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Defence Command Paper Refresh

Volume 736: debated on Tuesday 18 July 2023

With permission, I would like to make a statement on the publication of our refreshed defence Command Paper. It is just over two years since we published the original Command Paper in March 2021. In those two years, our security has been challenged in so many ways. This is Defence’s response to a more contested and volatile world.

In the last four years that I have been Defence Secretary, I have been consistent about the reform I have sought to implement. I want Defence to be threat-led—understanding and acting on the threats facing our nation as our sole mission; not protecting force structures, cap badges or much-loved equipment but ensuring that we are focused on challenging threats.

I want the Ministry of Defence to be a campaigning Department, adopting a more proactive posture, and our forces more forward and present in the world, with a return to campaigning assertively and constantly, pushing back those threats and our adversaries. I want Defence to be sustainable in every sense. For too long, Defence was hollowed out by both Labour and Conservative Governments, leaving our forces overstretched and underequipped. We must match our ambitions to our resources, our equipment plans to our budget, and take care of our people to sustain them in their duties. We must never forget the travesty of the Snatch Land Rovers in Afghanistan.

The 2021 defence Command Paper was true to those principles and, with some tough choices, presented an honest plan for what we can and will achieve: a credible force, capable of protecting the nation, ready to meet the threats of today but investing heavily to modernise for those of the future; a force in which every major platform would be renewed by 2035, from armoured vehicles to Dreadnought submarines, frigates to satellites. 

We did not plan on issuing a new Command Paper just two years on. Many of the conclusions of that Command Paper remain right: Russia was and is the greatest threat to European security, and China’s rapid military modernisation and growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and beyond do pose an increasing challenge to us all. However, I have always said that as the situation changes, we must change with it. Since the first DCP was released, the world has shifted once more, from a competitive age to a contested and volatile world. The technology advances we predicted materialised. The threats and challenges we feared have manifested.

There is no more immediate threat than Russia. Its full-scale invasion of Ukraine was not simply an assault on a proud and sovereign nation but an attack on all our values, European security and the open international order on which stability and prosperity have depended for over three quarters of a century. Right now, the people of Ukraine are suffering the tragic consequences of President Putin’s illegal, unprovoked invasion. His naked aggression and imperial ambitions have played out in a tragedy of epic human suffering. The brave citizen soldiers of the armed forces of Ukraine are protecting their own nation and people, quite heroically taking on the once mighty Russian forces. The whole House recognises that they fight not just for their freedom but for ours. They are not just liberating their homeland but defending the rules-based system.

As Defence Secretary it is important to import the lessons learned from the conflict to our own forces. While I wish such lessons were generated in a different way, the conflict has become an incubator of new ways of war. They are proving the way for warfare in the 2020s—whole of nation, internationally partnered, innovative, digitised, operating with a tempo, precision and range requirement and a recognition that there is a trade-off between assurance levels and operational impact.

I am proud, too, of the role the UK is playing in supporting Ukraine, whether providing equipment, training or political support, or galvanising European and international allies and industrial partners to do likewise. But the return of war to the continent of Europe, alongside growing threats elsewhere in the world, has meant that we must sharpen our approach. The integrated review refresh published in March outlined how we would do that. It would shape the global strategic environment, increase our focus on deterrence and defence, address vulnerabilities that leave our nation exposed and invest in the UK’s unique strengths.

Defence is central to all those efforts. That is why, after three decades in which all parties have continued drawing the post cold-war peace dividend, this Prime Minister reversed that trend and provided Defence with an additional £24 billion over four years. He and the Chancellor have gone further since, in response to the war in Ukraine. Next year we will spend over £50 billion on defence for the first time in our history. That is nearly £12 billion a year more cash investment than when I became Defence Secretary in 2019—a real-terms increase of more than 10%. This Government have committed to increasing spending yet further over the longer term to 2.5% of GDP, as we improve the fiscal position and grow our economy.

Our defence plans, and the armed forces to deliver them, must be robust and credible—not fantasy force designs, unfunded gimmicks or top trump numbers. As Russia has so effectively proven, there is no point having parade ground armies and massed ranks of men and machines if they cannot be integrated as a single, full spectrum force, sustained in the field under all the demands of modern warfighting. That takes professional forces, well equipped and rapidly adaptable, supported by critical enablers and vast stockpiles of munitions. That is why in this document, hon. Members will not find shiny new announcements, comms-led policies driving unsustainable force designs or any major new platforms for military enthusiasts to put up on their charts on their bedroom wall. We stand by the Command Paper we published in 2021 but we must get there faster, doing defence differently and getting ourselves on to a campaign footing to protect the nation and help it prosper.

As I said standing here when DCP21 was announced, we owe it to the men and women of our armed forces to make policy reality. The work was just beginning. In this refresh, we have focused on how to drive the lessons of Ukraine into our core business and on how to recover the warfighting resilience needed to generate credible conventional deterrence. The great advantage of having served in Defence for some time is that my ministerial team and I have now taken a proper look under the bonnet. Consequently, we are clear that our strategic advantage derives from four key sources which require urgent prioritisation.

First and foremost are our first-class people. Our men and women are not just brave and committed, but talented and incredibly skilled. They are our real battle-winning capability. It is our duty to ensure they are as well supported, prepared and equipped as possible, so we are going to invest in them. Last year, I commissioned Richard Haythornthwaite to conduct the first review of workforce incentivisation for almost 30 years. It is such good work that we are incorporating the response into our Command Paper, and today I am unveiling a new employment model and skills framework for our armed forces. It will offer our people a spectrum of service that allows far greater career flexibility, making it easier for military personnel to zig-zag between different roles, whether regular or reserve, or between the civil service and industry.

