My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed on operations in Afghanistan recently. They are: Captain Daniel Read of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps; Rifleman Luke Farmer of 3rd Battalion, The Rifles; Corporal Lee Brownson of 3rd Battalion, The Rifles; Rifleman Peter Aldridge of 4th Battalion, The Rifles; Lance Corporal Daniel Cooper, of 3rd Battalion, The Rifles; Lance Corporal Graham Shaw of 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment; and Corporal Liam Riley of 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment. I am sure that our thoughts are with all of their families and friends and, indeed, all who are serving in Afghanistan at the moment.
With the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, today I am publishing a Defence Green Paper which paves the way for a Strategic Defence Review, set in the context of the national security strategy, early in the next Parliament. At the present time, Afghanistan is the main effort for the Ministry of Defence. Where choices have to be made, Afghanistan will continue to be given priority. Our forces there are fighting hard, protecting our national security by preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists.
Two hundred and fifty-three British service personnel have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. Many more have suffered life-changing injuries. Their bravery in the face of a ruthless enemy has been a stark reminder to us all that conflict is difficult and dangerous. We certainly cannot assume that the conflicts of tomorrow will replicate today’s, but we must anticipate a wide range of threats and plan for the requirements necessary to counter them.
We have come a long way since our last major defence review in 1998, which gave us the platform to modernise our Armed Forces. Looking forward, we will need to make decisions about the role we want the United Kingdom to play in the world and the capabilities that the Armed Forces need to support that role. We will need to balance those considerations with the financial implications in what will inevitably be a resource-constrained environment.
This Green Paper does not attempt to answer those fundamental questions. Instead, it is intended to set out our emerging thinking on the future security environment and other key issues facing defence ahead of the review. While there is no external direct threat to the territorial integrity of the UK, there is a wide range of emerging threats for which we must be prepared. We can work to diminish the threat of international terrorism and to counter the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. We can work to prevent emerging threats—for example, by improving our approach to cybersecurity—and to contain and resolve the threat from failing states. We can work to ensure that the impacts of climate change and resource competition are managed peacefully. But my judgment is that conflict and instability in this new age will be an ever-present risk. In the face of these threats, no nation can hope to protect all aspects of national security acting alone. We cannot simply defend from the goal line, and our defence posture must reflect this. In the coming decades, our Armed Forces must be prepared if called upon to protect our interests, often in distant places, and, most likely, as part of a coalition of international forces.
The paper therefore reaches two conclusions. First, that defence must accelerate the process of reform and be able to change swiftly to address new and unforeseen challenges as they emerge. We need to be more adaptable in how we structure, equip, train and generate our Armed Forces. We need a more agile defence organisation. We need more responsive strategic planning. So, today, I am proposing that we should legislate for regular defence reviews to ensure that the Armed Forces continue to adapt rapidly to changing trends and threats.
Secondly, the paper concludes that defence must improve its ability to work in partnership with our key allies and security institutions to make the most of our combined resources. Our alliances and partnerships will become increasingly important and define how successful we will be in meeting the challenges that we face. We strengthen our alliance with the US if we strengthen our position in Europe. We will continue to press our European allies to contribute more to our collective defence effort. But make no mistake: this is not about Europe taking precedence over the US or vice versa. The two are mutually reinforcing relationships. In the UK itself, we need to improve further our partnerships with key Whitehall departments and others to ensure the contribution of our Armed Forces is joined up with our diplomatic and development efforts.
In addition to the conclusions on adaptability and partnership, the paper poses six key strategic questions that the review will need to address. These are: where should we set the balance between focusing on our territory and region and engaging threats at a distance? How far are future conflicts likely to share the characteristics of our engagement in Afghanistan and, therefore, what approach should we take if we employ the Armed Forces to address threats at distance? What contribution should the Armed Forces make in ensuring security and contributing to resilience within the UK? How could we more effectively employ the Armed Forces in support of wider efforts to prevent conflict and strengthen international stability? Do our current international defence and security relationships require rebalancing in the longer term? Should we further integrate our forces with those of key allies and partners?
