart from our strategy, because we recognise that their security and our security are inextricably linked. We want to help with things such as aviation security, on which we are massively extending our budget, and with building their armed services, policing and counter-terrorism capabilities. In the coming years, there will be an important role for our Army to play, in terms of forming training battalions, and for our intelligence services, as they increase their capabilities and trust in partner agencies, which can play an important role in keeping us safe.
I very much welcome the statement, particularly the commitment to naval platforms and manned and unmanned airframes, but to what extent do the through-life costings for the F-35 reflect the likelihood that UAVs will render the technology therein obsolete by the end-of-service date?
My hon. Friend is a considerable expert on this. What we have, particularly with our partnership with the French, is a plan for the next generation of fighter aircraft being unmanned combat systems. The research is there, the work is being done—with the French and Americans—and choices about that will have to be made, but I think it is too early to say whether the next generation of fighter aircraft will be manned or unmanned, which is why it is right we are developing the F-35 Lightning with the Americans and that we think seriously about whether to move to fully unmanned platforms in the future. Personally, as an amateur rather than a professional, I have my doubts.
The Prime Minister has said that he will come back to the House on Thursday to respond to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Will he also ensure a full day’s debate in Government time on this issue, well before the Government table a motion on military intervention, so that we can have a full debate, not only on the day of a vote, but well in advance, and so that the House can give this proper consideration?
I will consider what the right hon. Lady says, but obviously we have a statement on Thursday, when I will be publishing our response to the Foreign Affairs Committee, and then, depending on the reaction of the House and the sense that right hon. and hon. Members have about whether we should move ahead with this, my intention would be to have a full day’s debate and a vote subsequent to that in the coming days and weeks. I think there is also a debate, I understand on Monday, in Back-Bench time for people who want to make further points about this issue, but I would put it like this. I do not think we are going to be under-spoken or under-considered before we take this step. We had the statement last week, we have had the statement today, which obviously has links to Syria, and we will have the statement on Thursday and then a debate in Government time, with plenty of time for people to air their views and then, I would hope, have a vote.
As one of the most outspoken and robust critics of the Government over the last five years for the very unfortunate defence cuts they have had to make for economic reasons, may I now be among the absolute first strongly and warmly to welcome the tone of the Prime Minister’s announcement this afternoon, in respect both of the general direction and the 2% of GDP and also quite a number of the other detailed announcements, such as the nine maritime patrol aircraft? Does he agree that, in a fast-changing world, the last SDSR was out of date more or less by the time it was printed and that this one, too, will change rapidly? Will he commit to ensure that the SDSR and the national security strategy, on which it is based, should not be set in stone and unchangeable, but should be reviewed regularly?
First, may I thank my hon. Friend for his warm support for this approach? We did have to take difficult decisions in the last Parliament. I think it was right to freeze our defence spending in cash terms, at around £35 billion, but now we can see it increase. That is a choice we are making. We do not have to make this choice; it is an active choice we are making in order to deliver greater security.
My hon. Friend is right that these documents are not set in stone: they are living and breathing documents. However, I think it is sensible every five years to hold a defence review, but then to get on and implement it. If we endlessly re-examine and re-cook it, we will find that we have lots of people doing analysis and not enough people actually delivering the strategy, which in the end is what this is about.
The very first duty of the Prime Minister of the day, and indeed the Leader of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, should be to ensure the protection and defence of the people of this country, here and abroad. On behalf of my party, I warmly welcome the fact that the Prime Minister at least is living up to that requirement in the House today. In that context, I welcome his decision to commit to 2% funding for defence and the extra money and resources going into the security services. On maritime surveillance, I welcome the nine new aircraft being deployed, plugging the gap that has existed for too long. Finally, will he give an unambiguous commitment that the two new carriers will both be deployed as strike carriers going forward?
Both carriers will be brought into service and both will be crewed, and that is one of the reasons why we are looking for an increase in Royal Navy personnel of 400. They will be a very big addition to British power and will be the largest ships that the Royal Navy has ever had under its command.
Will the Government strengthen controls at our borders and integrate that properly with the new intelligence—which I must welcome —that my right hon. Friend is going to get? There is a clear danger at the moment that military action in the middle east could displace terrorists, who might shift tactics and want to seek either legal or illegal entry to our country.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that having border controls only helps if we are also sharing intelligence with others about the people trying to cross those borders, and there are weaknesses in the European Union system on that, which we need to strengthen. I was discussing that with President Hollande this morning, but I would stress again—to be clear—that we have borders where we are able to stop and detain people and not let them in our country, even if they are European Union citizens, if we think they are a threat to our national security. That exists now for Britain. Some other countries in Europe are introducing borders like that on a temporary basis; ours are like that on a permanent basis.
