Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of whether they have sufficient manpower and the right balance of regular and reserve forces within the Armed Forces in order to meet the United Kingdom’s current national and international responsibilities and requirements.
My Lords, in opening this evening’s short debate, perhaps I may first thank those noble Lords who are taking part, albeit somewhat later than we had anticipated, and other noble Lords who have indicated their interest in this question but who are not able to be in their places. To me this level of participation underlines the importance of the matters we are considering.
I am also aware that this short debate comes hard on the heels of the Defence Reform Bill, which has now passed all its stages in your Lordships’ House, and that the question of manning the Army Reserve was the subject of some discussion. Indeed, I spoke on the subject during the Committee stage and was minded to table an amendment at the Report stage. However, I make no apology for returning to this key topic, and I do so in the context of both regular and reserve manning, not just for the Army but for the Royal Navy, the Royal Marines and the Royal Air Force, too.
I believe that this subject can be properly addressed only if it is done so in its full context. It seems to me that, when the coalition Government took their decisions on the size and shape of the Armed Forces at the time of their strategic defence and security review in 2010, they did so against the background of the way the world looked then and in the midst of the economic crisis; we were in the early days of the current age of austerity. In headline terms, a decision was taken to prioritise defence equipment over manpower—a not altogether unreasonable decision given the long lead times in defence procurement and the need to preserve British jobs in the defence industries. However, in order to balance the books, manpower reductions of 30,000 personnel across the three armed services were required, which inevitably would fall most heavily on the Army, but they also fell with considerable impact on the other services, in particular on our ability to man the fleet both now and in the future, especially when the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and the new offshore patrol vessels come into service.
As regards the Army, the mitigation of the risks inherent in a 20,000 cut in Regular Army manpower would be the recruitment and training of an Army Reserve of 30,000, giving an overall integrated Army manpower strength of 112,000. Put like that, this looks to be a reasonable outcome, but doubt has remained as to whether the Regular Army component of just 82,000 of that overall total is sufficient for the nation’s needs, and whether the target of 30,000 trained reservists to round out Army 2020 is even achievable.
When this policy was announced, it was originally stated that the major draw-down of regular manpower would not occur until the strength of the reserves had risen to or near their projected target. However, after a reworking of the finances within the MoD, this policy was changed, and in the case of the Army the draw-down to 82,000 regulars has now been very nearly completed with little upward shift in reserve manning. Noble Lords have observed previously in this House that this shift of policy carries an acknowledged level of risk. Is the Minister confident that this risk is being managed and mitigated, both for now and in the foreseeable future?
I raise this question at this time because, with the planned culmination of our operations in Afghanistan—linked to a general feeling of war weariness and war wariness given our recent experiences in both Iraq and Afghanistan—it could be argued that concerns about the size of the Army today are theoretical rather than immediate. However, that view overlooks the current strategic landscape. While there is neither a logic nor an appetite for intervention in Syria, nor a treaty obligation requiring military intervention in Ukraine, both situations stand as stark examples of how the strategic landscape can change. Predicting the future is notoriously hard, and strategic shocks happen: the invasion of the Falkland Islands, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and 9/11 were all unpredicted events that had major consequences for our defence and security policies and capabilities. It is often said about predicting the future that the trick is not to be so far wrong that, when the future reveals itself, you cannot adapt quickly to the new circumstances. Circumstances have changed since 2010, and are changing at the present time. They are plain to see, provided that there is a willingness to look.
I believe that these strategic changes change our previous risk calculations. The Russian takeover of Crimea may not have been to President Putin’s timing, but it certainly suits his agenda and aspirations. Whether his ambition reaches into eastern Ukraine or elsewhere only he knows, but with a Russia resurgent both in confidence and military capability in many observers’ judgment this is a poor moment for the US-led West to be weak in both resolve and muscle. Diplomacy and economic sanctions may for now be the right response to President Putin over Ukraine, but he will look through those things to see from where the real check on his actions might come. Russia has long been the ally of Syria. Mr Putin will have seen the UN and the EU virtually powerless to impose their will on President Assad, and he will be further encouraged. Parallels with earlier periods of history might or might not be useful, but it can be argued that uncomfortable shadows of the 1930s are starting to become visible.
