My Lords, with the leave of the House, it may be a convenient moment for me to repeat a Statement that is being made in another place by the Prime Minister.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the strategic defence and security review. There are four things to say up front. First, this is not simply a cost-saving exercise to get to grips with the biggest budget deficit in post-war history; it is about taking the right decisions to protect our national security in the years ahead. The two are not separate: our national security depends on our economic strength, and vice versa. As our national security is a priority, so defence and security budgets will contribute to deficit reduction on a lower scale than most other departments. Over four years, the defence budget will rise in cash terms and fall by only 8 per cent. And it will meet the NATO 2 per cent of GDP target for defence spending throughout the next four years. But this Government have inherited a £38 billion black hole in the future defence plans—bigger than the entire annual defence budget of £33 billion. Sorting this out is not just vital for tackling the deficit but vital to protecting our national security.
Secondly, this review is about how we project power and influence in a rapidly changing world. We are the sixth-largest economy. Even after this review, we expect to continue with the fourth largest military budget in the world. We have a unique network of alliances and relationships: with the United States, as a member of the EU and NATO, and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We have one of the biggest aid programmes in the world, one of the biggest networks of embassies, a time zone that allows us to trade with Asia in the morning and the Americas in the evening, and a language that is spoken across the globe. Our national interest requires our full and active engagement in world affairs. It requires our economy to compete with the strongest and the best. And it requires, too, that we stand up for the values we believe in. Britain has punched above its weight in the world, and we should have no less ambition for our country in the decades to come. But we need to be more thoughtful, more strategic and more co-ordinated in the way we advance our interests and protect our national security. That is what this review sets out to achieve.
Thirdly, I want to be clear that there is no cut whatever in the support for our forces in Afghanistan. The funding for our operations in Afghanistan comes not from the budget of the Ministry of Defence but instead from the Treasury special reserve. So the changes to the Ministry of Defence that result from today’s review will not affect this funding. Furthermore, every time the chiefs have advised me that a particular change might have implications for our operations in Afghanistan, either now or in the years to come, I have heeded that advice. In fact, we have been and will be providing more for our brave forces in Afghanistan: more equipment to counter the threat from IEDs; more training and training equipment; more protected vehicles such as the Warthog heavy protection vehicle, which will be out there by the end of the year; more surveillance capability, including unmanned aircraft systems; and crucially, at last, the right level of helicopter capability.
Fourthly, this review has been very different from those before it. It has looked at all elements of national security, home and abroad, together, not just defence on its own. It has been led from the top, with all the relevant people around the table, and it will be repeated every five years. This review sets out a step change in the way we protect this country’s security interests: from a Ministry of Defence that is too big, too inefficient and too overspent to a department that is smaller, smarter, and more responsible in its spending; from a strategy over-reliant on military intervention to a higher priority for conflict prevention; from concentrating on conventional threats to a new focus on unconventional threats; and from Armed Forces that are overstretched, underequipped and deployed too often without appropriate planning to the most professional and most flexible modern forces in the world, fully equipped for the challenges of the future.
Let me take each in turn—first, the MoD. Even though the MoD will get real growth in its budget next year, the department will face some significant challenges. So the MoD will cut its estate, dispose of unnecessary assets, renegotiate contracts with industry, and cut its management overheads, including reducing civilian numbers in the MoD by 25,000 by 2015. We will also adjust and simplify civilian and military allowances. The new operational allowance stays, but there will be difficult decisions, although these will be made much easier by the return of the Army from Germany. Taken together, all these changes in the MoD will save £4.7 billion over the spending review period. Getting to grips with procurement is vital. Take the Nimrod programme, for example. It has cost the British taxpayer over £3 billion. The number of aircraft to be procured has fallen from 21 to nine. The cost per aircraft has increased by over 200 per cent and it is over eight years late. Today, we are cancelling it.
Second is the move from military intervention to conflict prevention. Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the immense financial and human costs of large-scale military interventions. While we must retain the ability to undertake such operations, we must also get better at treating the causes of instability, not just dealing with the consequences. When we fail to prevent conflict and have to resort to military intervention, the costs are always far higher. We will expand our capability to deploy military and civilian teams to support stabilisation efforts and build capacity in other states, and we will double our investment in aid for fragile and unstable countries. By 2015, just under a third of the budget of the Department for International Development will be spent on conflict prevention.