Does the Prime Minister accept that the continued existence of the so-called caliphate is itself probably one of the most important drivers of radicalising young people here and elsewhere, in Europe and the wider world? Does he accept that before the public can be convinced of the need to take further action, particularly in Syria, a clearer case needs to be made about what the aims are and what the scale would be?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The fact that ISIL is a so-called state and is committing these appalling acts both locally in Syria and Iraq and around the globe is one of the most important dangers that we face. He is also right that we will not degrade and destroy ISIL, as we need to do for our own national security, simply through the exercise of military force. We need to combine that with the proper diplomatic and political activities of backing a proper Government in Iraq and backing, over time, a transitional Government in Syria. Both those things need to happen. The point I shall make on Thursday is that I do not think we can wait for the political process to be completed in Syria before we start taking some of the action to degrade and destroy this organisation, which poses such a threat to us today.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s statement, and I know it will be welcome in the Shropshire defence sector—both the private and public sectors.
Going back to the subject of Africa, as the Prime Minister seeks to reform the European Union and given that some of the causes of terrorism can be the lack of prosperity and unemployment, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, what more can the EU do, working with the Economic Community of West African States, the Southern African Development Community and the east African community, to ensure that we have a pan-African continental free trade area in order to reduce migration, increase prosperity and increase security?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to focus on this issue. The fact is that we need to see more development, more growth, more jobs and employment in Africa, and Europe can have a real influence on that—not only through aid programmes, which can make a difference, but by making sure that there are fair trade arrangements in place not just between African countries and Europe but between African countries themselves. We have done a lot of work to promote intra-African trade because creating those sorts of markets, which ECOWAS is trying to do, will make a huge difference to the lives of people on that continent.
May I welcome the Prime Minister’s spending commitments on defence and overseas development, and ask him to ensure that in his statement on Thursday, he sets out how both will be used to take immediate action against ISIL and plan for the long-term reconstruction that Syria so desperately needs?
Let me pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who was arguing for increases in defence spending earlier this year. She was absolutely right about that. She is also right that we need to combine our overseas aid budget with our defence budget, because it is equally important to make sure that we build security, governance and systems through which countries can see that their countries are working for them. We will not solve the problem in Syria through missiles and bombs alone; it has to be solved by helping the Syrian people to have a Government and a country in which they can put their trust.
RAF Coningsby, from which both Typhoons and the battle of Britain memorial flights fly, is in my constituency. As we have remembered this year the 75th anniversary of the battle of Britain, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the investment in fast jets and the increased number of Typhoon squadrons will ensure that we retain world-class capability?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. I think that the Typhoon is proving itself, not just in Britain but elsewhere in the world, as an absolute world leader in terms of its capabilities. What this review delivers—my hon. Friend will be able to read about it more detail—is a further upgrade of the Typhoon aircraft with the vital e-scan radar and the more modern weapons systems that it needs, so that it is good both as an air-to-air fighter and as a ground-to-air fighter. With that and the news about the extra Typhoons, I think Members of Parliament such as my hon. Friend can look forward to very strong defences in the years ahead.
As we know, the UK is bombing ISIL in Iraq and we know that the Government want to bomb ISIL in Syria, so we have to ask the question whether the Government want to bomb ISIL less in Iraq or are they currently not bombing ISIL in Iraq to their full capability?
The point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that the border between Iraq and Syria is not recognised by ISIL. It is literally a line in the sand, so it makes no sense, if we want to degrade and destroy ISIL, to restrict our activities—given that we have some of the most professional and dedicated pilots and some of the most efficient equipment anywhere in the world—purely to Iraq.
As the Prime Minister has already recalled, owing to the dire economic straits in which our country found itself thanks to the present Opposition, the 2010 review was a pretty bloody and painful exercise. I warmly welcome today’s announcement, which has been delivered partly by the Prime Minister and partly by the Defence Secretary, but may I ask some specific questions about the strike brigades, which I also welcome? I understand that they are additional to the three brigades that we established in the 2010 defence review. Can they be delivered within the constraint of 82,000 regular Army personnel, and why will it take 10 years to deliver them? Can the Prime Minister expedite their creation?
Let me say first, in defence of the 2010 review, in which my hon. Friend was involved, that we did have to make difficult decisions, but I would argue that the moves that we made—reducing the number of battle tanks and focusing on such elements as flexible armed forces and information, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance—resulted from our making the right judgments. Those were the things that we needed more of, and now we are able to supply even more of them.