Meanwhile, with economies still struggling to recover from the epic downturn in 2008, there is a lurking temptation to curb public expenditure further, as trailed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his recent Budget speech. However, to remove further resources from defence would be sending exactly the wrong message at this time. On the contrary, there is a growing argument that the international landscape is more challenging than in 2010 and that we should consider making a statement that greater military capability must underpin our diplomacy and the other instruments of our foreign and security policy. The projected 1% uplift in defence equipment procurement spending from 2015, though welcome, will do nothing to improve regular defence manning levels, which, without a further uplift in spending, will in all probability face further contraction. Such a conclusion is mathematically almost inevitable.
Furthermore, there is genuine concern as to whether we can in fact recruit and train 30,000 members of the Army Reserve. Although we are only some six months into a five-year programme of recruitment, I am not alone in believing that current circumstances bring forward the need to alter the regular reserve balance within our Army and increase the size of the Regular Army, and probably the regular component of the Royal Navy as well. There is an increasingly strong case for increasing the manning of our regular Armed Forces by some 5,000 posts. Not only would that be a useful increase in capability in itself, but it would send a clear signal that the UK Government take their defence responsibilities seriously, not only on behalf of their own citizens but on behalf of our EU partners and NATO allies too.
Noble Lords will have read this morning’s comments by the Secretary-General of NATO calling for an increase in defence spending. Although our Government will argue that the United Kingdom still has the fourth—or is it now the fifth?—largest defence budget, it is proportionately down in terms of GDP from even five years ago, and represents a funding level that provides a lesser degree of defence capability than five years ago. Will the Minister confirm that, whereas in 2008 our land forces were able to deploy 10 combat brigades, going around two five-brigade cycles, conducting difficult operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously, that capability is no longer available and will not be under the plans for Army 2020? If the Minister does confirm this, will he further confirm that this is not because of equipment shortages but due to the lack of manpower, be it regular or reserve?
What is to be done? Much as I would like to see the 5,000 uplift in regular manpower across the three armed services that I am calling for, I am aware of the political calculation that there are no votes in defence, so I do not see this uplift happening before the next general election. However, talking widely with many people—within your Lordships’ House and without—that one meets, I wonder whether that calculation is correct. Are there no votes in defence? Indeed, are there no votes in providing adequately for our national security? I am not so sure.
At the very least, would the Minister use his good offices with the government Chief Whip to programme a full debate on defence and security issues in this House in the next Session of Parliament? Surely such a debate would be a major contribution to the strategic defence and security review that will follow the next election. Surely the people of this country deserve to hear the arguments set out clearly before them. At the end of the day, it is the votes of the people of this country that will determine the next Government, and it is the first duty of that Government to provide fully for the defence of the realm and the safety of our citizens, not forgetting the well-being of the members of the Armed Forces and their families, who provide that defence and our safety. The case for re-examining our previous assumptions on military manning and the levels of risk that we are taking is strong, and, if anything, getting stronger.
My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, for providing this opportunity, albeit a truncated one, to raise this important subject. I echo his last comment and hope that it will be possible early in the next Session to hold a much more substantial debate on these important issues, not least given the troubled times in which we now may be finding ourselves. His Question asks the Government for,
“their assessment of whether they have sufficient manpower and the right balance of regular and reserve forces…to meet the United Kingdom’s current national and international responsibilities and requirements”.
As he rightly says, current responsibilities may look different from those of a few months ago.
In looking at this, many noble Lords will have had the advantage of reading the Defence Select Committee report, Future Army 2020. My first point is that the Secretary of State, in his answers to that Select Committee about the matters in the report, makes no bones about a determination to find a particular financial package into which defence requirements and defence equipment and resources have to fit. That is not a pleasant position to be in, but his approach is certainly much more sensible than to embark on more ambitious proposals for which funds are inadequate. Our Armed Forces are entitled to expect some measure of certainty that what we are embarking on can be properly funded and is therefore likely to be properly implemented. In that sense, recognising the need for austerity, I support him.
However, I share the noble Lord’s concern about the recruitment of reserves. I look with particular interest to what small firms are saying about making employees available for service in the reserves. Although they recognise the benefits of it to the individuals concerned, two-fifths of the companies that are open to providing reserves had reservations about their ability to help under the new structure. That is a serious matter. I therefore welcome the undertaking by the Secretary of State that he will keep this matter under close review.
I was interested in the exchange between Colonel Bob Stewart, the Secretary of State and the Chief of the General Staff when Bob Stewart asked for a short answer to the question: what was the strength and what was the weakness of Future Army 2020? General Wall said that its strength was the capability that we are getting for the resources allocated. That was a pretty guarded statement. Its weakness was that some areas would have less resilience than we would need, which obviously is a matter of concern.
