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Defence Capabilities

Volume 678: debated on Monday 6 July 2020

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the capabilities of the armed forces are adequate to tackle future security threats. (904227)

What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the capabilities of the armed forces are adequate to tackle future security threats. (904230)

The Ministry of Defence has rigorous ongoing processes to test and develop our capabilities and force structure to ensure that they are robust against current and future threats. During the integrated review, the Department is focused on reassessing our plans to ensure that we are delivering the right capability to keep the country safe now and in the decades to come.

The UK has some of the most elite and specialist armed forces in the world. Bearing in mind that we cannot compete with the number of boots on the ground of, say, China or Russia, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that our armed forces are properly funded, that the very best people are recruited and that the very best training, skills and equipment are maintained?

We have the funds and plans in place to ensure that our armed forces are playing to their strengths. We are investing in the likes of the future combat air system technology initiative, in nuclear submarines and in cyber-technology to ensure that we are fighting the battle for tomorrow.

The work on the review of our foreign policy and national security—the largest of its kind—has been paused during this pandemic. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that when it resumes, he will continue to ensure that we frame our thinking around threat at every stage of the review?

My hon. Friend is right—but the review was slowed down, not entirely paused, during the covid pandemic. We did continue to work on it in the Ministry of Defence. Last week I gathered the chiefs of all the services and the head of defence intelligence together to hear about the threat and the doctrine of our adversaries, and about how the chiefs are going to deliver a solution to that threat. That is my starting point for the integrated review. It is not the budget or the bureaucracy; it is the starting point for meeting the threat and the demand on our forces, and for ensuring that we give the men and women of the armed forces the best equipment and capability that they deserve.

May I send the best wishes of the Scottish National party to the Veterans Minister on the birth of his new child?

Will the Secretary of State outline what assessment the MOD has made of the threat picture in the Arctic, the high north and the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap, and what capability will be needed to meet those future threats?

I fear that I have only a few seconds in which to answer that. I am very happy to meet the hon. Member to explore the last part of his question because it is significant and we are working on a strategy to reveal just how we are going to meet those threats. He is absolutely right that a number of nations including Russia —indeed, even China—are very keen on what they are going to do in the Arctic. The danger is that the environment is damaged and that we end up against traditional geographical rivalries that could tip conflict in that direction.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right. Let me be clear: I want him to get the review and the capability right, but I am concerned, following what I think might have been the Tower of London away day that he and other defence officials went on, that there is going to be a pivot to the eastern Pacific, which is again going to leave us weaker in an area closer to home where the threat picture is growing, and where bad actors and the activity of bad actors are certainly increasing. Can he assure us that we will not be spread so thinly as to be sent far abroad while we leave our own defences closer to home wanting?

The hon. Member asks a logical and proper question. I can assure him that we will not abandon one threat to meet another. We work incredibly hard with our Scandinavian and Nordic colleagues—some in NATO, some not—through the joint expeditionary force. We regularly plan, and NATO itself acts, in that area. Only recently a US and UK naval flotilla went into the Barents sea—the first time for many years—to ensure that we dealt with the growing threat from that side of the Russian flank.