Although the defence budget has grown by more than 10 per cent in real terms since 1998 and not a penny will be cut from next year’s budget, the forward defence programme faces real financial pressure. We need to rebalance what we do in order to meet our priorities. In December, I began this process; I made a series of decisions to ensure that we found extra resources for vital equipment for Afghanistan. This included 22 new Chinook helicopters, which will provide necessary strategic lift capability for Afghanistan and for other military operations in the years ahead. However, our commitment to reduce the deficit resulting from the global financial crisis means that future resources across government will be constrained.
The report of Bernard Gray into defence acquisition set out clearly the pressures facing the defence budget. It also set out the importance of improving our procurement processes and addressing the shortfalls in our acquisition systems. The Strategy for Acquisition Reform, published alongside today’s Green Paper, sets out how we will tackle the challenges facing this major area of defence expenditure. The major reforms it proposes will deliver enduring change by introducing greater transparency. It will ensure that our equipment plans are efficient, strategically focused, affordable and achievable. But it is not just in equipment acquisition that we will need to do better. We are aiming to deliver efficiency savings of more than £3 billion over the current spending review period. We have a strong programme of work to achieve this, including an independent review into the use of civilians in defence by Gerry Grimstone.
Our biggest capability is our people. We rely on the ability of people, both military and civilian, to deliver defence. We need to attract the best people: highly motivated and highly skilled. Our people have already shown their capacity to adapt to new challenges. We must continue to ensure that the structures and training that support them are fit for purpose, including continuing to strengthen joint approaches across the services.
There has been a great deal of interest and speculation about whether any major capabilities will be confirmed in the Green Paper. This is to misunderstand its purpose. I can say that we do not plan to revisit the conclusions of the 2006 White Paper on the nuclear deterrent. We have committed to a wide range of major capability improvements over the past few years, including most recently signing contracts for two new aircraft carriers; and recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the importance of being able to deploy and sustain significant numbers of highly trained and equipped troops in a variety of roles, including providing the air and aviation support that they require.
Unless the defence review takes us in a very radical new direction, it is the Government’s position that these capabilities are likely to remain critical elements of our force structure, but we need to know first what roles and missions we expect our forces to undertake in future before we can take final decisions about the capabilities that they will need. These will be key issues for the defence review.
Let us be clear. Change is needed. There are some tough and important decisions ahead. In my view, we must, as far as possible, put aside our special interests, in politics, in industry and in the services, to take rational decisions that benefit the defence and security of the nation.
In preparing the Green Paper, I consulted widely with academia, across government and with the main opposition parties. I am grateful for the help I received. I should like to thank, in this House, the right honourable Member for North East Fife and the honourable Member for Mid Sussex, and, in the other place, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, who all sat on my Defence Advisory Forum. Where the defence of the nation is concerned, we must seek as far as possible to reach consensus on the main issues.
I hope that the Green Paper I am publishing today helps that process and leads to a mature and well-informed debate about the future structure of our Armed Forces”.
My Lords, we, too, pay tribute to the families of the 253 service personnel who have been killed in Afghanistan, particularly those service men and women whom the noble Baroness has just mentioned. Of course, our thoughts are with those who have suffered life-changing injuries in Afghanistan.
I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. Over the last few days, I have spoken to a number of defence correspondents and experts, and they all appear to have seen copies of the Green Paper, and a number have attended briefings at the MoD. Why are we the last to have seen the Green Paper?
We on these Benches largely agree with the findings of the Green Paper, and its related paper on acquisition reform. Both are long overdue, and they will provide a good foundation for any future defence review, regardless of who forms the next Government. The Green Paper does a good job in highlighting the types of threats that we are likely to face in the coming years, especially cyber and space-based threats, and in stressing the importance of winning today’s war in Afghanistan. However, there are a few areas of concern that I would like to address.