Thirdly, we need to focus more of our resources not on the conventional threats of the past but on the unconventional threats of the future. Over the next four years, we will invest more than £500 million of new money in a national cybersecurity programme. This will significantly enhance our ability to detect and defend against cyberattacks and fix shortfalls in the critical cyberinfrastructure on which the whole country now depends. We will continue to prioritise tackling the terrorist threat, both from al-Qaeda and its affiliates and from dissident republicans in Northern Ireland. Although efficiencies will need to be made, we are giving priority to continuing investment in our world-class intelligence agencies and we will sharpen our readiness to act on civil emergencies, energy security, organised crime, counterproliferation and border security.
Fourthly, from Armed Forces that are overstretched and underequipped, we need to move to the most professional and most flexible modern forces in the world. We inherited an Army with scores of tanks in Germany that was until recently forced to face the deadly threat of improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan in Land Rovers designed for Northern Ireland. We have a Royal Air Force hampered in its efforts to support our forces overseas because of an ageing strategic airlift fleet, and a Royal Navy locked into a cycle of ever smaller numbers of ever more expensive ships. We cannot go on like this.
The White Paper we have published today sets out a clear vision for the future structure of our Armed Forces. The precise budgets will be agreed in future spending reviews. My own strong view is that this structure will require year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015. Between now and then, the Government are committed to the vision of 2020 set out in this review and will make decisions accordingly. We are also absolutely determined that the MoD will become much more commercially hard-headed in future and adopt a much more aggressive drive for efficiencies. The transition from the mess we inherited to that coherent future force will be a difficult process, especially in the current economic conditions, but we are determined to take the necessary steps.
Our ground forces will continue to have a vital operational role, so we will retain a large, well equipped Army, numbering around 95,500 by 2015—that is 7,000 fewer than today. We will continue to be one of the very few countries able to deploy a self-sustaining, properly equipped brigade-size force anywhere around the world and sustain it indefinitely if needs be; and we will be able to put 30,000 into the field for a major, one-off operation. In terms of the return from Germany, half our personnel should be back by 2015 and the remainder by 2020, and tanks and heavy artillery numbers will be reduced by around 40 per cent. But the introduction of 12 new heavy-lift Chinook helicopters, new protected mobility vehicles and enhanced communications equipment will make the Army more mobile, more flexible and better equipped to face future threats than ever before.
We will also review the structure of our Reserve Forces to ensure we make the most efficient use of their skills, experience and outstanding capabilities. That will be chaired by the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, General Houghton, with my honourable friend the Member for Canterbury, who serves in the reserves, acting as his deputy.
The Royal Navy will be similarly equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We are procuring a fleet of the most capable nuclear-powered hunter-killer Astute class submarines anywhere in the world. Able to operate in secret across the world’s oceans, these submarines will also feed vital strategic intelligence back to the UK and to our military forces across the world. We will complete the production of six Type 45 destroyers—one of the most effective multirole destroyers in the world. But we will also start a new programme to develop less expensive, more flexible, modern frigates. Total naval manpower will reduce to around 30,000 by 2015, and by 2020 the total number of frigates and destroyers will reduce from 23 to 19. But the fleet as a whole will be better able to take on today’s tasks, from tackling drug-trafficking and piracy to counterterrorism.
The Royal Air Force will also need to take some tough measures in the coming years to ensure a strong future. We have decided to retire the Harrier, which has served this country so well for 40 years. The Harrier is a remarkably flexible aircraft, but the military advice is that we should sustain the Tornado fleet, as that aircraft is more capable and better able to sustain operations in Afghanistan. RAF manpower will also reduce to around 33,000 by 2015. Inevitably, this will mean changes in the way in which some RAF bases are used but some are likely to be required by the Army as forces return from Germany. We owe it to communities up and down the country who have supported our Armed Forces for many years to engage with them before final decisions are taken.