The other element that I noticed coming through very strongly is that we are just talking about regulars and reserves here. However, noble Lords will have noticed the emphasis that is also given to contractors. There is undoubtedly a determination to make maximum use of contractors and contracted manpower to help fill perhaps some of the gaps in that respect. I welcome that because I have certainly found in the past that it can be very effective and very efficient—particularly, for example, bringing in contractors from the actual manufacturers to maintain and service important equipment.
I will not talk in detail about this, but the other concern I have is about rebasing from Germany, where quality of accommodation will be a major challenge for the Ministry of Defence. I hope that our returning forces will have the quality of accommodation to which they are entitled as they come out of some very good facilities in Germany.
The general view in the Select Committee report seemed to be that the question of further intervention was not one of if but of when and where. I was not in favour of intervention in Syria but I recognise that there will almost certainly be other cases. We are already involved in Somalia and Mali, and are helping with training in Libya. This activity of conflict prevention and capability building by training and helping countries to help themselves will continue to be a very important role for our Armed Forces. I welcome it from their point of view because, with the end of activities in Afghanistan, there will now be a period of what may appear to be rather dull service activity, and it is important that the Armed Forces have real and worthwhile activities.
As the noble Lord said, we are in a potentially dangerous time. We cannot be sure where the latest news coming out of Ukraine might lead. We hope that good sense will prevail, but at the same time we need to keep a very close eye on our resources while also keeping the new changes under close review. I welcome this opportunity which the noble Lord has given us to raise this point and to urge the Government to be ready to have a further, rather longer and proper discussion of these matters in the new Session of Parliament.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, on bringing this issue before the House. I agree with a very large amount of what he said, in particular that we need a longer debate on this. I wrote to the Chief Whip the other week, saying that we needed a debate on our relationship with Russia, because it is far more important than just Ukraine. The countries of eastern Europe and the Russians need to hear what we are saying here and in the House of Commons through their defence attachés and political advisers. It is very important that they hear that.
My own view, which I spelt out on 18 March in a debate on Ukraine, is that this is far more serious and long running than we are allowing ourselves to believe at the moment. What is implied in the Question before the House is whether we think the balance between our reserve and other forces is right and whether it meets the current needs of the day. I suppose the short answer to that is that it might, if we are very lucky. However, I do not think that we are going to be that lucky. The Government and both Houses have to look much more seriously at what is happening with defence at the moment and at our relationship with Russia. It is not just about Ukraine. What President Putin has done is to bring out the Russian nationalist card and, in doing that, he has given a great boost to morale in Russia. As I said on 18 March, I understand why Russia feels marginalised and undervalued. I understand all of that, and the disastrous history that it had throughout the 20th century, but the way it is being dealt with is profoundly serious.
Commentators tend to focus just on the issue of what Russia will do in Ukraine, but there are other questions here. It is about the Russian population in the other east European states. If they choose to say, “We want to have our voice heard, we will do what they are doing in Ukraine or did in Crimea”, it would not just be about a confrontation between NATO and Russia—serious though that would be—but about whether some of those states began to disintegrate, rather in the format of the former Yugoslavia but without the religious factors that were present there. You cannot underestimate that. If NATO is then required to undertake a policing operation, or something rather more than that, you would have to say that the balance between reserve and volunteer forces is probably wrong and that reducing the size of our Armed Forces at the moment is also wrong. I have no wish to return to the Cold War—and even less wish to talk about hot wars—but when you are in as uncertain a situation as this, reducing your defences is a mistake. We ought to be doing exactly what the United States and one or two other NATO countries are doing, which is building a military presence in some of those east European countries. The United States has a new air squadron in some of them and the Italians have deployed a ship off the Baltic states.
Can the Minister say in his response what we are doing? There needs to be a clear message that we have a military impact there and we want to make that known. At the same time we must have very serious discussions with the Russians about how we address some of their genuine and understandable concerns, and how we address the issue of minority Russian groups in those east European states. There are important arguments to be had there. They are not just about the military balance, but without the military balance bit you risk things getting out of control.
