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House of Commons Hansard
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Modernising Defence Programme
18 December 2018
Volume 651

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In July, I made a statement setting out headline conclusions from six months of work on the modernising defence programme. Since then, work has continued apace. First, I would like to welcome the extra £1.8 billion of funding for defence, including the additional £1 billion that was in last month’s Budget. Today, I want to provide a further update on the MDP and set out the work that will be ongoing. I have placed a report on the MDP in the Library of the House.

First, I should put the MDP in context. The 2015 strategic defence and security review was the right plan for defence at the time. The Government put the defence budget on a firmer footing, increasing throughout the life of this Parliament. Defence is much stronger as a result. NATO is growing in strength, and the UK is a leader. More allies are meeting the 2% spending guideline, or have developed plans to do so. We are the second largest defence spender in NATO, one of only a small number of allies to spend 2% of our GDP on defence and to invest 20% of that in upgrading equipment.

We can be proud of what we have achieved since 2015, but we also have to be vigilant. National security challenges have become more complex, intertwined and dangerous since 2015, and those threats are moving much faster than was anticipated. Persistent, aggressive state competition now characterises the international security context. In response to the growing threats, the MDP was launched in January.

In the last year, our armed forces have demonstrated their growing capability, engaged globally, and supported the prosperity of the UK. The Royal Navy has increased its mass and points of presence around the world. We have taken steps to forward-base the Army, enhancing our global posture. The Royal Air Force has continued to innovate, and it celebrated a proud past in RAF 100, marking 100 years since its creation.

Progress has also been made in cyber and space, as the changing character of warfare makes both domains increasingly important. We have reinforced the UK’s position as a leading voice in NATO and on European security. Our armed forces have also led the way for global Britain, tackling our adversaries abroad to protect our security at home, and nurturing enduring relationships with our allies and partners.

Through the work over the past year, the MDP has identified three broad priorities, supported by the additional £1.8 billion invested in defence. First, we will mobilise, making more of what we already have to make our current force more lethal and better able to protect our security. The UK already has a world-leading array of capabilities. We will make the most effective use of them. We will improve the readiness and availability of a range of key defence platforms: major warships, attack submarines, helicopters and a range of intelligence, surveillance, target, acquisition and reconnaissance, or ISTAR, platforms.

We are adjusting our overseas training and deployments to increase our global points of presence, better to support allies and influence adversaries. To improve the combat effectiveness of our force, we will reprioritise the current defence programme to increase weapon stockpiles. We are also accelerating work to assure the resilience of our defence systems and capabilities.

We can mobilise a full spectrum of military, economic and soft power capabilities. Where necessary and appropriate, we will make sure we are able to act independently. We will also enhance efforts with our allies and partners, aligning our plans more closely with them, acting as part of combined formations, developing combined capabilities, and burden sharing. We continue to invest in, and grow, our global network of defence personnel and the education and training we offer in the UK and overseas.

Secondly, we will modernise, embracing new technologies to assure our competitive edge. Our adversaries and competitors are accelerating the development of new capabilities and strategies. We must keep pace and conceive of our joint force as consisting of the five domains of air, land, sea, cyber and space, rather than the traditional three.

We must modernise, targeting priority areas. A major new step will involve the improved Joint Forces Command, which will be in a better position both to allow defence to play a major role in preventing conflict in the future and to improve our cyber operations and capabilities across the armed forces, but also across Government.

This year, Defence’s innovation fund put £20 million towards projects in areas including unmanned air systems, virtual reality training, and enhanced digital communications for the future commando force. The fund will grow to £50 million in the next financial year, increasing the scope, ambition and value of the projects it can support.

We will launch new spearhead innovation programmes that will apply cutting-edge technologies to areas including sub-surface threats to our submarines; our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability; and command and control in the land environment.

To drive innovation and change through the Department, I am launching a transformation fund. Next year, I will ring-fence £160 million of the MOD’s budget to create the fund, which will be available for innovative new military capabilities. I will look to make a further £340 million available as part of the spending review. This fund will be available for new innovative military capabilities that allow us to stay one step ahead of our adversaries. Together, these and other steps will enable the acceleration of our modernisation plans.