First is the apparent confusion inside the MoD. Last June we were told that there were no plans for a defence review. In July, the Government announced their plans to hold an SDR. Last December, the Government made cuts to the defence budget, totalling almost £1 billion. This month, we are told that the defence budget will be ring-fenced. On Monday, we learned that 10 Downing Street was briefing that the Government are committed to the two aircraft carriers, the full order of JSF, and tranche 3 of Eurofighter. But Paragraph 9 of the Green Paper clearly states:
“We cannot proceed with all the activities and programmes we currently aspire to, while simultaneously supporting our current operations and investing in the new capabilities we need. We will need to make tough decisions”.
So who is right, Downing Street or the Ministry of Defence? If anything, it sounds like the Prime Minister has finally decided to fund the 1998 SDR—which, according to Geoff Hoon, was not fully funded to begin with.
There is no doubt that some of the challenges with which our Armed Forces have had to contend have been created by the Government’s unwillingness to fund that SDR. As we have recently been hearing from various retired service chiefs and former Defence Ministers at the Chilcot inquiry—and just this morning, Sir Kevin Tebbit spoke of a permanent crisis budget at the MoD because of the Chancellor’s cutting of defence expenditure six months after the invasion of Iraq—the “constraints” to which the Green Paper refers are not all externally driven.
The Statement refers to efficiency savings over the current spending review period of some £3 billion. Can the noble Baroness give some indication of how this is to be achieved? Will these savings be directed to the front line, or clawed back by the Treasury? The Green Paper says that the MoD will aim to,
“improve the ratio of personnel who are available for deployment against overall personnel”.
An example given in the Green Paper is that the Army can only deploy 10,000 soldiers, even though its total strength is more than 100,000. What do the Government have planned to increase the readiness and deployability of our Armed Forces, and to ensure the equipment is available to sustain them on operations? This also includes the use of Reserve Forces in future operations. Does the noble Baroness agree that the Green Paper should have made much more recognition of the importance of and contribution made by the Reserve Forces?
We support the Government’s call for a more agile defence organisation. The challenges that Britain and our Armed Forces face need to be revisited from time to time, so we welcome the intention to incorporate into law the proposal for such a review in each Parliament. This is a Conservative suggestion, so it is especially welcome. We also welcome the announcement in the acquisition reform paper to publish an annual statement on the affordability of the equipment programme.
We agree with the Government that an increasingly uncertain world will require our forces to go overseas. While no one state is identified as a direct strategic threat, we know from recent history that some states see armed force as a tool to be used. Britain must not make the mistake of sending any signals that we are somehow less committed to our values and beliefs, nor that our treaty obligations are now worthless.
We support the Government’s contention that defence must improve its ability to work in partnership with our key allies. I particularly praise the efforts of our Danish and Estonian allies who serve alongside our forces in Afghanistan and who I had the privilege to meet when I visited Afghanistan last year. We urge our fellow European members of NATO to increase their efforts in support of the alliance’s objectives in Afghanistan.
We agree with closer co-operation with France. We should view France as our most important European partner and it only makes sense that we work closely in areas where we have shared sets of interests. Although that was widely reported in the press this morning, there is little evidence of this commitment in the Green Paper. Will the Minister please expand on this commitment in her response? Finally, we look forward, as does the Statement, to seeing a more joined-up approach to defence and security across Whitehall, embracing not just the MoD but the FCO and DfID as well.
My Lords, I join these Benches in the earlier tribute to those who have fallen in Afghanistan. I also join with the noble Lord, Lord Astor, in requesting an earlier sighting of MoD documents, which would be appreciated. Today’s Statement hardly warrants the banner headline in Monday’s Times,
“Brown goes into battle with billions for defence”.
Indeed, we are in the defence overstretch that we are in today, militarily and financially, precisely because the Prime Minister, particularly when he was Chancellor, showed little interest in defence and kept the chequebook closed. We know that from the Chilcot inquiry, with the then service chiefs apparently considering resignation; from Geoff Hoon’s failure to get funding for more helicopters at that stage; and, more recently, from the comments of John Hutton. Spending on defence has steadily declined under this Government as a percentage of GDP to just over 2 per cent.