We are transforming our forces’ overall employment offer by adopting a total reward approach to provide a much more compelling and competitive incentivisation package. Since all our armed forces personnel deserve the best quality accommodation, we are injecting a further £400 million to improve our service accommodation in the next two years. Many of us over Christmas will have been frustrated by the poor support our service personnel and their families received from those tasked with looking after their accommodation. It is for that reason that I have withheld their profit and used the money to freeze for one year only the rent increases our personnel were due to pay. Taken together alongside such initiatives as wraparound childcare, they are intended to enrich careers and enhance the ability of our most talented people to keep protecting the British people, and to ensure they are rewarded and fulfilled while they do so.

Our second priority is further strengthening our scientific and technological base. We are already world leaders in specific areas, but to continue outmatching our adversaries we must stay ahead of the curve in digital, data and emerging scientific fields. In 2021, we said we would invest £6.6 billion in advanced research and development. In fact, we are now investing significantly more to stay ahead in the technologies proving themselves vital on the battlefields of Ukraine, such as AI, quantum and robotics. We are enabling a culture of innovation across Defence, pulling through those R&D breakthroughs to the frontline. Following in Ukraine’s footsteps, we are increasingly sourcing the £100 solutions that can stop £100 million threats in their tracks, winning both the kinetic and economic exchanges of modern warfare.

Of course, our ability to do that depends on the quality of our relationship with the industry, which is our third priority. I am pushing the Ministry of Defence to form a closer alliance with our industrial partners. A genuine partnership to sustain our defence will mean doing things differently. Ukraine reminds us that time waits for no one. It is no good holding out for the 100% solution that is obsolete by the time it is launched. Often, 80% is good enough, especially if it means swiftly putting kit into the hands of our service personnel. Capabilities can be rapidly upgraded, spirally developed, for the relentless cycles of battlefield adaptation to win the innovation battle. Instead of sticking to acquisition programmes that drag on for decades, we are setting maximum delivery periods of five years for hardware and three years for digital programmes.

Our fourth priority is productivity and campaigning. To face this increasingly contested and volatile world, we need to make major changes to the machinery of the Department and its methods. We are emphasising an ethos focused ruthlessly on the delivery of real-world effect, increasing the bang for buck in everything we do. This approach reaches into every part of the Defence enterprise, from the front line to the back office, and involves a major redesign of the Department. We must shift our whole organisational culture away from the previous peacetime mentality to one where we live and operate as we would fight, focusing more on outputs than inputs and achieving a better balance between risk and reward. That means empowering people to live and operate alongside partners, and sometimes to be enabled by them when in lower threat environments. That means ensuring our equipment, whether Type 31, Challenger 3, or Typhoons, has the infrastructure and supplies needed to sustain operations more of the time and to deliver real-world effect wherever and whenever it is needed. And it means working with the relevant regulatory authorities, for example the Military Aviation Authority, to accelerate the experimentation, testing and innovating of new technologies, while remaining within legal bounds.

I want to emphasise one final aspect of the Command Paper refresh, namely the development of a global campaigning approach. We started with a review of our head office, where we broke out campaign delivery from policy formation and established integrated campaign teams. They have adversary focuses, not geographic, and will drive our enduring campaigns in the same way operational commanders lead our forces on deployed operations. The indivisibility of operational theatres in today’s world means Defence must be constantly ready to respond globally to safeguard our interests and those of our allies. Sometimes it will be to evacuate our citizens in moments of crisis, such as in Sudan. Other times it will be to deter an adversary or reassure a friend. As we have shown through our support for Ukraine, the UK Government have the political will, but that only matters if it is matched by our military agility. Today, we are establishing a defence global response force. Ready, integrated and lethal, it will better cohere existing forces from across land, sea, air, space and cyber, to get there first in response to unpredictable events around the world.

Crucially, today’s paper also recognises that it is in the interconnected world and that the UK is unlikely to act alone. Partnerships are critical to our security and prosperity. In future, we will be allied by design and national by exception. Our support for NATO will remain iron-clad, but we will continue to prioritise our core relationships. We will invest in deepening relationships with our new partners. It is why we have invested to expand our global defence network, improving communications, and co-ordinating defence attachés within our intelligence functions. None of that is headline-grabbing stuff, but it is the fine details that make the difference to our national security.

To conclude, the paper is the result of having several years in the Department to understand where it needs most attention. That continuity in office is improving and I am incredibly grateful to the long-serving Minister for Armed Forces, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey), whose experience in uniform and public office provided the basis for this paper. We are grateful to the hundreds of individuals and groups who contributed to the first challenge phase of its drafting, from academics to serving personnel and industry representatives, not to mention the many Members of this House. Most of what we learned from them is encapsulated in the document.

This is likely to be one of my last appearances at the Dispatch Box. It has been the greatest privilege to serve as Secretary of State for Defence for the last four years. I thank my team, civil servants, special advisers and Members for their support and their challenge. All of us here have the common interest of defending this fine country, its values and its freedoms. Of all the many functions of Government, Defence is the most important and is more important than ever, as the next 10 years will be more unstable and insecure. The men and women of our armed forces are second to none and Britain’s place in the world is anchored in their professionalism and sacrifice. I believe we will increasingly call on them in the years ahead. We must ensure that they are ready to answer that call. I wish them and whomever replaces me well. I commend the statement to the House.

I thank the Defence Secretary for the advance draft copy of his statement and welcome some elements he announced today that were not in that draft copy, such as the improved childcare package and the rent freeze for armed forces personnel.