Thirdly, we will transform, radically changing the way we do business in defence. We need to improve markedly the way we run defence. To sustain strategic advantage in a fast-changing world, we must be capable of continuous and timely adaptation. We will embrace modern business practices and establish a culture that nurtures transformation and innovation. We also need to create financial headroom for modernisation. Based on our work to date, we expect to achieve over the next decade the very demanding efficiency targets that we set in 2015, including through investment in a programme of digital transformation. We will develop a comprehensive strategy to improve recruitment and retention of talent, better reflecting the expectations of the modern workforce. We will access more effectively the talents of our whole force across all three services, and regulars, reserves, civil service and industry partners.

Looking ahead, dealing effectively with persistent conflict and competition will increasingly hinge on smarter and better informed long-range strategy. To help to achieve those goals we will establish a permanent net assessment unit, as well as a defence policy board of external experts, to bring challenge to defence policy and strategy. Our achievements under the MDP have made defence stronger. The capability investments and policy approaches set out, with the extra £1.8 billion of defence funding, will help us to keep on track to deliver the right UK defence for the challenging decade ahead.

Without a shadow of a doubt, there is a lot more work to be done as we move towards next year’s spending review. We must sustain this momentum if we are to realise our long-term goals of increasing the lethality, reach and mass of our armed forces. I will do everything in my power to make sure that the UK remains a tier one military power in the decade ahead, and that we continue to deliver the strong defence and security that has been the hallmark of the Government. I commend this statement to the House.

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I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance sight of it.

I know that Members will be relieved that the review has finally been published—all 28 pages of it, 10 of which are photos or graphics—some six months after it was originally promised, because we all recognise the growing and diverse threats this country faces. However, given the amount of time it has taken, given the endless reports of the Secretary of State’s rows with various Cabinet colleagues, and given his commitment in the summer that this would lead to

“a major programme of top-down transformative reform”—[Official Report, 19 July 2018; Vol. 645, c. 28WS.],

it is staggering that the end result is so underwhelming. The review does nothing to solve the affordability crisis facing the Ministry of Defence, a crisis that the Secretary of State has completely failed to get to grips with in his year in office.

The Secretary of State promised that the review would not be fiscally neutral. The Minister for Defence Procurement promised that it would

“put UK defence on to an enduringly affordable footing”—[Official Report, 5 November 2018; Vol. 648, c. 44WS.],

but I ask the Secretary of State how can it, when it includes no new money? Despite the £l billion that was announced in the Budget, the MOD’s own figures show that the funding gap in the defence equipment plan alone is somewhere between £7 billion and £15 billion. That leads to a very simple choice: either the Government must come forward with enough additional funds to fill that gap, which the Secretary of State has completely failed to do, or he must be honest about the difficult choices that have to be made.

We know that 84% of the MOD’s funding gap occurs in the next four years. According to the National Audit Office, that means that Ministers must make

“immediate savings decisions rather than relying on longer-term cuts or efficiencies”.

Can the Secretary of State tell us what those decisions are? Which programmes has he decided to defer, de-scope or delete? We all agree with the need to make savings wherever possible, but the MOD’s over-reliance on projected efficiencies which do not materialise has been a persistent problem. Will he accept that sorting the mess in his Department’s budget cannot simply be done through efficiencies?

Turning to the announcement of a transformation fund to develop new and innovative technologies, something one would assume his Department was doing in any case, can the Secretary of State confirm that the £160 million that has been earmarked comes from existing budgets and there will be no new money? What assurances has he received from the Chancellor that the remaining £340 million that is not currently in his budget will in fact be forthcoming?

Personnel are at the very heart of our country’s defences. Last week, the NAO published a damning report on the Army’s recruitment contract with Capita, the latest reminder that this company is failing badly and that MOD is failing abysmally to manage that contract properly. Ministers have made endless promises to take action to deal with this problem, but nothing has been done. Does the Secretary of State accept that it is now time to scrap that contract and take the service back in-house?

The news that the UK will not now be able to participate in the secure aspects of the Galileo programme is immensely concerning, as is the Government’s failure to answer straightforward questions about where the funds for the proposed UK satellite system will come from. In light of that, and with only two sitting days remaining, can the Secretary of State confirm that it is still his intention to publish a space strategy by the end of the year, or is this yet another decision that the Government will be deferring?