We welcome today’s Green Paper and the proposed strategic defence review. We, among others, have long been calling for one, but until recently the Government resisted, saying that it was unnecessary. We are pleased that regular defence reviews are proposed. Today’s world is increasingly menacing, not only with concerns on nuclear proliferation, but the newer threats from international terrorism, from cyber assault and piracy. Everyone recognises that we cannot go it alone in the future. We have to work with our allies. No longer have we the resources to be the world’s policeman. It has to make much greater sense to co-operate with France, which has a defence spend comparable to our own. Some of us have long argued for this, but little real progress has been made. What specific conclusions came out of the meetings apparently held in London last week by the outgoing French Chief of the Defence Staff? The semi-detached, rather Eurosceptic attitude of the Official Opposition towards mainstream Europe will hardly make serious co-operation with the French any easier, should they form the next Government.
We agree that the complex, brutal conflict in Afghanistan has to be given priority and acknowledge that thankfully most of our forces are now much better equipped. We agree also with the double-A thrust of the Green Paper that our forces need to be more adaptable and more agile. We particularly agree with the need to improve the working arrangements between our Armed Forces and our diplomatic and development activities which are so crucial in Afghanistan.
Turning to the strategy for acquisition reform, the reality, as Bernard Gray made so clear, is that we are massively overcommitted. As I have said previously, whatever the undoubted merits of the new carriers, was it sensible to go ahead with them before an SDR and when the MoD is, frankly, broke? The acquisition reform document makes the interesting point that 40 per cent of the £20 billion procurement spend is with just 10 companies. Can the noble Baroness confirm that there are severe penalty clauses in virtually all our major contracts which limit room for cancellation or manoeuvre? I support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, earlier; could she explain how the figure of £3 billion in efficiency savings has been arrived at by perhaps providing a breakdown? Not before time does the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, say in his foreword that:
“At the heart of the strategy is a radical commitment to greater public transparency by publishing annual assessments of the overall affordability of our equipment plans”.
The independent audit referred to later is a huge step forward.
Finally, I want to ask two specific questions. First, how concerned are the Government about the recent sacking by Secretary Robert Gates of the marine general in charge of the F-35 programme—the designated aircraft for our aircraft carriers—saying that the Lockheed-Martin programme had been plagued by problems, had failed to hit performance targets and that,
“key goals and benchmarks were not met”?
Secondly, will she comment on the story this lunchtime which quoted Sir Jock Stirrup, the current Chief of the Defence Staff, as saying that it was, “quite plausible that there could be a consolidation between two services within the next 10 years”? What is the current Government’s stance on service consolidation?
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for the general welcome they have given this Statement. This is a significant opportunity to have a mature debate about the issues we will be facing in the future, and the Green Paper sets out clearly both the trends in the world that we have to cope with and the threats that we will have to take on board. While I could not possibly commit the business managers to a debate in this House, I am sure that there will be many opportunities for discussion. It is important that people from as many different backgrounds as possible take part in the debate.
I shall start with the last questions put to me. I have a piece of paper which tells me exactly what Sir Jock Stirrup said earlier. He was asked, “Do you think it is plausible that we will have three armed services?”. He said, “Certainly it is plausible”. It was the questioner who put forward the idea of only two, and as we are not pre-empting anything that the SDR might provide, we are not denying that anything is a subject for debate. But that was the only context in which the idea was put forward; it was not actively put forward by the Chief of the Defence Staff as something that he wants to see.
On the joint strike force programme, there have been difficulties with this complex programme, but it is also a very exciting one. I will not comment on any internal American decisions with regard to personnel because I do not think that that would be wise.