Following the Defence Secretary’s decision to stand down, I want to start by paying tribute to his time in this House. He is a political survivor. I remember that his first job in 2010 was as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Ken Clarke, and for the last four years he has been a dedicated Defence Secretary. In particular, I want to recognise his work on Ukraine, and that of the Minister for Armed Forces, the right hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey). His decisions on sending military support to Ukraine, getting other nations to do more and declassifying intelligence have all been beneficial for Ukraine and for Britain.

Today, the Defence Secretary is presenting his plan for the future of the British armed forces at a time when, as he told the House this afternoon, we have

“the return of war to the continent of Europe, alongside growing threats elsewhere in the world”.

As his own future is now short, how long is the shelf-life of his plan? Industry and military leaders cannot be sure that his successor will agree with his decisions, will accept his cuts, will act on his approach; and they cannot be sure how the strategic defence review plan of both his party and mine after the next election will reboot defence planning.

It did not have to be this way. Labour wanted this to be the nation’s defence plan, not the plan of current Conservative Defence Ministers. We offered to work with the Government on a plan to make Britain secure at home and strong abroad. This is not such a plan. It is not a good enough response to war in Europe. It is not enough to accelerate support for Ukraine, to fulfil in full our NATO obligations, to halt the hollowing out of our forces, and to renew the nation’s moral contract with those who serve and the families who support them.

Why has this defence plan been so delayed? It is 510 days since Putin shattered European security. Since then, 26 other NATO nations have rebooted defence plans and budgets. In the time it has taken the Defence Secretary to produce this long-trailed new defence strategy, Finland has carried out its own review, overturned decades of non-alignment, increased defence spending by 36%, applied to join NATO, and seen its application approved by 30 Parliaments before last week’s NATO summit in Vilnius. That successful NATO summit has made the alliance stronger and support for Ukraine greater. We fully back NATO’s new regional plans and the G7 long-term security commitments to Ukraine, and if UK military aid is accelerated in the coming days, that too will have Labour’s fullest support.

There is a welcome “back to basics” element in this plan—a focus on stockpiles, training, service conditions and more combat-readiness—but it is clear that the plan is driven by costs, not by threats. It is driven by the real cut in day-to-day resource departmental expenditure limits spending that the Defence Secretary agreed in November 2020, and by the failure to secure the £8 billion extra that he said was needed in the spring Budget just to cover inflation. Where is the halt in further cuts in the Army, while NATO plans an eightfold increase in its high readiness forces? Where is the commitment to fulfil in full our NATO obligations? Where is the action plan for military support to Ukraine, first promised by the Defence Secretary in August last year? Where is the programme to reverse record low levels of satisfaction with service life? Where is the full-scale reform of a “broken” defence procurement system for which the Defence Committee called on the very day the Defence Secretary announced that he was stepping down? In fact, it is hard to tell from his announcement today what has changed. The £6.6 billion for defence research and development was promised in the 2021 integrated review, the “global response force” and force level cuts were announced in the Secretary of State’s defence Command Paper 2021, and the “strategic reserve” was recommended by Lord Lancaster in 2021.

As the right hon. Gentleman steps down as the Conservatives’ longest-serving Defence Secretary, will he accept that many of the biggest challenges are being left to the next Defence Secretary, and to the next Government? Finally, as we may not see him again at the Dispatch Box, may I, on behalf of Members in all parts of the House, wish him well in his post-parliamentary career?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. Unfortunately for him, I will, however, be here again tomorrow, delivering my very last statement.

I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but this is the refresh of the defence Command Paper. It is not a complete redrawing of a strategic defence and security review. We have done those, periodically, so many times, and so many times they have been published under Governments of both parties, and so many times they have not had real funding attached to them. So many times we have reached the end of the SDSR period, under Labour and Conservative Governments, with black holes, with unspent money and overspends. It has happened time and again. But this is a report to make us match-fit: to ensure that, whether we have 3%, 2.5%, 2% of GDP, we have the reforms that, in my view and, I hope, that of my successor, will help us to deal with the growing threats that we face in the decade ahead, and will also reflect the lessons that we have seen in Ukraine.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Finland’s defence review. He will know that Finland and Sweden periodically conduct a fixed in-Parliament, in-schedule review. That is how it will always be. Those countries ask a parliamentary committee to carry out the review, and then hand it to their Defence Ministries to implement. That is their process. Finland’s review was not triggered by anything specific, and the fact that it produced that review before I did this refresh is not a benchmark; it has been predicted and profiled. I will say, however, that long before Sweden and Finland joined NATO, I was the architect of last January’s security pact between the UK and those countries. That was because I recognised that they were our friends and our allies, and while they were not in NATO, it was inconceivable that we, as Britain, would never come to their aid should a more aggressive Putin attack them. That was the beginning of the process of developing our strong relationship with them.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about defence procurement. I have read the report produced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), and I thank him for it. Many of the things in it we are now doing. I give credit to him, obviously, for his report, but some of its observations have also been mine—observations about SROs, about 75% and 50%, about a spiral development cost; observations that the House has heard from this Dispatch Box about gold-plating and the over-speccing that has too often driven prices through the roof, and is a cumbersome thing. [Interruption.]

Let me say this to the Opposition Members who are heckling, and who have been Ministers in this Department. They will know that of all the Departments to serve in, this is not one that moves at the greatest speed of reform. The process of reform takes time, and Members need only look at the records of every single former Minister to know how hard it is. That does not undermine their contribution, and it does not make any of them less of a Minister, but this Department of 220,000 people, a Department that seeks every authority through a ministerial chair, is not—and I have served in a number of Departments—the quickest to change. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman, if he succeeds in his ambition to be the next Defence Secretary or the one after next, will learn that all too well. What I promise him, as I will promise my successor, is that I will not come to this House and pretend that the problems with which my successor is dealing were made the week before. They were made 20, 10, 15 years before. That is the truth of many of the policies and procurement challenges with which we deal in this Department.