By the 2020s, the Royal Air Force will be based around a fleet of two of the most capable fighter jets anywhere in the world: a modernised Typhoon fleet, fully capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, and the Joint Strike Fighter, the world’s most advanced multirole combat jet. This fleet will be complemented by a growing fleet of unmanned air vehicles, and the A400M transport aircraft, together with the existing fleet of C17 aircraft and the future strategic tanker aircraft, will allow us to fly our forces wherever they are needed in the world.
As we refocus our resources on the most likely threats to our security, so we will remain vigilant against all possible threats and retain the capability to react to the unexpected. So, as we cut back on tanks and heavy artillery, we will retain the ability to regenerate those capabilities if needs be. While in the short term the ability to deploy air power from the sea is unlikely to be essential, over the longer term we cannot assume that bases for land-based aircraft will always be available when and where we need them, so we will ensure the UK has carrier strike capability for the future.
This is another area where the last Government got it badly wrong. There is only one thing worse than spending money you do not have and that is buying the wrong things with it, and doing so in the wrong way. The carriers they ordered are unable to work effectively with our key defence partners, the United States or France. They had failed to plan so that carriers and planes would arrive at the same time. They ordered the more expensive, less capable version of the Joint Strike Fighter to fly off the carriers, and they signed contracts so that we were left in a situation where even cancelling the second carrier would cost more than to build it. I have this in written confirmation from BAE systems. That is the legacy that we inherited—an appalling legacy that the British people have every right to be angry about. But I say to them today that this Government will act in the national interest. We would not have started from here but the right decisions are now being made in the right way and for the right reasons.
It will take time to rectify these mistakes but this is how we will do so. We will build both carriers but hold one in extended readiness. We will fit the “cats and traps”—the catapults and arrester gear—to the operational carrier. That will allow our allies to operate from our operational carrier and allow us to buy the carrier version of the Joint Strike Fighter, which is more capable, less expensive, has a longer range and carries more weapons. We will also aim to bring the planes and carriers in at the same time.
We cannot dismiss the possibility that a major direct nuclear threat to the UK might re-emerge so we will retain and renew the ultimate insurance policy—our independent nuclear deterrent, which guards this country round the clock every day of the year. We have completed a value-for-money review of our future deterrent plans. As a result we can: extend the life of the Vanguard class so that the first replacement submarine is not required until 2028; reduce the number of operational launch tubes on those new submarines from 12 to eight; reduce the number of warheads on our submarines at sea from 48 to 40; and reduce our stockpile of operational warheads from fewer than 160 to fewer than 120. The next phase of the programme to renew our deterrent will start by the end of this year. As a result of the changes to the programme, the decision to start construction of the new submarines need not now be taken until around 2016. We will save around £1.2 billion and defer a further £2 billion of spending from the next 10 years. So yes, we will save money, but we will retain and renew a credible, continuous and effective minimum nuclear deterrent that will stand constant guard over this nation’s security.
Finally, the immense contribution of our highly professional Special Forces is necessarily largely unreported but their immense capability is recognised across the world. We are significantly increasing our investment in our Special Forces to ensure that they remain at the leading edge of operational capability prepared to meet current and future threats, and maintaining their unique and specialist role. This enhanced capability will allow them to remain at extremely high readiness for emergency operations through enhanced logistics, medical support and greater intelligence capability to support their operations.
We were left a situation where we had: a budget £38 billion overspent; Armed Forces at war, overstretched, underequipped and ill prepared for the challenges of the future; and the biggest budget deficit in post-war history. I believe that we have begun to deal with all those things, sorting out the legacy and fitting Britain’s defences for the future. I commend the Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I apologise to the House for arriving slightly late for the Statement. I would not wish to have shown any disrespect to the House.
I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister in the other place and join him in paying tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces. I also pay tribute to their families, who sustain their loved ones as they prepare for, serve on and recover from operational service. We must always ensure that their interests are protected.