On the Labour Benches, we have always accepted the principle of the review. Threats have evolved since 2015 and our response must adapt as well. We recognise the importance of interoperability and burden-sharing with allies to maximise the UK’s defence capability for the future, but at a time when this country faces ever-increasing threats we do not believe that the Department’s affordability crisis can simply be ignored. That is just grossly irresponsible.

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In one breath the hon. Lady criticises people for fighting for defence and trying to get the very best for their Department, and then she does not even recognise the fact that the Government are investing more and more in defence. Last year, the defence budget was £36 billion. Next year, we will have a budget of £39 billion and the Government have committed to spend an extra £1.8 billion over and above on defence. Those are all incredibly positive steps. If we look at the debate we were having last year it was about capability cuts. That is what the speculation was about. We are not making those capability cuts and we are investing in defence.

The hon. Lady says we put too much emphasis on efficiencies. It is right to expect every Department to look at how it can run things more efficiently. We have achieved 70% of our efficiency target. Over the next 10 years, we hope and believe we can achieve all of our target. We remain positive that that is something we can deliver.

On Galileo, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will be introducing a report in the early part of next year on satellite strategy, but I do not think it makes sense to continue to hand over money to the European Union in terms of a satellite programme that we will not have access to or industrial benefit from. That money can be better spent with other allies in developing our own capabilities.

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There is much interest in this statement, but I point out to the House that there is a Standing Order No. 24 debate to follow and then the Second Reading of a Bill. There is, therefore, a premium upon brevity and I am keen to move on at, or extremely close to, two o’clock. Some people might not get in on this statement.

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Very briefly in that case, Mr Speaker, does the Secretary of State accept that as we have not seen the actual document it would be useful to have a debate at an early stage? Will he accept the thanks, I think, of the whole House for having saved the amphibious capability of the Royal Marines? Does he feel, in this era of slightly looser Cabinet joint collective responsibility or whatever they care to call it, that he might accept the fact that the Defence Committee’s target ultimately of a return to 3% of GDP is what is really needed in terms of defence expenditure?

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My right hon. Friend always tries to tempt me with that question. I read his report with interest. He makes a point about an early debate. That would certainly be very welcome. I will make representations to the usual channels to see if that can be granted.

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I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.

When the modernising defence programme was announced over a year ago, it was supposed to be a sustainable and affordable defence settlement. It fails on both of those challenges. It is of course welcome that the Secretary of State managed to announce some pots of funding today, but the £1.8 billion he references is only for this year alone. That hardly shows the mark of a sustainable programme. It is also remarkable that he leaps between what he is going to spend and wanting more money from the Chancellor. That shows that the MDP has spectacularly missed the point of why it was initiated in the first place.

After meeting me in March this year, the Secretary of State knows that my party wanted to see a focus on the High North. He knows that we wanted a focus on Scotland’s maritime territory, but both those things are missing from the statement. He has not addressed the £15 billion black hole identified in the equipment plan by the National Audit Office. Of course, he knows that we wanted to see something in the statement about the declining size of the armed forces, but sadly, that was missing as well.

For the longest defence review in the history of his Department, it looks to me as though these conclusions are extremely thin, to be charitable, so will the Secretary of State finally stop storing up problems for the future? Will he make a switch to what we have suggested—multi-year defence agreements, which in fairness, there seems to be a vague nod to in his statement—or is he going to leave it to one of his successors to give our armed forces the certainty that all of them deserve?

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The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about trying to reach a framework that goes multi-year. That would certainly assist with making investment decisions, and that is obviously part of the ongoing discussions that we would have right across Government. It is a valid and thoughtful point, but let us not underestimate the importance of what we have been able to achieve, with the extra £1.8 billion of investment in our armed forces. This means that we are able to make investment to make sure that our nuclear deterrent has the proper security that it needs. We can make the investment in anti-submarine activity and we can continue to make the investment that we need to counter cyber-attacks, both defensively and offensively. However, we recognise that there will be continued challenges. That is why the extra money that has been secured gives us the opportunity to start making the investment that is required for us to have, and continue to have, the world’s best armed forces.