Often we look at Mr Putin and think that he is in some way a master planner of the old KGB variety. I am sure that he is of the old KGB variety, but I am not so sure that he is quite the master planner and certainly not sure that he is in control of events in the way that he likes to be. Once you release that Russian nationalist card there is no controlling it. That is why I say to the Minister that we need to think about the strategic defence review due next year. We need to start thinking about it right now. The debate on defence would be an important part of that. A deployment of some type of military forces in east Europe would be welcome. I would be in favour of some increase in military expenditure in order to meet the needs that we are facing.
This is not just about recreating a Cold War situation. It is about recognising that the present situation is far more serious and ongoing and that in such a situation you need to have preparation on the military side while developing a different diplomatic response from what we have had in the recent past.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, on securing this debate and support the broad thrust of his remarks.
We have a backdrop of a world sadly full of conflict and uncertainty, and one with increased Russian and Chinese defence expenditure. Unfortunately, in the west we are going in the other direction. Last week General Sir Richard Shirreff, our outgoing NATO Deputy Supreme Commander, was quoted as saying:
“The sort of defence cuts we have seen … have really hollowed out the British armed forces and I think that people need to sit up and recognise that”.
The plan to reduce the Regular Forces and significantly increase our reserves presented a real opportunity to enthuse and capture the country’s imagination. Some months ago in this Chamber I recommended that our reserves be retitled something more exciting, such as the “Prince’s Royal Reserves”. Instead, we have continued with the dull, stale words “reserve” and “reserves”. It is no wonder that there are problems with reserve recruitment.
Like other noble Lords, I would welcome a full defence debate, but I want to take this opportunity to ask a few brief questions, most of which I have given notice of to my noble friend. Does he believe that we have sufficient escort vessels to fulfil our international responsibilities? Nominally we have 19 escorts, of which probably only a dozen are operational. On carriers, it is suggested that additional costs above the latest baseline of £6.2 billion will be shared 50:50 between the private sector and the MoD. Is that the situation? Could he also tell us where we are with the Crowsnest radar? Will that be ready in time?
On the next generation of Type 26 frigates, is the plan still to buy 13 and are we still on target to complete the final supplier selection for major items by the end of this year? When is the maritime reconnaissance asset, ScanEagle, launched from the back of ships, likely to come into service? On UAVs, what is the state of play with Watchkeeper, which had its first full-flight training test last month? Generally on UAVs, does he agree with a former Israeli Air Force commander who said recently:
“The attack helicopter is finished”,
and does he agree that unmanned air-to-air combat is a realistic prospect within 15 years? Does my noble friend believe that we are spending enough on UAV development and procurement?
On the Air Force, there are suggestions that the Joint Strike Fighter development in the United States is slipping further behind schedule. Can my noble friend comment on that? It is clearly so important to us in this country. On the Army, leaving aside Special Forces, what is our current attitude to parachute training? How many service personnel are being trained each year?
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, for giving us this opportunity to discuss this important matter. I also take the opportunity to pay tribute to all those who with great commitment, and sometimes great cost and self-sacrifice, are putting their lives on the line for us and for the defence of our nation. It is important to remember some of those who are now on active service.
I shall refrain from commenting on technical military matters and raise two specific points quite briefly. First, as well as ensuring that our country is properly defended, it is vital that we maintain the capacity to contribute to the increasing need for peacekeeping in our world, and not least with the United Nations. These missions are essential if we are to protect civilians when hostilities break out and stop them escalating. They are vital if we are to create the conditions for rebuilding peace and for establishing strong democratic Governments.
Britain already supports a number of UN peacekeeping missions: in Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. These are long-term commitments. They do not just go away; they eat up many of our resources. After the United States, Japan, France and Germany, we are the largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping budget. As one of the largest economies in the world, we have a moral duty to provide help where we can if we are trying to create new alliances and to help those places that are facing really serious problems and divisions.
Noble Lords have already referred to the fact that world events can change rapidly—Ukraine—but of course we also sometimes look to our Armed Forces to help when there are emergencies in this country. It was not many weeks ago that parts of our country were facing flooding and we were very grateful to be able to call upon them to help us in those situations.
We need spare capacity and resources that are flexible. I have no doubt that Reserve Forces are an important element in this, as long as the increase in Reserve Forces is not used as an excuse to see them as a replacement for endlessly cutting our Regular Forces.
My second point is that if we are going to see some fundamental changes in the balance of how we sort out our defences, not least by a serious increase in the number of reservists and the use of Reserve Forces, we need to ensure that resources are refocused to support the reservists in particular. The Regular Forces have the huge advantage of being based on or close to military establishments. There are opportunities for their families to meet and offer mutual support. Local schools are always alert to the huge stresses put on the children—whom we must not forget—of those who are actively serving. Some of the excellent charities and support services are close at hand; indeed, chaplaincy is usually available on those military sites. But for many reservists, there is no similar support in the immediate locality when they return, especially if they live in rural areas far from large urban centres.