My hon. Friend asked about the strike brigades. As he knows, we currently have the capability to deploy a brigade anywhere in the world and sustain it indefinitely. With the new armoured vehicles, such as the Ajax vehicles, and given the new way in which we are going to rotate armed forces personnel, instead of being able to deploy only one brigade we shall be able to deploy two, with greater mobility. Obviously the time that this takes will depend on how soon some of the new equipment comes on board, but my commitment to the House is to make sure that the strike brigades are ready as soon as they can be.
Before the Prime Minister makes his statement on ISIL and Syria on Thursday, may I urge him to listen carefully to Labour Members who have an open mind on this question, but want reassurances on specific issues—chiefly reassurances about humanitarian protection and the need to prevent further displacement and suffering, but also a specific commitment to long-term reconstruction and stabilisation once the conflict has ended?
I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. My aim is to bring together the biggest possible majority on both sides of the House in favour of the action that I think is necessary. I am not saying that we will solve the problem simply by crossing a line from Iraq into Syria. We will solve the problem if we have a political strategy, a diplomatic strategy and a humanitarian strategy. Britain is leading the way in that regard, not least by organising next year’s conference with Norway, Germany and Kuwait to raise the funds that are necessary to help the Syrian people wherever they are—and the more of them we can keep in Syria, the better.
Will the Prime Minister confirm that today’s statement is good news for RAF Marham, the home of the Tornado force and the future home of Lightning II? Obviously the Tornadoes and Brimstone missiles are playing a vital role in the campaign against Daesh, but does he agree that there is now an overwhelming case for extending those strikes into Syria itself?
I can certainly reassure my hon. Friend that I believe the statement is good for RAF Marham, because it means more Lightning aircraft more quickly, and I think that that will be very good for the air base. As for what my hon. Friend said about Iraq and Syria, he knows that I agree. We must marshal all the arguments that we can on Thursday.
I welcome the strategic review, much of which is common sense, but will Ministers do more to reform defence procurement and ensure that our limited defence budget is spent in the interests of our armed forces, giving them the equipment that they need rather than enriching a cartel of defence contractors?
I will certainly do all that I can on that basis. This issue is always difficult, because on the one hand we want to procure as speedily and swiftly as possible, while on the other hand we want to have a care for Britain’s vital defence industry and the opportunity to help our allies with their capabilities; but yes, I think that, overall, ensuring that procurement was more swift and more speedy would be a good thing.
I thank my right hon. Friend for stating unequivocally that the British Army might be placed on the streets of the United Kingdom. I remind the House that it has been operating on the streets of the United Kingdom for more than 40 years. I think the public will be very sympathetic to the idea, and will take great comfort in times of peril when they see our wonderful soldiers on the streets protecting them.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. During the flooding problems and during the Olympics we saw a number of British troops on our streets. The point I am making is that up until now there have been some rather arcane and old-fashioned barriers to stop this happening, for all sorts of very good historical reasons, but I think we are rather over that now. I think that if there were a terrorist attack and we needed to surge uniformed personnel to keep us safe, people would be very happy to see the military perform that role.
I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. With the threat to our hard-won freedoms as clear today as it has ever been, I welcome the Government’s efforts in the SDSR. Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the ever-changing security and defence environment, our most critical asset remains our men and women who serve, and that within the framework of this SDSR looking after our men and women both during and after their service will be a priority not only for him personally, although I know it is now, but for his Government?
My hon. Friend, with his considerable experience, is absolutely right to say this. We can talk about all the equipment in the world, but at the heart of it are men and women who are prepared to serve and put their lives on the line for us, and they should be looked after. I think when he looks through this SDSR, he will see we are committed to doing that. Indeed, what we have done with the military covenant—putting it on a legal footing, passing it into law, improving its terms every year—means there will be help for people for the rest of their lives.
It is obviously right that our armed forces have both the equipment and personnel needed to protect our country and our people, but hard power and soft power go together, so may I press the Prime Minister further on the decision he is shortly to bring before the House about military action in Syria? Will he ensure that this is not just a decision for the House to say yes or no to the use of hard power—although, of course, it will be that—but that it is also a decision to use every diplomatic means we have, not to negotiate with ISIS but to forge a sustainable future for Syria thereafter?
I absolutely want to give that assurance. There is obviously the diplomatic work that is being done through the Vienna process to bring about a transition and political change in Syria. There is also the humanitarian side—Britain is the second largest aid donor in the world on a bilateral basis—to help Syrian refugees, and we will continue with that work. I very much see all these things as part of an overall strategy. There is not simply a plan to extend military action; there is a plan to step up in all of these areas.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and congratulate him on increasing resources for our armed forces. May I add one tiny cautionary note? In my day we talked about divisions, but we are now talking about brigades. Can he reassure me that in the future the Army will not be reduced below 82,000, so we can do our job effectively around the world?