I believe that the Command paper will stand the test of time because it is about facing the threat—and that is the answer to the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey).

For the record, we are about to lose one of the best Defence Secretaries we have ever had. He will be sorely missed in this House, and in the Department. He knows that we have discussed what is wrong with defence procurement on many occasions, and he knows that the Public Accounts Committee and the Defence Committee have published a number of reports saying that it is broken. The most recent, entitled “It is broke—and it’s time to fix it” was published only last Sunday, and on Tuesday we see the DCP refresh, whose acquisition strategy has effectively accepted some of the 22 recommendations in our report within 48 hours. I humbly submit that that is some kind of world record for a Select Committee report.

However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Let me, in all seriousness, encourage the Defence Secretary, when he does his handover to whoever succeeds him—accompanied by his excellent team of junior Ministers—to impress on his successor the fact that we really do need to bring about this reform, not just for industry and not just for our armed forces, but for the whole security and defence of the realm. And with that, we wish him well.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his work on the report and for his campaigning. Let me also say, however, that procurement has started to improve. In 2009-10, the average time delay on a project was 28%; it is now 15%. The average cost overrun was 15% on a project in 2009-10; it is now 4%. The direction of travel is improving. The number of civil servants at DE&S went from 24,000 to 11,000, so we are cutting away the bureaucracy and the direction of travel is improving.[Official Report, 4 September 2023, Vol. 737, c. 1MC.] In my time as Secretary of State for Defence, I was also determined to put to bed some of the problem projects that we were all inheriting. I am pleased to say that, as I speak, Ajax is back on track and starting to be delivered to the units. The units are starting to train in it now. We could all have a discussion about whether we would have chosen Ajax all those years ago, but fundamentally it has not cost the taxpayer any more money and it is being delivered to our frontline. I was determined to put that right, or take other steps to deal with it. That should always be the case.

The other thing that I have always tried to do, which is not in the document but which I recommend in defence procurement, is to never defer—either delete or deliver. If you defer, it costs hundreds of millions of pounds. Deferring the aircraft carrier cost £1 billion under the Labour Government. Deferring the F-35 cost £500 million. Deferrals create the black holes. Delete or deliver, but don’t defer.

I too thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of a draft statement, albeit that there were one or two additions on delivery. I also, perhaps pre-emptively, join in wishing him well in whatever comes next. Although I have not directly shadowed him, I certainly pass on those thoughts from my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Dave Doogan), who has worked closely with him over a period now.

I will start on a positive note. I welcome a number of the points made. I very much welcome the fact that people are put front and centre. That is absolutely critical in anything we do in defence. People are what make it work, and if we are not supporting the men and women of the forces, what are we doing at all? There is probably that more we can do, even beyond this. While it will not surprise Ministers to hear me say that we need to support those serving, we also need to continue to look at what we are doing to support our veterans. I know that the Minister is working on that, but it is an area in which we need to try to do more.

I also welcome the recognition of some of the accommodation conditions. I welcome the fact that steps are being taken and matters looked at, but that needs to be moved forward at a greater pace.

I note that the Secretary of State says we are going to spend over £50 billion for the first time next year. I wonder whether he can tell us how much of that is simply down to inflation created by this Government. I am not trying to be awkward, but that is clearly quite a significant factor.

We have also heard of the ongoing and long-lasting issues around procurement, with reports showing that roughly £2 billion is wasted each year in failed equipment programmes and cancelled procurement contracts. Is the Ministry of Defence making the necessary reforms to make its procedures better, and will they deliver value for money?

Recruitment and retention issues have been flagged up; the Haythornthwaite review clearly highlighted those. Is the right hon. Gentleman confident that the steps being taken now on the skills agenda will be the necessary actions to address recruitment and retention issues?

Finally, the Haythornthwaite review highlighted cyber capability as a major issue. Is the right hon. Gentleman confident that the steps being taken and outlined today will do enough to deliver that capability in the way that we all want to see?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and grateful for his party’s support on Ukraine.

On the Haythornthwaite review and skills, right across Europe and the west we are seeing recruitment challenges in the military. I was with my New Zealand counterpart recently, and my Canadian counterpart, and they too have a challenge. The skills shortage across society is big, and it is no different in the armed forces, which is why we have to adapt rapidly and tackle some of the challenges.

On procurement, as I said, the figures have started to improve. Yes, there are challenges, and we could spend a whole day debating the reasons for those challenges. Complex procurement is not as straightforward as many people think, and the hon. Gentleman will know from the Scottish Government’s procurement issues that it is not straightforward to deal with. I certainly believe that if we invest in the people and are prepared to invest in continuity—if instead of having the senior responsible owners who help manage our projects here today and gone tomorrow, we ensure that they are there for the long term and link their incentives to success, and help them manage our projects—we will have a better chance of delivering better value for money.

May I express my admiration for my right hon. Friend’s dedicated and distinguished service as Defence Secretary? It is a sad commentary on the state of the special relationship that our American ally did not recognise his suitability to be the next Secretary-General of NATO.

My right hon. Friend will remember that successive Defence Committees, well before the invasion of Ukraine, argued that defence expenditure should never have been allowed to fall below 3% of GDP. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was standing for the leadership in 2019, even expressed the wish that it should be at 4% of GDP, which would have taken us back to the cold war percentage of between 4% and 5.1% of GDP spent on defence. In what way does this refresh allow defence the potential to expand quickly if that extra money is belatedly made available?