Many different issues have been raised. It is right that we should highlight cyber threats and the like because while it is difficult to be specific about them, and while the public may hear about them, they do not appear to be particularly tangible. We have to keep the entire range of threat in view when discussing these issues. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, mentioned that defence experts and correspondents had been talking about the Green Paper as if they had seen it. To my knowledge, it only went to the printers yesterday and late amendments were made earlier this week. But it is true that we consulted widely before finalising the Green Paper. Seminars with academics were held and the Defence Advisory Forum, of which his honourable friend in another place is a member, was involved. So while there were people who knew what our thinking was, the document was finalised very late in the day.
I take issue with one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Astor. He talked about the announcement made in December, which he described as cuts to the defence budget. That is not the case. The defence budget has not changed at all for this current year. Spending will be £35.4 billion in 2009-10 and will rise to £36.9 billion in 2010-11. That money is ring-fenced. On top of that we have the very substantial contribution the Treasury will be making to operations. What happened last December, as the Secretary of State pointed out earlier today, was actually a realignment to ensure that current priorities were met. I think that was the right decision. As has already been mentioned, the lead time for many of the procurement projects is extremely long and that sometimes makes it difficult to adapt to what we need. That is one of the issues that we are trying to face in this Green Paper.
We have said for some considerable time that our Armed Forces have to be more adaptable, flexible and responsive. It is also incumbent on industry and the MoD to be more adaptable, flexible and responsive. When we talk what I think the Green Paper calls a “spiral approach” to contracting—I would call it more an incremental approach—that is probably one of the aspects we have to bear in mind in the future.
We actually have quite a good track record in terms of making efficiency savings within the MoD. Gerry Grimstone is conducting an inquiry; we think it right to bring in external people for this occasionally. It is important that we step up to the mark. I think that we probably can be doing that.
I was very grateful for the acknowledgment that the equipment that we have on operations is so impressive. Everybody involved in operations—the military, the civilians who have been helping, the contractors and industry—has worked exceptionally well together to make sure that our record on the delivery of urgent operational requirements has been very impressive. Some of our allies are wondering how we have been able to achieve that level of flexibility; they have been looking at our procedures and the way that we do things. It is good that we recognise the changes that have been made there.
I am glad that there has been general welcome for the idea of legislation to make sure that we have timely strategic defence reviews. I also welcome what has been said about the need to make sure that all departments link in together. We hear a great deal about the comprehensive approach and it is extremely important to operations. It is also extremely important to our long-term planning. One of our objectives is conflict prevention—how we use our defence diplomacy or what might be called “soft power” before we have a problem to influence areas of the world that are extremely difficult. We do that working with our allies.
The noble Lord, Lord Astor, mentioned the Danes and the Estonians. I, too, have met people from those countries; they have been extremely good allies, working well with us on operations and, indeed, suffering significant casualties. We should be happy to recognise the closeness of that relationship and pay tribute to the work that has been done there.
The noble Lord, Lord Lee, mentioned that the outgoing French Chief of Defence staff had been over here recently. The chiefs of defence staff do meet from time to time—when they change over, when they have conferences or whatever. We have a lot of engagement with the French as we do with the Americans and many other countries—at CHOG level, but also at ministerial and other official levels. It is quite right that we should do so and that we should see how we can co-operate.
The noble Lord, Lord Astor, mentioned the discussions about working closely with the French. In the Green Paper we make it clear that we want to work within NATO, within the EU and also have bilateral arrangements. The fact that France has now rejoined the military side of NATO helps and is leading to more discussions of the kind to which we were referring earlier. It is the case, of course, that in the defence budgets that Governments have in European countries, only we and the French are big spenders. So it is right to see what we can do there, although, as we have said on previous occasions, collaboration on equipment can be very difficult, because of the alignment of so many factors. However, it is worth thinking about a long time in advance so that we know in which direction we are going.
I was asked whether it was sensible to have the carriers before the strategic defence review. You could argue that on a whole range of equipment, but we can never stand still in making those decisions. We have to make sensible decisions and try not to pre-empt the final outcome of a strategic defence review.