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I welcome the fact that there were no cuts in capability. The Secretary of State has held the line, and he will now go into battle against the Chancellor for more resources in the comprehensive spending review. Given the Chancellor’s legendary tact—the other day, he attacked over half of Tory Back Benchers for being extremists—I tell the Secretary of State that if he now goes toe to toe with the Chancellor for more defence spending, he will have 117 allies that he did not know he had.

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That is incredibly charming of my right hon. Friend. Over the last year, we have seen a commitment right across the Government from both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to getting increased funding for defence, and that is to be welcomed. This keeps coming back to the simple fact that last year’s defence budget was £36 billion and next year’s will be £39 billion with the extra money that has been secured, but it is about investing in the capabilities and making sure that our armed forces have the mass and lethality that they need to keep us safe.

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If military strength was based on management-speak and general waffle, the Secretary of State’s statement would make us a world-beater, but the reality he asks us to face is that since 2015, we have a smaller Army, with recruitment targets missed, ships in dock because they cannot have crews, efficiency targets met, and a £15 billion black hole in his equipment plan. When is the real money going to come forward, rather than the general waffle that he has put forward today?

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As I have pointed out, we are seeing an increasing budget. What we are doing, as we have outlined, is investing in those capabilities to make sure that we have better availability of assets, whether that means ships, armoured vehicles, submarines or aircraft. We are also investing in stockpiles to make sure that we have the depth of stockpiles that we need in order to deal with the increasing threats around the globe.

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It is excellent news to hear that the transformation fund will be set up, because that will ensure that the Department can really start to prioritise how that key funding is spent effectively. Will the Secretary of State tell us how he intends to prioritise that funding, and does he have three top priorities that he can share with us?

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The first is to make sure that we develop both the technologies and capabilities where we see our adversaries moving so quickly. That may be artificial intelligence or autonomous vehicles. Secondly, it is to make sure that our forces are properly ready and able to have a much better forward presence right around the globe. We want to use our armed forces as a deterrent against our adversaries so they can see that we are willing and able to act if and when it is required. Thirdly, it is to make sure that we look after the service personnel who make up our armed forces and that we put in the right investment to make sure that they are properly supported in doing the amazing job that they do in defending our country.

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This has been a supposedly urgent and immediate review, which has taken over 12 months. It has dismissed the strategic defence and security review and we have been waiting for proper decisions to be made, yet we have seen none today. Will the Secretary of State confirm that what we are now waiting for is the CSR next year?

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What we would agree with is that the SDSR 2015 clearly identified the challenges that this country faces, but we also recognise that our adversaries are investing in new technology, so we have put in place the ability for us to start investing more money in those technologies. The hon. Lady rightly points out that the comprehensive spending review is going to be very important to the Department to make sure that we get the right investment going forward.

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The innovation at the heart of the MDP is very welcome, but it is very important that innovation is not just a slogan and that it delivers increased fighting power for our armed forces. Can the Secretary of State give an example of how innovation will increase the fighting power of our armed forces?

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We have recently seen, in Exercise Saif Sareea in Oman, how we have used traditional technologies, such as tanks, in conjunction with drones to be able to enhance their ability to operate in such areas. We are also looking at investment to secure our submarines to make sure that they continue to remain undetected and are in the best position to detect others and at enhancing the capabilities of jets such as the Typhoon. These are all areas in which we are looking at making extra investment. It is also important that we make that extra investment because it increases the exportability of some of these products and capabilities that we have around the globe.

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No matter what platforms we buy or capability we have, if we do not have the personnel, we have no military capability. We have a major shortfall—according to the National Audit Office, between 21% and 45% of our armed forces is not being recruited. What will we be doing to ensure that we not only have the platforms, but the people with the skills mix and the training to ensure that we have the capability to move forward?

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The hon. Lady’s point is very valid. That is why I said that one of the key priorities is looking after the service personnel who serve in our armed forces. This is not just about recruitment, but about retention and looking at how we make the offer better and attract people who have left the services back into them. However, the recruitment issue that she highlighted is one on which we have already initiated a number of pilot programmes to make sure that we get the numbers of people applying to join our armed forces and shorten the amount of time that it takes from their application to them joining the armed forces.