I thank the Leader of the House, and through him the Prime Minister and the Government, for advance notice of his Statement—advance notice in today’s papers, in yesterday’s papers, in Sunday’s papers and in Saturday’s papers. It almost did not matter that we in the Opposition got actual advance notice of the Prime Minister’s Statement a full 10 minutes before he made it. However, I must record my thanks to the Secretary of State for Defence for his oral briefing. I am extremely grateful. I have to say to the Leader that, as someone who takes Parliament seriously, I think that the process of announcement of this review and the way in which it has come out have been shambolic. I hope that the Government will learn lessons from this.
On issues of national defence, we will always seek to be constructive. I believe that the Government approach the challenge of national defence as all Governments have done—with the right intentions—and it does neither our politics nor our armed services any good to imply anything different. The cuts announced today clearly represent a significant reduction, but what matters is not only the amount we spend but what the spending does to help ensure the defence and security of our country. That is what I want to focus on today.
First, I remind the Leader of the House of the concern expressed by the Defence Secretary in the leaked letter to the Prime Minister, that,
“this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR (Strategic Defence and Security Review)”.
He will know very well that the Defence Secretary is not alone in expressing this concern. It was shared by the Select Committee in the other place and, I believe, by many Members of this House, including noble and gallant Members. I look forward to hearing from some of them this afternoon, because I share those concerns. Is it not instructive that the strategic defence review in 1998 was carried out over a much longer timescale, with much greater consultation and in-depth study? Can the Leader of the House respond to the widespread perception that this review was driven by the short-term cuts in tomorrow's spending review and that it would have been better to have a longer-term strategic defence review?
I ask the Leader of the House about the most immediate and pressing issue: Afghanistan. I reiterate that we support the mission in Afghanistan and will work in a bipartisan way with the Government to both stabilise the country and bring our troops home safely. Have the Government received specific assurances from the Chief of the Defence Staff that no decision announced today will undermine or disadvantage in any way our military operations there?
I also raise the issue of extra helicopters, which those on the Benches opposite highlighted repeatedly in the previous Parliament. Today, the Government are, I believe, announcing a cut in the number of additional helicopters. Why have the Government done that?
I am sure that the Leader of the House agrees that a key part of preparing for the challenges of the future is the targeting of limited national resources at the most pressing threats. Yesterday's national security strategy identified terrorism as a tier-1 threat. Given that today's announcement forms only a partial response, can he assure the House that nothing announced today or tomorrow in the changes to the Home Office budget will undermine or weaken our ability to counter terrorism in all its forms?
On the issue of preparing our Armed Forces for future challenges, we agree that there are some opportunities to make savings in capabilities that were better suited to the challenges of the Cold War, such as in the number of Challenger tanks and heavy artillery, but I seek reassurance from the Government that they are content that the decisions made today do not compromise our ability to support current operations and defend our interests around the world. In particular, what does the capability gap arising from the scrapping of our Harriers and the withdrawal of “Ark Royal” mean for our force projection, which was made much of in the national security strategy, and our ability to defend our overseas territories? In that context, can the noble Lord also reassure the House that it really is the case that the best strategic decision for the next decade is for Britain to have aircraft carriers without aircraft? I heard what the noble Lord said about aircraft carriers, and I am sure that some of my noble friends will want to set the record straight.
I ask the Leader of the House about two things that he did not mention in repeating the Prime Minister's Statement. Can he confirm what he did not tell your Lordships' House: that page 19 of the review sets out a one-third reduction in the number of troops that Britain can deploy on both a short-term and an enduring basis? Will he take this opportunity to respond to the huge disappointment that there will be in south Wales following the decision announced in a Written Ministerial Statement in relation to the defence training college at St Athan, which the Prime Minister personally promised would go ahead, and confirm that, notwithstanding that action, St Athan will still have a future as a training facility for our services?
There will be concerns that this review has failed to address strategically the important questions about the future of our nuclear deterrent. I believe that there is widespread agreement in this House on supporting the retention of a nuclear deterrent alongside progress in the multilateral disarmament talks. I must tell the Leader of the House that there will be concern that the Government have announced a whole range of decisions on Trident, despite telling us that it was not part of the strategic defence review. Will he confirm that by choosing delay, the Government have created an unfunded spending commitment in the defence budget in the next Parliament—precisely the problem that the Prime Minister told us he wants to get away from in procurement?