I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken for their general welcome and hope we will be able to have further discussions and wider debates about the principles in the Green Paper.
It is certainly not before time to have a defence review after 12 years. I notice that the Americans are once again embarking on their four-year defence review. I welcome that change, particularly because the circumstances have changed enormously since 1998, when there was no involvement in Afghanistan or Iraq as we have now. There is no question that the current financial situation of the Ministry of Defence is the worst mess it has ever been in anybody’s recent experience. So the challenge is very great.
I agree with one thing very much. When we have our forces engaged in dangerous circumstances, they must have total priority. That is a welcome change after eight years in which they were not given the priority for the equipment. The Secretary of State’s Statement mentions the helicopters for which we have placed an order, but they will not be available for the next two years, when we urgently need them now.
On the Minister’s last comment, to say that the decision on the carriers and the fighter aircraft does not pre-empt the rest of the defence review does not make much sense. The following paragraph in the Statement to the paragraph that describes the issue of the carriers being determined appears to reopen the subject. I should be grateful if she would clarify that.
In the kindest way, may I say that, when somebody comes to consider the results of this review, it would be very helpful if we did not have an annual change in the Secretary of State for Defence, as we have had in the past five years? Whichever Government are in power, I hope that the person in charge will be someone with some real experience in defence and will be allowed to stay there for a reasonable length of time so that they can carry this thing through. It is simply not fair to our Armed Forces or to all those involved in the defence of our country to have this continual change at the top.
My Lords, it is indeed 12 years since we had a defence review. I looked at the statistics on the gaps between defence reviews in the past and that is not dramatically unusual. There has been an update as well, from time to time. When we were involved in such operations as Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps that was not time to take a full defence review, which is why we had the updating papers on that. Certainly the circumstances are very different from 1998, although I noticed that there is a paragraph in the defence review published in July 1998 that says:
“There is an increasing danger from the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical technologies. As Iraq has amply demonstrated, such regimes threaten not only their neighbours but vital economic interests and even international stability”.
So there was some anticipation of some of the problems that later came to dominate, although I do not think that it was anticipated exactly how.
I am glad that the noble Lord acknowledges the priority that I referred to for equipment. We should all welcome the reports that have been made about equipment on operations. Members from this House and the Select Committee in another House have talked about the very significant movement on equipment. It is not a question of buying equipment off the shelf; it has taken a great deal of effort on the part of everyone involved, industry included, to upgrade and make the changes that have been made.
In terms of carriers and equipment, we have a dilemma. I can either stand here, take one project at a time and say, “Yes, we are going to do that after the review, no we are not going to do that”, or I can say, “I am not saying anything about any of them”. The whole point of the review is to consider what you need for the future. The statements we have made have been on the basis of our assessment at the moment. If, as I said in repeating the Statement, there was a radical change of approach as a result of that review, then it might be that other changes would be necessary.
In terms of the annual change, as the noble Lord called it, of the Secretary of State for Defence, I do think it is unfortunate that we have not had the level of continuity that perhaps would have been liked. However, the current Secretary of State for Defence has been a Minister in that department for a considerable time and has the respect of all those who work in it.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement on the Government’s Green Paper and for the sensible things she has said about co-operation, partnership and a fully joined-up security policy.
I should like to be clear on one thing. Although the Minister may be technically correct in saying, “not a penny will be cut from next year’s budget”, is it not true that because of the current Ministry of Defence overspend—caused, largely unavoidably, by overspill from operational requirements in Afghanistan and the inclusion of certain items of equipment, some for political reasons, for which proper strategic decisions on capability have not yet been made—at this very moment the Treasury is clawing back from defence’s cash flow no less than £1 billion in this first year? This money has to be found from somewhere, and usually involves considerable penalties, particularly in the longer term.
Finally, as economy of effort is one of the principles of war, how would the Minister actually measure affordability, much mentioned in the Green Paper? Presumably with defence of the realm and security, this country can afford what it believes it truly needs. Is the intention merely to leave it to the Treasury to come up with less money than the year before?