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I thank my right hon. Friend on securing significant additional resources for the vital work that is done by the MOD. Does he agree that that will provide reassurance to the men and women in our armed forces that the Government are prepared to put their interests first and that the UK will continue to invest in world-leading innovation, much of which is done by companies in my constituency?

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My hon. Friend points out an important part of this—investment in new technologies—and if we look at the future combat air strategy and Tempest, we see that the ability for us to invest in new technologies so that we have a successor for the Typhoon aircraft is absolutely vital and incredibly important. If we look at some of the speculation that was going around the Chamber this time last year about us, there was speculation that we were going to be getting rid of the amphibious platforms, Albion and Bulwark, and that we were going to be reducing the number of frigates and destroyers. There was a lot of speculation, and what this quite clearly says is that that is something we are not going to be doing.

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We all know about Russia’s aggressive behaviour in the sea of Azov and the Black sea. What does the Secretary of State’s statement mean for countering that aggressive behaviour and demonstrating our support for the sovereignty of Ukraine?

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We must remember that we have a friend in Ukraine, a nation whose sovereign territory has been invaded and which has seen the seizure of Crimea and, of course, incursions to the east. The Government must work continuously with Ukraine, giving it the support that it needs. In Operation Orbital, we have been stepping up our support for the Ukrainian Government, and the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Gordon Messenger, was in Ukraine recently discussing what further assistance we could offer. We have also recently signed a defence agreement with the Ukrainian Government, and we will see how we can provide that extra support. What is so important is a clear deterrence to prevent Russia from infringing any further sovereign territory of Ukraine.

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In order to be the architect of modernisation, will my right hon. Friend be bidding for some of the £39 billion Brexit bonus bonanza if we do not pass the withdrawal agreement?

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I could possibly be tempted.

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The Secretary of State spoke of no cuts in capability. Can he explain how a declining number of service personnel is not a cut in capability?

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As I have said, we have already taken a number of actions to drive up recruitment in our armed forces while also increasing retention. Service personnel have gone out into the streets to be part of a recruitment process that had not taken place for the last few years since the decision was taken to withdraw them. An increasing number of people are applying for all three services; what we need to do is convert that into those who are joining them.

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The modernising defence programme is partly about improving the resilience of our defence and our country. Has the Secretary of State received any approaches from other Departments about using our world-class armed forces personnel in the event of a no-deal Brexit?

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As yet, we have received no formal requests from any Department, but we are making contingency plans. We will ensure that 3,500 service personnel, including regulars and reserves, are held in readiness to support any Department with contingency needs.

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The Secretary of State is right to push for more creativity in thinking about the future capability of our underwater environment, but is it not time for him to confirm that that will be based on a submarine platform?

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The hon. Gentleman tempts me to do so, but it is fair to say that our investment in submarines is currently vast, involving both the Astute and Dreadnought programmes. We want to think about innovation, and how we can best tap into the skills that are held by BAE Systems and the people of Barrow to develop the platforms that will succeed Astute, and we hope to be able to update the hon. Gentleman and the House on how we expect to do that in the not too distant future.

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I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, including his confirmation that there will be additional funds for the Ministry of Defence next year. I also welcome what he said about capabilities. Will he take this opportunity to tell us how he sees defence contributing to the prosperity of the United Kingdom with that extra money, and also to dispel some of the myths that are spreading outside this place about the future relationship between the MOD and the EU in respect of security matters?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his review on promoting prosperity through defence. Investment in capabilities, whether it involves ships, jets or land vehicles, is a real driver in the creation of jobs and investment, and the MOD is one of the largest departmental investors in science. We want to think about how we can leverage that more and more. We have seen some fantastic orders over the last year, including a £5 billion order from Qatar and a £20 billion order from Australia for a new frigate. Another great success has been the potential for a large order from the Canadians. However, we will continue to ensure prosperity is at the very heart of everything that we do. Some of the best examples of what British products can achieve is demonstrated through what our armed forces do with them.

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The report on the modernising defence programme, which I endorsed as a member of the Defence Committee, said:

“The force structure that emerges from the MDP must be supported by a robust and sustainable financial settlement”.