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. Long before I was doing this job, he was campaigning for defence to be properly apportioned the funding it deserved to keep this country safe, and I pay tribute to him for that. He has fought for that for many years.

Should there be an increase in funding for defence—and I seriously hope that there will be, based on our Prime Minister’s 2.5% pledge—and if we invest in our specialties and our skills, we can expand our armed forces when the threat increases. Finding a way to hold those skills on the books even if they are rarely used, is why it is important to develop a single armed forces Act. Currently we have legislation that says that if you want to join the reserves from the regulars, you have to leave the regulars and join a separate legal entity—the reserves. That prevents soldiers from going backwards and forwards and people from being mobilised in the way we want. We want to introduce a single armed forces Act. We think this will help us do that. Skills are at the core.

The second thing is the investment in rapid procurement—the ability to keep headroom in the budget to respond to the latest threat as the adversary changes. The third is making sure that we invest in sustainability and enablers, because there is no point in having all the frontline vehicles if you cannot get anywhere.

I know it is considered bad form to speak ill of the dead, even the politically dead, but frankly the Secretary of State’s contribution was pretty thin and full of clichés, and fundamentally an admission of failure—of 13 years of continual cuts by this Government.

Let me take just one example, which is touched on in the report. It was clear from allied exercises that in any major conflict we would run out of artillery munitions within a week, and the Ukraine invasion reinforced that. So why has it taken until this month for the Secretary of State to sign the contract to replace those artillery shells?

It is very clear. First, the right hon. Gentleman might actually understand that sometimes the supply chain has to be reinvigorated. When we placed an order for the NLAW—the next generation light anti-tank weapon—it turned out that the optics had stopped being made 10 years before. You can ring up all you like and try to place an order the next day, but until the manufacturers source the supply chain, it is not going to happen. But what I did was ensure that I placed the order in the United Kingdom—in the north of England and in Wales. That factory will start producing 155 mm shells. I have given it a long-term contract of half a billion pounds to start supplying our forces. By the way, the stockpiles of our ammunition started depleting around about 1997.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his clarity, his calmness, his wisdom and his fortitude. We will miss him.

It is clear that the tectonic plates of geopolitics have shifted and made the world a much more dangerous place for countries such as the United Kingdom and others that believe in freedom and democracy. How will his new global response force help us and our allies be able to react more quickly and nimbly when crises arise? Because we know that they will.

An important lesson from Ukraine is to make sure it is digitally glued together, and to make sure its command and control is not as vulnerable as it used to be. It should have a lot in the rear, a long way away—perhaps thousands of miles away—with only its headquarters forward. We should make sure we invest in the enablers to move it around the world, the continent or wherever it needs to be. That will help. At the moment, the provisional layout of the global response force is a light brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade, supported by a logistical support brigade. This will give us a whole range of opportunities, including meeting our NATO commitments. Should we wish to do something else with it, we will be able to deliver.

As defence spokesperson and deputy leader of the DUP, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his honourable and gallant service to our armed forces. As the Member of Parliament for Belfast East, I thank him for reinvigorating shipbuilding in our country and for supporting Harland & Wolff. I thank him for his commitment to Thales and NLAW, and to the utility it has proven in Ukraine.

As a member of the Defence Committee, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for using our Sub-Committee’s report on soft power and for the benefits I see in his statement on engaging defence attachés more thoroughly and appropriately with the intelligence network.

We can see that the document before us builds on and augments the refresh. In recognising the right hon. Gentleman’s four years well served, may I ask him whether he believes this document will not only give our armed forces the best chance to embrace the future but will ensure that his positive contribution leaves a lasting legacy?

This is about making sure the framework is match fit for any expansion and for the future. It is also about investing in holes such as re-stockpiling, and making sure that, over time, we spend £2 billion, and then another £2 billion, to make sure our stockpiles are back where they should be—in fact, even more money to do that. That will be good news for the likes of Thales and NLAW in Belfast, for the 155 mm shell factories in Washington and north Wales, and for our industrial base such as MBDA in Stevenage and Bolton. It will all be about investing in our sovereign supply chain while, at the same time, making sure we sometimes make a difference not in the obvious things but in the behind-the-scenes that makes our armed forces so ready.

I commend my right hon. Friend for his service and dedication as Secretary of State, and I wish him well for the future. As a fellow infantryman, he will know there is sometimes no substitute for boots on the ground if one wants to command that ground. Given that the 1922 defence committee submitted a paper to the defence Command Paper refresh expressing concern about hollowing out, can he assure us that this hollowing out will stop and that cuts to the Army, in particular, will stop? What assurance can he give that not only will it stop but we will have scope to build on those numbers? Ultimately, an Army of 72,000 and falling is simply not large enough, given our commitments.

We can argue about size, but we have to make sure that whatever we put in the field is properly equipped and enabled, and is effectively 360°. That is really important. We therefore have to be honest about the size of our defence budget envelope. There is no point pretending that we can have huge numbers without a defence budget to match. I have been determined throughout my tenure that this is not purely a numbers game, and I know my hon. Friend gets that. Many of his suggestions were incorporated into this Command Paper, because the lessons of Ukraine show that, yes, we need infantry and tanks, but also that we can sometimes dominate the ground without even being there.

The proliferation of cheap drones and the use of highly accurate artillery allow fewer people to cover or dominate more area. I went to see a frontline corps commander in Ukraine, and he had nearly 1,000 cheap unmanned aircraft systems at his disposal every day. At any one time, he might have 80 or 90 up in the air, which gives him the ability to dominate ground without necessarily having mass. I get that, ultimately, the ground has to be taken, but let us make sure the people who take the ground are properly protected and equipped so they can hold it, otherwise Russian forces will take the ground and kill them.