My Lords, I acknowledge the deep experience that the noble and gallant Lord brings to this debate and I am flattered that he thinks that some of my comments were sensible. He was right when he used the word security as well as defence. These days, it is extremely difficult to draw a line between defence and security, and the Green Paper makes it clear that much of what we have been thinking about looks to the national security strategy which has been drawn up recently.
However, I disagree with the noble and gallant Lord about the money. It is a straightforward fact that in 2009-10 the ring-fenced budget from the Treasury to the Ministry of Defence was £35.4 billion. The ring-fenced budget for 2010-11 is £36.9 billion. There are no cuts, and the Treasury is increasing its contribution from the reserve for operations in Afghanistan.
There is still, and there always will be, a question of affordability. That is one of the reasons why it is important that we have a discussion about the Strategic Defence Review in the context of the challenges we face throughout the world. That is also why it is important that the Green Paper sets out those changes and trends that are taking place in the international arena and refers to the specific threats we are facing. At the end of the day, we will as a country have to make decisions about affordability.
I, too, associate myself with the tributes paid by my noble friend to those who have fallen and been injured recently in Afghanistan. Their losses are not in vain. I am glad that today’s Green Paper makes it clear that success in Afghanistan remains the abiding priority of the Ministry of Defence, and indeed of the nation as a whole.
I welcome the Green Paper. In particular, I welcome the innovation of inviting members of the opposition parties to join the Defence Advisory Forum that the Secretary of State, with great enlightenment, formed in order to consult widely. I was part of that Defence Advisory Forum, but bringing in members of opposition parties sets a good long-term precedent. The non-partisan nature of the discussion and debate that will take place now is of supreme importance, not just for the forces in the field but for the future defence of this country.
Much will be made about resources, and none of the potential governments looking for support in the coming general election will find it comfortable to make those choices in the Ministry of Defence. But it is important to bear in mind that, since the last Strategic Defence Review that I supervised in 1998, the defence budget has increased in real terms by 10 per cent, and if one takes into account the money devoted to operations, by more than 24 per cent. Every single urgent operational requirement has been met by Her Majesty’s Treasury. That is an important component part of where we are, but where we are going to be will depend on a number of tough decisions that have yet to be made.
I want to make two points to my noble friend. First, we must re-emphasise constantly the fact that in future this nation will not be able to deploy a full spectrum of capabilities. In future, in dealing with myriad challenges and threats, we will have to do things with others, especially with our European allies in NATO and the European Union. That must be seen as part of a practical policy going forward.
Finally, I disagree with the Government in one respect in this exercise. I do not believe that we should have a Strategic Defence Review in isolation. We need a strategic security review that looks at the security of this nation and involves the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development, the Home Office and elsewhere in order to establish what the priorities really are and what important part defence will play in that overall strategy.
First, I repeat what was said in another place and thank my noble friend for his contribution to the Defence Advisory Forum. My noble friend’s credentials in this matter are well known and important. He is right when he reminds us of the priority of Afghanistan. That comes out of the Green Paper and from the Statement made in another place earlier today. The work that we have done there has been quite remarkable in terms of getting everybody to work together, including other government departments. This country probably invented the term “the comprehensive approach”, and bearing in mind my noble friend’s last point, it is important that we keep that in mind in all discussions. I agree that it has been beneficial for the Defence Advisory Forum to take a long view and act in a non-partisan way. One of the Green Paper’s strengths is that it is analytical and not partisan. That is one of the reasons why I am hopeful that we can have that kind of long-term approach. This is extremely timely because other countries are thinking about what they should be doing and NATO is undertaking its strategic review. I am sure that there will be a lot of interest in what we have been saying.
We all acknowledge that decisions about resources will not be easy. Nobody is talking about committing to increasing spending, but it is important to recognise, as my noble friend did, the significant contributions from the Treasury on top of the core defence budget. He talked about not deploying across the full spectrum of capabilities in future and always working with others. That is acknowledged in the Green Paper and is something to which a former Secretary-General of NATO would quite rightly draw attention. Again, we welcome the expertise that he brings.