We will help the Leader of the House, the Prime Minister and their Government as they seek to do what is best for our country's security. But we on this side of the House do not have to tell him that many people will believe that this review is a profound missed opportunity. This is a spending review dressed up as a defence review—shambolically conducted, hastily prepared and not credible as a strategic blueprint for our future defence needs. On this side of the House we will support the Government where we can, but we will also give the Government's strategy serious scrutiny and, where necessary and appropriate, we will subject it to the principled and responsible opposition that it deserves.
It is, frankly, rich for noble Lords opposite to jeer about reading press briefings given not by members of the Government but by others. You only have to read the memoirs written by former distinguished Secretaries of State from the former Labour Government to understand just how much backbiting there was in the Government of whom the noble Baroness was a member.
That is a very interesting point but it has no bearing on the questions that I asked the noble Lord. I would say to him that one of the most important strategies on the security of this country was published just yesterday, but the Government did not grace this Chamber with their presence so that we could hold them accountable. However, we did hear the Home Secretary on the “Today” programme, and we were fully briefed about it in the press.
My Lords, I would not have mentioned leaks if the noble Baroness had not spent the first two minutes of her reply asking me questions on them.
As for the two reviews that we have published, yesterday we published the national security strategy, which I commend to your Lordships. It pointed the way for today's announcement on the strategic defence and security review, and the entire purpose was for the Prime Minister to make a comprehensive Statement today. Again I accuse noble Lords opposite. They never did a comprehensive review combining the strategic overview and the defence strategy in a single document. If they had done so in the round then we would not have been left in the mess that we now have.
The noble Baroness asks why we did it so quickly. I say to her: why did they take so long to repeat the exercise that they did in 1998? It was 12 years. Maybe they were concentrating on it but never came to a conclusion. This Government were pushed into action because of the appalling inheritance—the legacy—that we have discovered: the £38 billion overspend that will have to be paid for over the course of the next few years.
On an area which I think the noble Baroness and I will agree on—our role in Afghanistan—I can confirm that nothing in today’s announcement will have an impact on our efforts in Afghanistan. We believe that the helicopters that we have, building on the announcements that the previous Government made, are enough, and we have announced today that we will buy 12 additional heavy-lift Chinook helicopters which in the long term will make a substantial difference.
On the future of St Athan, as announced by the Secretary of State for Defence this morning, the defence training rationalisation programme has, regrettably, been terminated. However, given the significant investment in the area, St Athan remains ideally placed as a future site for defence training.
Let me turn to the capability gap, as it is called, on the carrier strike force. We may well not have been driven to the decisions that we have made about this if we had not found things as they were when we came into government in May 2010. We believe that there is a military case for a carrier strike capability, but not one that relies on the differently configured Joint Strike Fighters. That is why we have decided to invest even more money into making sure that there is a “cat and trap” capability on one of these aircraft carriers. That means that we will be able to co-operate with our allies in NATO and the EU and with the French and the Americans, who will be able to use our platform. In the short term, we believe that we have the overflying rights and the land-based runways to be able to continue to maintain air cover. In the long term, of course, none of us knows whether that will be possible: hence the reason why we have maintained the carrier programme.
My Lords, first, I should like to ask my noble friend whether we can have a major debate on this review in this House. Clearly, 20 minutes following a Statement on a matter of this importance is unsatisfactory. I am sure that the House would welcome a full debate. The coalition Government had a difficult task, given that the carriers had been irresponsibly ordered. Industry quite clearly once again has run rings around the MoD and the previous Government. On these Benches, we welcome the deferment of the main gate decision on Trident, the extra expenditure on our special forces and cybersecurity, the focus on Afghanistan and the pulling back from Germany.
I have four questions to ask my noble friend. First, the Prime Minister wants us to remain “a major military power”. Is not 2 per cent of gross domestic product just too thin to maintain that capability? Secondly, what will the savings be on the phasing out of our Harrier force? Thirdly, is it not time to look more imaginatively at our Reserve Forces? One only has to look at what America does with its National Guard. We should start thinking outside the box, which, surely, would link in with the Prime Minister’s belief in a big society. Finally, sadly, very little in this Statement refers to or discusses co-operation with France. Will my noble friend say a little more about that?