May I first thank the Secretary of State for his service? We have known each other for 20-plus years, and he has always been a strong advocate for defence. He said in his statement that in 2019 he got a 10% increase for the defence budget. He failed to tell the House that one of the problems he faces is the 16% cut, from 2010 to 2019, in the defence budget. The Command Paper says that the first priority is homeland defence and our NATO commitments. It also announces a new global response force. How can we commit to doing both well without substantially increasing the defence budget?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. We both went to Washington in 2006 to lobby for a waiver from the International Traffic in Arms Regulations and we are very close to getting it. That is my point, if you think this Department is quick and easy. I had hair back then. If we get the ITAR waiver over the line, it will be one of the things I will be proud of.

It is possible to have a global response force and to dedicate it to NATO. We allocate our NATO forces by giving them to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, but those forces are able to be used elsewhere, unless he calls on them. That is often how we do it, so it is perfectly possible to have a global response force, with elements of it elsewhere if it is not called upon by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Of course, if NATO calls on the force under article 5 or something else, that will be the priority. Our forces, more often than not, are absolutely dedicated to NATO and the security of Europe.

I thank the Secretary of State for his impressive, no-nonsense leadership. It is always great to see a Minister who knows his brief so well.

It has been 12 years since the Levene report gave greater powers to single services, but we are now moving in the opposite direction, with greater integration, full-spectrum effects, hybrid war, joint effects—call it what you will—linking up the military but also the military and other tools of state power. Does the Secretary of State think Levene is still fit for purpose? What would he recommend that this House and his Department do about it?

My hon. Friend makes an important observation about Levene. I do not think Levene is fit for today. Parts of Levene have not worked. I do not see the TLBs, or the Army, Navy and Air Force take the responsibility we hoped they would take when their programmes do not work. Examining whether joint force design should move back to the centre, where these things will be at the core of the MOD, will be important. On other parts of Levene, it is important to make sure that the centre has a role in holding our armed forces to account. The Command Paper has a commitment to start reviewing that process.

I thank the Secretary of State for his service. Where I have agreed with him, I have said so, not least on his work to support Ukraine, but perhaps his biggest legacy is that he agreed to and oversaw a huge cut of 10,000 in the Army, which I believe seriously weakens our armed forces.

I want to test whether this document is more than warm words. Page 89 says

“we will step up our efforts to deliver an Integrated Air and Missile Defence approach.”

When will that happen?

I am just looking up page 89, which says that, to counter these threats,

“we will step up our efforts to deliver an Integrated Air and Missile Defence approach.”

We are doing that across NATO, integrated with NATO, and working with the Germans and the French. We are already starting that. We have signed up to the process. [Interruption.] We are starting it now. Last month, we started to examine what Europe and NATO need to have the right integrated air defence to protect its territory. The starting point is to find out what we need. There is no point in us rushing out and buying long-range air defence missiles if the long range can be done from a ship in the channel. There is no point rushing out and buying very short range if we are not deploying from our bases in Tidworth.

So, first, we have already started doing the overall survey of what needs to be done. Secondly, we have started investing in our next generation of GBAD—ground-based air defence—our medium-range air defence capability. And we have recognised that we are short of our long-range air defence capability by investing—[Interruption.] We are already doing it. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been for the past two years. If he actually paid attention to this, he would realise that we have started investing in the extended-range missile for the Type 45; we have started increasing the number of batteries of our GBAD; and we have managed to export our GBAD to Poland in a £2 billion export deal. So we have started this, but the first thing to do is recognise that we put together the right profile of air defence because, as he will know, it is layered, so we have to get the right layers. If we do not get the right layers, we look like some of those countries such as Russia, which just buy big profile things that cannot talk to each other and then they get whacked.

May I begin by thanking my right hon. Friend for his service and leadership? Does anything in this Command Paper address the barriers and bureaucracy that are hindering Ukrainian defence manufacturers and British defence manufacturers from collaborating effectively together? Such collaboration would help the Ukrainians to liberate their country and enhance our own capability and supply chain.

There is certainly an odd thing that I observe in the Department: I cannot understand why the procurement speed and delivery in our Kindred, our operation to gift and support Ukraine, cannot be normal for us. I see our procurement in parallel. Some of that is about assurances. If we are going to fly drones over people in this country, we require much higher levels of assurances; the Civil Aviation Authority and so on absolutely require that. When you are in war, some of those levels can drop. Some of it is simply about that, but in other areas it is one lesson we are looking at through Defence Equipment and Support to understand how we can bring that into our main procurement and delivery.

The Secretary of State knows that I am not a defence expert, although I have a great interest in it. I was born in the same week as the worst bombing of London, which took place not far from here, close to the day on which this place was bombed, and my father served in the last war. I have watched the Secretary of State over the years he has been in this House and I have a lot of regard for him. We have become quite good friends, which we are still allowed to be across parties in this House. He is not perfect. I have been a consistent critic of our going below 100,000 men in our Army—I have a long track record on that—but he is a better Secretary of State for Defence than many I have seen on those Benches. Does he realise that we are not daft on this issue? How could a Prime Minister and a Government allow a man of his stature as Defence Secretary to go at the critical time, when there is a war in Europe? All hell is breaking out on our planet and we lose a good Defence Secretary. What has happened with the Prime Minister and the little clique around him?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments. I have always liked both sparring and discussing defence with him. Importantly, many of us across the House understand that defence is a core function of a Government. It is not a discretionary spend stuck on the end; it is ultimately the core responsibility of a Government. I know that come the next election the battleground between these two Front-Bench teams will probably not see defence in it. We all know that. Many of us around this House who have campaigned for more defence will know that the election will come down to schools, hospitals, transport and everything else. The casualty of that is often defence, and we stop making the case to our citizens and our constituents as to why it is important. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who always reminds people on this side of the House and, certainly under the previous leadership, in his party of the importance of defence.