Can the Secretary of State point sceptics like myself in the direction of the section of the report that he has placed in the Library, so that we can judge for ourselves whether his Department seems likely to deliver the “sustainable and affordable” settlement that he promised a year ago?

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We have already made it absolutely clear that the defence budget will increase, and that by 2021 it will amount to £40 billion. That is a commitment that has been made by my party, and we are delivering on it. It would be interesting to hear what defence spending commitments Opposition parties are willing to make.

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I was delighted to welcome the Secretary of State to RM Condor in Angus to see our fantastic training facility at first hand, and to see how it can be supported. I strongly believe that RM Condor should not only remain an integral part of the UK defence estate but be strengthened. I should be grateful if, ahead of the review, the Secretary of State would assure me that he too understands the importance of RM Condor in Angus.

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Having had the opportunity to visit Condor—I know that my hon. Friend has led an Adjournment debate on it—I recognise its importance to our capabilities, and also the spread of UK armed forces in every part of the United Kingdom. However, I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter in further detail.

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As Devonport’s Member of Parliament, I have been fighting the Government’s proposed cuts to our amphibious ships and our Royal Marines since my election. If the MDP does not guarantee the future of the Royal Marines, it will have failed. Will the Secretary of State now guarantee the future size of the Royal Marines, and will he ensure that the superbase in Plymouth to which his predecessors have committed themselves will be part of his plan for the future?

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I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that we are ensuring that we maintain that important amphibious capability in HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark. We have recognised the vital role played by the Royal Marines in everything that our armed forces do. When it comes to some of the challenges around the globe, whether they are close to home or further afield, the Royal Marines will always play an important role. We will continue to invest in the Royal Marines, and in the whole of the Royal Navy—there has been the great announcement of the basing of Type 26s at Devonport—and we will continue to consider how best to deliver the training of Royal Marines in the future.

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The Secretary of State is absolutely right to seek to maximise our existing capability by mobilising it more often, but can he reassure us that the reduced tour intervals that will result from that increased operational tempo will not limit opportunities for meaningful peacetime training, and also that the wider package that supports the military community will be sufficiently improved to ensure that retention does not suffer as a consequence of that higher tempo?

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We will always do everything that we can to meet the guidelines that we set out in order to ensure that service personnel on active duty have the rest and recuperation that they need, because we recognise that if we do not do that, we will start to have problems with retention.

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Does the Secretary of State accept that there is an affordability gap in the MOD’s published equipment plan? How will he close that gap, and what choices is he considering in case he receives no extra funds from the Chancellor?

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As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have had increases in our budget, along with increased commitments from the Treasury to support what we are doing. We are looking at how we can drive further efficiencies in order to ensure that we deliver the frontline capabilities. There has been much talk about the affordability gap, but it has been declining year on year, and that is something that we hope to be able to continue to achieve.

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Can my right hon. Friend confirm that our party is absolutely committed to maintaining our nuclear deterrent? I think that many Conservative Members fear that the Labour party would make its funding cuts by cutting it.

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What is clear is that if we want a party that will come to the defence of our armed forces, invest more money in our armed forces and ensure that we continue to keep a nuclear deterrent, it is the Conservative party that will always do that.

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The Conservative party has a dogma about outsourcing everything possible to the private sector even when there are clear failures, as there are with the Capita contract around recruitment. So will the Secretary of State admit now that doing that is failing the armed forces and taxpayers?

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We will always look at new models and new ideas for how to deliver the best services for our service personnel, which they rely on so much. We do use outsourcing, as the Labour Government previously did, and we will continue to do so, but we will continue to look at how we drive the best value and, most importantly, the best quality of service.

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The Defence Secretary mentioned in his statement the proud history of the RAF in this year in particular, but he will also know it has a very bright future as well, especially in Moray at RAF Lossiemouth. Will he update the House on the progress being made ahead of the arrival of the P-8s and congratulate the local construction firm Robertson on its outstanding work?

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I congratulate Robertson on the work it is doing. We are making a £400 million investment in RAF Lossiemouth, one of the biggest investments of its kind anywhere in the UK, and I know my hon. Friend has fought hard to get that level of investment in his constituency. This is not just about creating armed forces jobs in his constituency; it also has a wide-ranging benefit to the whole economy that brings prosperity to the whole region.