My Lords, are we a major military power? Of course we are. We are the sixth richest nation in the world. We will have the fourth largest military budget in the world. With the modernisation that is taking place, we will be extremely powerful and will be able to reach across the globe. The 2 per cent figure of GDP is the NATO target. We will continue to meet that target throughout the next two years. I do not have the exact figure for the Harrier savings, but they are substantial: possibly around £1 billion. In the Statement, the Prime Minister announced that there would be a comprehensive study of the reserves by General Houghton, and it is entirely right that he should do so.
I am sure the entire House will gratefully receive the information that there will be a debate on the Floor of this House. I understand that it has been pencilled in for 12 November and I hope that interested noble Lords will come to it. We hope to make further announcements shortly on France, but we seek to create a stronger partnership with that country.
My Lords, having done, with honourable colleagues, a strategic defence review that was consultative, inclusive, policy-led and convincing, perhaps I can say to the Leader of the House that I know a strategic review, I have done a strategic review, and this is not a strategic review.
Instead, will it not be seen by the country as a cobbled-together exercise on the back of a letter from the Treasury calling for deep and random cuts in the defence budget? As such, it is unworthy of those who serve in Her Majesty’s forces today. Is he not concerned about promoting a policy review that will have aircraft carriers without aircraft, an Army that is at war reduced by 7,000 operational troops, and really nothing at all said about how we will blend in and mix with our NATO allies to meet the challenges of the future? I also ask about procurement, of which the Leader of the House, and I daresay the Prime Minister as well, are making much at present. Why have they called for yet another review? Last year, Mr Bernard Grey made a comprehensive and detailed study of the procurement crisis in the Ministry of Defence. It was a clear analysis and the recommendations were accepted. Why has his offer to help the Government been completely snubbed? Finally, on the cancellation of the Nimrod programme, what is going to happen to maritime reconnaissance capability in this country?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, was blessed as a Secretary of State for Defence in that he was the first Labour Secretary of State for Defence to follow on from a Conservative Government, under which the public finances were properly looked after. He was able to make the money and take the time. That luxury was not afforded to this coalition Administration when taking over after 13 years. If there had been a little more strategic economic thinking by the last Government, we would not be in the state that we are in.
The noble Lord is right, however, to ask questions about procurement. We have uncovered a number of issues and there will need to be major studies on precisely how this is done. I hope that we will be able to say more about that in our debate next month.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a non-executive director of WS Atkins and a number of pro bono roles with various service charities and organisations. I cannot say that I welcome the Statement on this cash-driven defence review, and I certainly cannot possibly dignify it with the word “strategic”. It will be viewed with dismay by our hardworking and operationally pressed sailors, marines, soldiers and airmen. Can the Leader of the House inform noble Lords, with regard to naval reductions in the destroyer frigate force levels, what operational tasks currently being undertaken by an already overstretched fleet will be concomitantly dropped and how this will resonate with our allies?
My Lords, we believe that the newly configured naval forces will be able to do all the standing tasks they have been asked to do. The Navy will have the helicopters, the new frigates, the submarines, the renewed Trident and the carriers that are being built. Of all the Armed Forces, I would hope that the Navy will feel able to support the decisions that have been taken.
My Lords, I remind the noble Lord of the bitter disappointment that is being felt at the decision not to proceed with the defence training academy at St Athan. This is not so much a strategic defence review, but more a butchery of our defence capability. I was a Defence Minister when we did a lot of work in preparing for this academy, which was intended to provide a world-class training facility for our Armed Forces, as they rightly deserve. Even in the most difficult times, it is utterly insane to eat our seed corn when we desperately need to invest in training for the future. Will the Leader of the House go back to his Cabinet colleagues and say that, so far as St Athan is concerned, they need to think again?