It has been hugely encouraging to hear about the impact and success of the Armed Forces community covenants. When the covenant was signed in my home town of St Albans in December 2011 between the Armed Forces, representatives of the Royal British Legion, the county council and all the district and borough councils, also included were Hertfordshire Enterprise Partnership, Jobcentre Plus and Hertfordshire NHS. However, it concerns me that we were not given an opportunity to join in with thinking about how we can offer chaplaincy and support, particularly to reservists, and indeed there was no mention of how schools were going to be included, so that when reservists came back and children found that stressful, they would be included and supported. I hope that as these covenants are rolled out, we can think about how we can draw in the voluntary sector to offer real and significant support to those who put themselves on the line in the defence of our country.
My Lords, I strongly share the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt. The professionalism, resilience and indeed the sacrifices, as the right reverend Prelate has just said, of service men and women are plain for all to see.
Senior, highly trained and experienced military officers in or within recent direct experience of very responsible national and international positions know what they are talking about, so I was simply astonished 10 days ago to read that the Secretary of State had described as “nonsense” the statements made by a senior officer on retirement about his concerns for the present and future capability of the Armed Forces, most especially the Royal Navy but also about manning in general and the reserves in particular. Those views may be politically inconvenient but they are very widely held and articulated. The House of Commons report Future Army 2020 hardly provides a ringing endorsement of government policy, even if the economic factors the country faces are very real. Nonsense those comments certainly are not.
Reserve service men and women must be trained to a high standard and to be fit for deployment—there is not much argument about that. One imperative is to provide the right incentive for them, often known as the proposition. Unless opportunities for training, provision of equipment and direct comparability are provided in almost every way with the regulars, that proposition will be very difficult to deliver. In any case, it will not necessarily be a cheaper option.
Of course, recent operations could not have been successfully prosecuted without extensive use of reservists. As the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said, the target of 30,000 deployable reservists by 2018 is a tall order. The programme to recruit them has got off to a shaky start because of the errors apparently made within the Ministry of Defence and a contract with Capita. The final figure may not be achieved or ultimately sustainable. Attracting redundant or other former ex-regulars to the reserves appears to be proving difficult, and I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us figures for that.
I spent many years as chairman of the National Employer Advisory Board for the reserves and so have a long-standing interest in how, in what is proposed, their future is going to develop. I would love to know how confident the Government are in the employer aspects of reservists, especially in the need to ensure that leave for training time can be made available at no detriment to employer or employee. Reservists must be as thoroughly trained as, and interchangeable with, their regular counterparts. What are the up-to-date figures for recruiting and sustaining reservists against the targets that have been set? What are the same figures for the regular services, particularly the Army? What are the current rates of premature voluntary release of service men and women? I hope my noble friend can give answers to these questions, some of which I have been able to give him notice of.
Concerns remain about the entire Middle East and the rise in Islamic fundamentalism. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said, we have recently seen disturbing destabilisation on the eastern fringes of Europe. Our foreign policy towards Russia, with its recent acquisitive and bellicose ambitions and substantial military muscle, understandably dwells on economic and even personal sanctions. However, no foreign policy can be fully effective if not reinforced by the capability of credible military response—the underpinning to which the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, referred—in keeping with our international obligations, should that ghastly prospect prove necessary. That seems to be very much the burden of the noble Lord’s question.
Defence capability is a form of insurance. I am afraid that we seem to have got pretty close to our policy documents becoming invalid.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, on calling this debate and on his powerful speech. It is a compelling irony that the Secretary-General of NATO set the scene for this debate in an article in today’s Daily Telegraph. Long before Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, there was much to concern us about its future foreign and defence intentions. Russia some time ago embarked on a massive programme of rearming and re-equipping its armed forces. Can my noble friend quantify the expenditure that Russia has set aside for this purpose? Will he write to me explaining what naval, military, air and other assets will be coming into service as a result of Russia’s huge expenditure and the personnel ramifications?
Russia’s economy is potentially very fragile. It is quite possible that energy prices will fall significantly. Russia is already in deficit. Corruption and nepotism are rife. There is a rapidly falling population. The legal system and the press and media are not considered to be independent of the Executive. All the apparatus of an autocracy are in place. If there are greater strains on the Russian economy, it is not difficult to speculate how this regime, or another even more hard-line regime, might react.
