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House of Commons Hansard
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16 March 2020
Volume 673
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14. What steps his Department is taking to prepare for the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy. [901541]

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The Ministry of Defence is fully committed to its part in supporting the successful delivery of the Government’s ambition for the integrated review. The review is working on four main workstreams: the Euro-Atlantic alliance, great power competition, global issues and homeland security. Work in the MOD to support those workstreams has been ongoing since the election and is closely linked to this year’s comprehensive spending review.

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I am sure the Secretary of State agrees that current events reflect the need for the integrated review, to ensure that Britain plays its part on the global stage with our partners and in the spirit of international co-operation, but does he think it is feasible to conduct a review that is expected to result in the biggest reform of our armed forces since the cold war in the present climate and over the current timescale?

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I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. The review’s stakeholders are the Foreign Office, No. 10, the Cabinet Office and ourselves. We will regularly review that decision. There is no ideological block or determination to carry on come what may. With this coronavirus growing, if it is the right thing to do, we will absolutely pause the review if necessary; if not, we shall move forward.

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With cyber-security recognised as a tier 1 threat, it is important to ensure that all contracts outsourced by the MOD, whether defence procurement or service contracts, fully meet the necessary cyber-security provisions. Given reports suggesting that the cyber-security standards of some defence supply chains are low, what steps are Ministers taking to improve the situation as part of the integrated review?

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The hon. Gentleman highlights a critical part of our cyber infrastructure. That is why nearly two years ago we founded the National Cyber Security Centre to work alongside the MOD, business and other parts of Government to focus, exactly as he recommends, on the weak points that are often exploited by hostile states and cyber-criminals. We are one of the few countries with such an organisation and I am confident that we are on the right track. We work tirelessly to ensure that those vulnerabilities are patched and stopped, and indeed that prime contractors, who own the supply chain, take their fair share of responsibility too.

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If the integrated review comes to the conclusion, which it certainly should, that the defence part of the review requires more than 2% of GDP to be spent on conventional and related armed forces, will the Secretary of State and his team fight like tigers to ensure we get the extra money?

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I could not agree more. I will absolutely fight for the right share, which is why we achieved 2.6% in the short spending review only last year, one of the highest departmental growth figures. The review is not cost neutral. Like my right hon. Friend, I have seen review after review, some of which are wonderfully authored but seldom funded, including one of the best reviews of my lifetime, the 1998 review by the then Member for Hamilton, Lord Robertson. He did an extremely good review and even that, according to the House of Commons Library, was not properly funded in the end. That is one of the big problems we are determined to try to put right.

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In light of travel bans across the world, with increasing numbers of British citizens stranded and reports of limited support from the Foreign Office, will the military be deployed to help people to return home?

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We have deployed military personnel on a number of return flights, for example from Wuhan. We have always made our assets available where possible, subject to medical advice and where the destination country is willing to engage. We always stand ready to help our citizens, wherever they are around the world. It is really important, however, that in this outbreak we ensure that we balance medical advice with an individual’s desire to come home. It may be that they are best suited to being treated where they are.

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Will the Secretary of State confirm that the strategic defence and security review will be aligned to a defence industrial strategy that places British manufacturing at the heart of defence?

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It will certainly place prosperity and manufacturing at its heart. It will also place at its heart our very real obligation to give the men and women of the armed forces the best equipment we can, so they can fight with the best chance of success. There is always a natural tension where we are not providing that. The industrial strategy will hopefully indicate to industry where it should invest to ensure it competes with a competitive edge, so that the Ministry of Defence can buy from it for our men and women.