Since SDSR 2015, we have cut steel on the first Type 26 and signed the contract to buy new Apache helicopters. We are on track to deliver by the end of 2020: initial operating capability for carrier strike; maritime patrol aircraft; and to field Ajax. We have launched our innovation initiative, and published both our shipbuilding and our international defence engagement strategies.
HMS Bulwark helped to evacuate 1,300 British citizens from Lebanon during the 2006 crisis. Given the Foreign Office’s recent problems evacuating citizens caught up in Hurricane Irma, will the Minister argue for his Department or the Department for International Development to lead on future evacuations? Will he guarantee today that the Government will maintain the fleet’s littoral capacity, which is currently provided by HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion?
One of this Government’s strengths is in how we successfully work together between Departments. We saw the comprehensive approach working very effectively during recent weeks in the cross-Government response to Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean. That is exactly the approach we should be taking.
SDSR 2015 aimed for at least 10% of our armed forces personnel to be from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background. Latest figures show that just 2.4% of regular officers are from a BAME background and that there are currently no BAME officers at a two-star rank or above. When will Ministers publish a new diversity strategy to get to grips with that challenge?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right that Britain is changing, and it is very important that our armed forces represent modern Britain. There is a very impressive strategy in place in which—he is quite right—the target is for 10% of recruits to be from the BAME community and 15% to be women. We have had varying success across our three forces. The Royal Air Force is doing the best by far but, year on year, we are seeing improvements, and I am determined that we shall continue to recruit role models to help this process.
By 2020, the commitments set out in SDSR 2015 will be funded by a defence budget totalling a record £40 billion. The Government’s welcome commitment to spending 2% of our economy on defence is the minimum NATO requirement. Is the Government’s welcome commitment to that rubbing off on our fellow NATO counterparts?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Indeed, we are committed to spending at least 2% and I am delighted that we continue to do that. Slowly but surely, we are getting this message across to our NATO allies. Although only a minority of them do spend 2%, we are conscious that the direction of travel is positive.