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Both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have asked serious questions about the Department’s ability to deliver savings, keep projects on track and remain within budget. As the MDP adds even more entries to the list of tasks expected of our service personnel, may I ask where the cuts will come from and when we can expect to see that list, should the Department not be able to win more money from the Chancellor?

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We have made clear that we are not looking at making capability cuts in the MDP; we have been looking at how we invest in our armed forces and new capabilities.

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The Secretary of State is right that retention is a challenge. Mindful of the use of reservists at Brize Norton, particularly in the AirTanker programme, will he consider expanding the use of reservists in the RAF?

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We always look at how we can expand the use of reservists. Their use is critical to what we do in so many of our defence functions, and we should not see them as separate from what our armed forces do; they are absolutely critical and will always be so.

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I declare my interests.

Will the Secretary of State set out what his Department is doing, ideally on a multilateral basis, to ensure the ethical use of autonomous and artificial intelligence systems announced in his statement today?

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We will be working closely with all our allies to make sure of the highest standards in the use of autonomous and AI technology going forward, and we will be looking at entering into legal commitments on that.

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One of the strengths of NATO is the shared use of common 5.56 mm calibre ammunition, which is crucial for the interoperability of infantry weapons systems. What are the implications for the British MDP if the Americans go ahead with their plans to switch to 6.8 mm for their assault weaponry?

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We would not expect to see that right across all US armed forces, but the US has consistently been our closest ally and we would work very closely with it by having discussions as to how to continue to share the interoperability that we have always benefited from for the last 70 years.

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Order. We now need extremely short, single-sentence questions and replies.

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With the splendid isolationism of Brexit and an obsession with nuclear weapons, is there not a danger that the British state will become the European version of North Korea?

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No chance at all.

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There are serious concerns regarding manpower, particularly in the Royal Navy; how will the MDP address them?

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We are going back and looking at how we do recruitment better—how we go out and get more people applying for our armed forces, and how we make sure their applications are dealt with swiftly—and we have been seeing an increase. We have also been looking at how to inspire a new generation of young people to join our armed forces. We employ more apprentices than any other Government Department; there are over 20,000 people on apprenticeships with the MOD, and we hope to have more.

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The Secretary of State says that we need to save money. Here is one suggestion: shipbuilding orders of £7.5 billion will potentially be going out of this country between now and 2030. If those ships were built in the UK, that would save the Treasury 20%. Will the Secretary of State go to the Treasury and make the demand to build those ships in the UK?

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We are encouraging all British shipyards to bid for all ships that we will be procuring.

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Will my right hon. Friend commit to supporting the small and medium-sized enterprises that lead much of the innovation in the defence tech sector?

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It is important to recognise that some of the technology that will lead innovation in defence comes not from the large primes but from SMEs, and the question of how we can best tap into that is absolutely critical.

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I have repeatedly raised with the Government the closure of important military bases such as Redford barracks in my constituency and not got a satisfactory reply. Will the Secretary of State now pledge to look again at the better defence estate plan?

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The MOD is a major employer in Scotland, employing over 14,000 people, and more than 11,000 jobs depend on orders from the MOD. We will continue to invest in Scotland in the future.

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Thousands of jobs in Stevenage rely on defence spending. Is the Secretary of State confident that this programme will ensure those jobs are secured into the future?

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The investment in stockpiles in particular will have a very positive effect for businesses producing ordinance for the armed forces, such as MBDA.

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rose

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rose—

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A single sentence, Mr Shannon.

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Does the Secretary of State not believe that there will be cuts to civilian staff of 30% from extensive outsourcing, and that that would leave a massive gap in support staff and have an adverse effect on the MOD and the defence budget?

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Very well done.

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I do not believe it will have any adverse effect at all.

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rose—

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The same challenge.

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Can the Secretary of State confirm that no cuts will be made to the Marines, and may I reiterate my invitation to him to visit 40 Commando in Taunton to see how effective it is and how much money it has invested recently, and how consolidating its position in Taunton would help the defence capability of the nation?

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The hon. Lady can now breathe.

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I am very much looking forward to visiting 40 Commando, and we have no intention of cutting the Royal Marines.