My noble friend mentioned a disagreement about the actual wording and asked whether we should not have a Strategic Defence and Security Review rather than a Strategic Defence Review. That was something that we picked up on rather late in the day. As I said earlier, the distinction these days between defence and security is extremely blurred. Throughout this document we make reference to the national security strategy because we have made the psychological leap that the two are so well connected. However, we have not put it on the front of the document. I assure him that the point has been registered and is well understood by many people in the department.
I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. Does she agree that, if we require our Armed Forces to protect our interests often in foreign parts—I am quoting from the Statement, and a quick look at Annex A provides graphic justification for those words—then it is imperative that we retain elite specialist amphibious troops, embarked in commando ships with carrier-borne aircraft, surface vessels and submarines in support? This sort of task force, often working with allies, provides our country with its greatest flexibility. Using that platform, we can run the gamut of operations from humanitarian to all-out combat.
My Lords, I am not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, given his background, makes this special case. It may well be justified. There will be a lot of people who want to make points about specific groups and tasks. He chose one that is well recognised as having a world-class capability. It is something that we appreciate.
I am very pleased that the noble Lord was able to draw attention to Appendix A, which I recommend that people look at. It explains the whole range of operations that our Armed Forces have been involved in. It does not list them all but it does, as he says, go from armed conflict to humanitarian. The range is vast. People may well be surprised by the number of operations because very often they are carried out very quietly and they do not get the public acclamation that perhaps they deserve.
My Lords, may I say to the noble Baroness that we are all very proud—
Ask a question!
Well, I am asking a question. I am sorry if it did not come across as a question.
Does the noble Baroness agree—how is that?—that we are all very proud of the men and women of the Territorial Army who have served in these recent conflicts, giving up their civilian jobs to take time to train and work so hard to defend this nation? We should always make funds available for the Territorial Army. Never should it be that the soldiers of the Territorial Army should turn up to their drill halls to find that they cannot get pay or expenses when they are involved in training in this country.
I hope I have managed that, my Lady.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the question. Everybody acknowledges the work of the TA. We have seen from operations recently that it has very often been in the front line. I am afraid we have had casualties and deaths among the TA. Very often it has been able to provide niche capabilities where there might otherwise be a shortage. We acknowledge the work that goes on. We do think that if TA soldiers are to be deployed then training is absolutely essential. We welcome and have been looking at the links that the TA have with the mainstream, full-time Army. It is important that we continue to do that.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement. I very much welcome the Green Paper and suggest that perhaps the most important point in it concerns bipartisanship. This is a great breakthrough and, given the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Astor, Lord Lee, Lord King, and others, I think that she has buy-in from this House. I wonder whether my noble friend could take this a stage further. I have long felt that defence should be much more bipartisan, but I find it strange that the Executive take the decision and that legislators, who really are able to represent bipartisanship, are often excluded. In moving forward, can my noble friend think of ways in which we could involve parliamentarians in this process because the buy-in of parliamentarians would help the buy-in of citizens and would help our military forces?
My Lords, my noble friend raises a very interesting point. I know that he has been involved in defence for many years, having been our spokesman on this issue when we were in opposition. He is right to emphasise the need for bipartisanship on an issue as important as this. He asks how legislators could be more involved. I think that it is up to the House to make that decision. As I said earlier, as a former Chief Whip I would hate any Minister to make a commitment about debates, but were there to be a debate on this topic, it would be very welcome. If it cannot be in this House, perhaps we can have some elsewhere.
One of the aspects of the paper that we have produced on acquisition today is that it opens the way for greater consideration by parliamentarians as well as by anybody else because it involves a higher level of transparency given the annual publication of an assessment of the overall affordability of the defence programme. That is new and is something in which I think parliamentarians will take a great deal of interest.