My Lords, I have already mentioned the case of St Athan. This decision comes despite strenuous efforts being made by the MoD in helping the consortium make the project affordable and in developing the commercial structure necessary within the given time. I should make it clear that this decision was not taken as part of the SDSR and that the MoD still intends to move towards greater collective training on a reduced training estate.
My Lords, this review has surely shown that we are overdue a serious national conversation about the identity of our country and its interests in a dark, volatile and troubled world. Does the Leader of the House agree that a nationwide debate on the questions raised by the review would be much welcomed and long overdue? A national conversation on defence and security issues may indeed have little impact on this review, but it might help to frame and shape its successor.
I agree with the right reverend Prelate. In the national security strategy document, which was published yesterday afternoon, there is a page on national security and British values which I think he would find interesting and like to play a part in. There should be a discussion, a debate and what he called a big conversation with the general public about these matters because they affect us all.
In paying tribute to our service men and women, I have to say that they deserve a little better than this in terms of the time spent on, the depth of and the range of consultation. On the presentation of the argument, I would much prefer not to have the party politics in it.
I wish to make a number of points in response to the contribution of the Leader of the House because he got one or two things wrong. First, on the carriers, can he confirm the sequence by which the Harrier jump jets will be removed? He may not know it but our present carriers are actually through-deck cruisers with a very short runway. If you did not have the short take-off and vertical landing aircraft, other aircraft would fall off the carrier’s edge on leaving and arriving. This is why we ordered the variant from the Americans. Can the noble Lord confirm that the Harrier jump jets are being phased out? If they are, we will not have anything which can go on the present aircraft carriers. Given that the whole point of an aircraft carrier is to carry aircraft which can leave and join it, it would appear that we will have a massive capability gap.
Secondly, will the noble Lord respond to the point about the reduction of our troop numbers? I confess that I thought it was grossly unwise to announce in advance to the Taliban and everyone else when we intended to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. It reinforces that error when we tell them not only that we have the option of withdrawing but that we are reducing our numbers so that we have to withdraw. Is it an absolute commitment to reduce troop numbers irrespective of conditions on the ground in Afghanistan?
On cyber, I welcome the £0.5 billion increase provided that it does not include money that is meant to be allocated to the intercept modernisation programme. If it does, it will be grossly inadequate and will completely undermine our capacity to mount the surveillance of communications in and out of this country which has been the basis of our counterterrorist intelligence efforts.
Finally, will the noble Lord confirm that, although this is the biggest reduction in our fighting capability since 1945, every single element of additional fighting power that he mentioned today was ordered by the previous Government?
I am delighted that the noble Lord welcomes the announcement on dealing with cyberterrorism. It is an important new threat which we take seriously. However, I do not agree with his remarks which gave the impression that there was no consultation and no discussion with anyone at any stage. Of course there was. There had to be in order to be able to make the decisions that we have made today.
We have been in Afghanistan since 2003; we are aiming to leave by 2015. Given that we will have been there for 12 years and that we have put enormous resources into training the local police and the army, it is fair enough to have given a five-year warning of our intention to leave. However, we will not leave Afghanistan completely. DfID, with its enormous budget, will clearly wish to play a role.
There will be a gap in air cover after the retirement of the Harriers, which are due to be disbanded by April 2011. We take no pleasure in making that decision; it means that one of our carriers will immediately be withdrawn. However, we believe that our land-based runways and overflying rights will give us the global reach by jet aircraft that we need.
My Lords, many of us will have found it very difficult to listen to the chastisements that my noble friend has received from the other side of the House when some noble Lords here bear a very heavy responsibility for the mess that we are now in. Previous Ministers placed orders with money that they did not have. That now threatens employment and has made inevitable the Statement which my noble friend has had to repeat today. Anybody who studied this matter with any interest knew that, once those carriers were ordered—I think that it was in the time of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson—it became a shambolic programme from then on. We still do not have any carriers. Everybody knew the pressure, problems and lumpiness that it would create for the naval budget. The difficulties that my noble friend and the Prime Minister have had to cope with are simply enormous. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, will know that his strategic defence review never said that we were going to be in Afghanistan or that we were going to fight a second Iraq war. The then Government made no adequate attempt to adjust the policy and the resources to meet those new demands. We now have to get the resources in place based on our best estimate of the risks that we face and then, if the situation changes and the unexpected happens, be ready to change as well.