I have a fantastic team and there are plenty of amazing civil servants, military leaders and everyone else who will do just fine without me in this job. I believe it was President Lincoln who said, “The cemetery is full of indispensable men.”

I, too, pay tribute to my right hon. Friend. I am extremely disappointed that he is stepping down because he has been an excellent Defence Secretary. As he says, people are at the centre of our armed forces, so this refresh, with its focus on people, is welcome. Rick Haythornthwaite’s report makes some excellent recommendations, so I am pleased that the defence Command Paper reflects that. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that accommodation is an absolute priority because that is the biggest thing that every member of the armed forces brings up when we go to visit?

It absolutely is. The House has heard me say that I have taken the profit from those companies; I have nationalised more things than any previous Defence Secretary, so perhaps I am putting up a job interview for the opposite side—[Laughter.] This is absolutely about looking after our people. I was determined to do so: if these companies could not provide the service, why should our people take the hit? There is an extra £400 million to go into that. Some of us will have seen the legal test we have tried on Annington Homes to make sure that we re-enfranchise this. It is all very important. If we cannot give the people who work for us the skills, future and lifestyle they deserve, they will not be joining us.

I want to start by recognising the Secretary of State’s leadership on Ukraine and the wider threat from Russia. He made reference to the growing range of threats across the globe and how the UK often has to respond to those. May I invite him to go a step further, reflect on how the MOD can work with other Departments in Whitehall and how the UK can work with its international partners on early intervention and prevention, understand the drivers of conflicts—for example, gross human rights abuses, climate change and lack of international aid—and see how we can get ahead of the curve in some situations?

The original defence Command Paper absolutely built on that. On the resilience building of nations such as, sadly, Mali, if we can get in early enough and help those countries with security, complement aid and complement work on counter-radicalisation, education and poverty prevention, we can help prevent those conflicts. One message I give the Treasury is, “That small amount of investment saves us a lot of money further along.” The conflict, stability and security fund—the Foreign Office and MOD funding—is a really good piece of work, where we often fund a range of issues that deal with that. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman to give him details of that fund.

I thank the Secretary of State for his regular visits to David Brown Santasalo Gears in Huddersfield, in my constituency, which is in the supply chain for the Type 26 frigates and for our submarines. It also provides world-leading gearboxes for our armoured vehicles and tanks. Does he agree that it is important to have resilient regional supply chains to deliver the equipment we need to tackle changing global threats?

Yes, absolutely. I was delighted to visit David Brown—it is the famous David Brown of the Aston Martin David Brown in Huddersfield. When one goes there, one realises the importance of not only keeping the skill base going, but making sure that we have a clear pipeline of orders and pathways to incentivise those companies to invest in the next generation of machinery. If they do not feel incentivised, they will not invest and when we need them at a time of war, there simply will not be anything there. As I said about some of the rearming of our stockpiles, restimulating the supply chain takes years and it is incredibly important. It is also important to recognise that the aerospace industry is pan-United Kingdom; it goes across the UK and is everywhere. People do not often realise that it is not just in Lancashire, part of which I represent; it is in mill towns, in Scotland and in Wales—it is all over the place. The defence pound really does help the British economy and secures British jobs across the UK, including in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State is a thoughtful man, and today he has announced that we are going to be spending £50 billion on defence, at a time when every other Government Department is under financial pressure. He has also said that he predicts that this country will be at war within seven years. Does he have any idea or process to bring about more peace and rapprochement in the world, and less military threat? Or are we going to go on, year by year, increasing expenditure on defence and potentially being involved in more and more military conflicts? Does he have any idea different from that?

The right hon. Gentleman knows me fairly well. We once spent a nice week in Iran together, with the then Member for Blackburn—I was the most pro-European of the three, I remember.

I am not out looking for war. We are all out here trying to defend our nation by avoiding war, but we do not avoid war by not investing in deterrence. Sometimes we have to invest in hard power, to complement soft power. We do not want to use it and we do not go looking for it. I know the right hon. Gentleman mixes with some people who always think this is about warmongering; it is not. But if countries are not taken seriously by their adversaries, that is one of the quickest ways to provoke a war.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on an extraordinary four years as Secretary of State for Defence, in which he has done his duty above and beyond. He will be sorely missed. I welcome this refresh, particularly the points he makes about the global campaign and how it might complement aid. With regard to our service personnel, who do so much for us in the field of conflict, how might we recognise them in terms of campaigning, when they are away for extended periods of time? What is the Ministry of Defence going to do to ensure that they are recognised for the extraordinary service that they provide?

Our men and women are motivated by lots of things. The state often shows its appreciation, not only when they are serving, by the x-factor—the wraparound—but also by medallic recognition. One of the things that has taken quite a long time in my tenure is the creation of the wider campaign medal. I am still waiting for the final approval by those medal committees, but it will recognise people’s contribution to a campaign that keeps us safe. A good example of that could be the continuous at-sea deterrent, which is an enduring campaign. Campaigns that reflect modern war mean that not everyone is on the frontline. People hundreds of miles away are contributing to keeping us safe, and they sometimes need to be recognised, not just the person pulling the trigger or storming the bunker; it goes all the way back. In today’s military, the pyramid is very big and very deep, and hopefully a wider campaign medal will recognise that.