My Lords, the House will know just how grateful I am to hear my noble friend, with all the common sense that he speaks born of experience and of having given these warnings over many years while we were in opposition. I entirely agree with him that we must now look to the future, deal with the damage of the past and focus our best resources on getting the best result.
My Lords, I am afraid that I have to share the view of a number of noble Lords and, I think, a number of people across the country that this review is not really strategic but is cost driven. However, we are where we are and a Government have to govern. Therefore, they have to explain what they are going to do. It is no good having some political knockabout about what might have gone on in the past.
I shall focus on the carriers. I happen to have an interest in them in that I have spent quite a large amount of my life on aircraft carriers, so I think that I know quite a lot about them. I am delighted by the decision that we will go ahead with the two new aircraft carriers. That fits in exactly with the view that I think all of us have of the United Kingdom; namely, that we need global reach and that we are still a great power. A lot of people might deny that, but I argue that we are. We are one of the six richest nations in the world. We have commitments all around the world; we have huge investments around the world; we run global shipping; we are an important and great power. There is no doubt that, when it comes to flexibility and capability for global reach, aircraft carriers have it in spades. Therefore, I find it extraordinary that a member of the coalition should say, “Well, we only got another one because they were bloody well ordered and it was going to cost so much”. It was a good decision to go for them, but I am concerned by the inconsistencies in what is being done.
The Leader of the House mentioned that we will put cats and traps in only one carrier. That means that, for a percentage of the time—I would be interested to know what his assessment of it is—there will be no carrier available because, if you have one of something, it cannot always be there. You can bet your bottom dollar that, at the time when you really need it, it will be deep in refit; that is my experience. Therefore, I believe we should have cats and traps on both of them and run both of them.
There is also an inconsistency in how we go from where we are today to there. In a hospital where there were old-type scanners, one would not dream of saying, “We’ll get new ones in 10 years but we will stop using the old ones for 10 years”. That would be bonkers, and it is bonkers to get rid of the Harriers. The noble Lord says that it was a military judgment that the Harriers and not the Tornados should go, but the Harriers’ job cannot be done by any other aircraft while the Tornados’ can. I should be interested to know why that decision was made.
Finally, the Leader of the House mentioned DfID. I find it extraordinary that we give money to India and China, which are developing carrier programmes, yet we have difficulty in funding ourselves. Will we continue doing this in future?
My Lords, to take the last point first, the DfID budget is protected and substantial and was built up by the previous Administration. That department needs to decide how to make its priorities in view of the Government’s overall priorities. On the whole, I welcomed the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead. He certainly started off in a very positive light. He asked one straightforward question about the carriers and the cats and traps. We have given a commitment to putting cats and traps on to one carrier—that will go ahead—but we have not yet decided finally on what should happen to the second one. We do not need to make that decision now but, when we do, it will be widely announced to the House.
My Lords, the noble Lord needs to calm himself down. It is well precedented over many years that 20 minutes of Back-Bench time is allowed after a Statement. I know that this is a considerable and important Statement, which is why the usual channels have already agreed that there should be a whole day’s debate devoted to this subject. I know that many noble Lords wanted to speak, including three former Secretaries of State for Defence whom I can see on the other side. We should hear from them all, and I look forward to the opportunity. But we should now carry on with the next business. That would be in accordance with our rules.
This is a self-regulating House and the Leader of the House has made my point for me in pointing out all the people who want to speak. Just because we have always done something in the past does not mean to say that we do not have to change it in future.
My Lords, of course this is a self-regulating House, but it is not an anarchists’ House. We do not believe in anarchy; we do not make it up as we go along. We have broad rules and a broad framework, which are supported by most noble Lords in the House.
The House is due to finish at six o’clock tonight and everyone will be going home because there is no other business. This is the most important issue. Tomorrow we will have a Statement on the comprehensive spending review. Will we get only 20 minutes on that? That would be absolutely outrageous. This House needs to pull itself together and make some decisions and not just do something because we have always done it.