I pay my own tribute to the Secretary of State for his service and thank him for the personal courtesies that he and his officials have shown me on a number of occasions. He has rightly been focused on the major geopolitical threats and risks to our own security and that of our allies, but he will also know the importance of watching the flanks and rears. Whether it is the western Balkans, the Sahel, which he mentioned, space, the polar regions or the non-geographical domains—in cyber, artificial intelligence and those issues—he knows that the range and diversity of threats is increasing. Given that, is he convinced that we have the number of personnel right? I have no doubt about the commitment of our troops in all those areas and capacities, but the numbers are simply not there to deliver on that diversity and range of threats.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, as the threat rises, we should respond and design our forces to meet whatever is the threat of the day. Do I think 73,000 is enough to meet today’s threats? I do. Do I think defence needs a greater share of public spending? Yes, and that is what the Chancellor said in the autumn statement. Do I think we need 2.5% of GDP? Yes, that is what I have campaigned for and what I have achieved. I do not have a timeline, but I know that is the direction. Should we get the extra money, what is important about it is that it will prepare us to have a range of choices, depending on the threat of the moment.

The Army will still be over 100,000 people. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) raised the challenge. I have instructed that the Army’s modernisation requires us to protect its budget until it is modernised. It is behind the other two services and we will continue to modernise it. I think the Army has currently configured a size, but do I never say never about making it bigger? We should always be prepared to change our courses if the threat changes.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary for his statement and for his fantastic service over many years. Given the current tempo of commitments faced by HM forces worldwide, I am clear, as a former capability planner, that quantity has a quality of its own. It is also incumbent upon the MOD to fulfil all the expectations placed upon it, both by our NATO allies and our own defence tasks. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, post refresh, the MOD remains committed to a fully deployable, scalable and sustainable armoured division at readiness?

Yes, we are committed to that, but we have also been honest about the time needed to get to being able to do that.

Our forces families are made to live in damp, mouldy service accommodation, with broken boilers. In his statement, the Secretary of State spoke about rent freezes, but well over 4,300 troops already do not pay rent because their accommodation is so bad. He said that there would be no unfunded gimmicks, so is the £400 million in two years for service accommodation new money or is it from existing budgets and commitments?

Having listened to the hon. Lady, for example, we have taken money that was allocated elsewhere and decided that making sure those houses are in a better state is more of a priority. We have housing stock that goes back many years and is a challenge. One of the challenges I have is that I unfortunately have to pay almost £20,000 a house to a private finance initiative that Gordon Brown signed us up to, even when those houses are empty.

I commend the leadership of the Secretary of State over the last four years, not just in our response to the war in Ukraine, but in securing a record financial settlement from the Treasury. I welcome the new employment model and skills framework. Will he outline how that will further facilitate collaboration with employers, such as BAE Systems on the Fylde coast, and offer new opportunities for recruitment and retention?

The Ministry of Defence recognises, as does the defence industry, that skills are important. About two weeks ago, I spent a great afternoon at the National Cyber Force, up at Samlesbury, with further education colleges from around Lancashire, including Blackburn and Bolton, and Greater Manchester, which came to bring young people amazing opportunities. We recognise that if we invest young, we will get the skills we need. It is absolutely the case that without the skills, defence will be starved of the oxygen we need to do our jobs.

I, too, wish the Secretary of State well and thank him for all that he has done. While I welcome the £2.5 billion additional investment in stockpiles and the improvements to readiness, he will know that unless we have highly trained service personnel in place to use them, then they are useless.

The refresh document says:

“People: our most important asset.”

In relation to people, the UK now has the lowest number of soldiers since the Napoleonic wars, which I think is quite dramatic. Will the Secretary of State strategise to increase our strength in numbers, to recruit young and capable people who want to defend this great nation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? On the plane, I sat next to a guy from Belfast who is 20 years old. He has signed up to the Army for 25 years. He wants a future—can we give him that?

That young man will have an excellent future in the armed forces, for as long as he wishes to stay. The Army is still recruiting; we have not all stopped everything. It is important to remember that we need to embrace our reserves. We have talked about that for a long time, but we have not done it. A single armed forces Act would help us do that. The Army will be over 100,000 people, of whom 73,000 will be regulars, but I believe the reforms in today’s refresh will make sure we are scalable should we wish to increase it. Whatever we do and whatever parties in this House come with pledges in the next election, we must ask ourselves whether it is just about funding people or will we be funding their equipment, vehicles, houses and barracks to go along with them. We cannot just have people without any of that, or we condemn them to a pretty miserable time, unprotected on the battlefield.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. He has been an outstanding Defence Secretary and I wish him all the best for the future.

I am aware that, under the new defence Command Paper, soldiers should soon be able easily to transfer between each of the three services as well as into the civil service. What steps are Ministers taking to ensure that the civil service is a more attractive option than the private sector for talented personnel?

The military could definitely take a leaf out of the civil service’s book. I look at how senior civil servants can flex, do step-ups and step-downs, take breaks or sabbaticals, and I think, “Why can’t we do that for our military?” Why can people, if their life circumstances change, not step up or step down? That is what we are trying to do with these changes in the Haythornthwaite regime. If we do that, we will match the demands of generation Z. The younger generation want more and more different things. It is not just whether they work in defence, but whether they work in the civil service or in the private sector. All employers face the challenge of how they will do that and keep people longer, so that they get investment both ways—into their businesses or whatever.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I believe that he said he might be returning here tomorrow. As I have a number of Ministers here, I wish to take the opportunity to say how important it is that no announcements are made in statements that have not previously been given to the Opposition.

Just in case I am not in the Chair tomorrow, I will take this opportunity to wish the Secretary of State well in whatever he decides to do next.