There are so many other areas of mounting tension in the world: not just the Middle East but most of Africa; China and Japan have got longstanding difficulties between them; North Korea; certain parts of South America; and there is even unrest in certain parts of the European Union. The USA cannot be expected to continue to bear nearly three-quarters of NATO’s total defence expenditure. We must honour our treaty obligations. As I have said, I wholeheartedly support the full Trident replacement programme. Can my noble friend tell us this evening how this is proceeding? Finally, can my noble friend tell the House what effect these events are having on government policy?
My noble friend gave me some encouragement in a reply to an Oral Question some months ago that the Government understood that the Royal Navy required some 2,000 or so additional personnel to man the aircraft carriers. For reasons already given, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, we also need more personnel in the regular “teeth” arms—the Royal Marines and the Army. I hope the Government are aware of this and that my noble friend will be able to give us some encouragement.
My Lords, in his 2007 book The Black Swan Taleb was at pains to point out that the trick in dealing with black swans was not predicting them—as outliers, they frankly defy prediction of any sort—but rather with ensuring that you can cope with them and have the resilience to do so. Last year, would anyone really have assumed that we would have been looking at the invasion of a large eastern European country by a resurgent Russia? The answer is almost certainly not.
As the outgoing secretary-general of NATO has said,
“every ally needs to invest the necessary resources in the right capabilities … In the long run, a lack of security would be more costly than investing now and we owe it to our forces, and to broader society”.
The noble Lord, Lord Lee, referred to General Sir Richard Shirreff, who said:
“I wouldn’t want to let anybody think that I think that Army 2020 is good news, it’s not … The sort of defence cuts we have seen … have really hollowed out the British armed forces and I think that people need to sit up and recognise that”.
The number of troops is going down. The Army’s strength was 102,000 and by 2020 it will be 82,000, so we will not even be able to fill Wembley stadium. As Professor Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute, said:
“With 82,000 we’ve got a ‘one-shot’ Army. If we don’t get it right the first time, there probably won’t be a second chance”.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, for initiating this debate. He himself has said:
“When the Coalition took its decisions on the size and shape of the Armed Forces at the time of its Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010, it did so in the midst of an economic crisis … but doubt has remained as to whether a regular Army of just 82,000 is sufficient for our needs, and whether the target of 30,000 trained reservists is achievable”.
The Armed Forces are undergoing a huge reduction. There will be a reduction by 33,000, or 19%, by 2020: 5,500 from the Royal Navy, 8,000 from the Royal Air Force and 19,500 from the Army. In a scathing assessment, General Sir Richard Shirreff has also said that Britain is now the only NATO state not to commit any of its naval forces to maritime operations. What I find shocking—the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, referred to this—is that when asked yesterday about Sir Richard’s comments, Mr Hammond said:
“Much of what I’m hearing is nonsense”.
This is our great military expert—our Defence Secretary. He dismissed calls from the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army, to halt the withdrawal of British troops from Germany in order to send a military statement to Putin, saying that tank regiments are more effective based in Britain. That was the great general, Secretary of State Hammond.
The head of the defence committee, James Arbuthnot, said that he thought Ministers should rethink the cuts to the Army’s permanent staff in the light of Crimea. He said:
“The sheer number of the armed forces are much lower now than they should be in order to protect our interests”.
The Financial Times said that:
“A leaked report from the Ministry of Defence last year suggested the plans to restructure the army were in ‘chaos’ because potential reservists were being put off by a sense of gloom surrounding the armed forces”.
Can the Minister confirm this? It also said that Robert Gates, the former US Defence Secretary, has warned Britain that it would not have,
“‘the ability to be a full partner’ after the cuts because it would lack the full spectrum of military capabilities”,
“The defence committee report also criticised a lack of clarity from ministers in how to deal with cyber attacks, warning that ‘emphasis needs to be placed on ensuring that critical systems are resilient to attack and contingency plans for recovery are in place’”.
Can the Minister also confirm this?
The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, mentioned clearly that when the cuts were announced, it was in a time of economic crisis. He has said that the international landscape is much more challenging now than in 2010 and referred to making a statement that greater military capability must underpin our diplomatic forces. The current Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Houghton, warned last year that Britain’s military could become a “hollow force”, with state-of-the-art equipment but no one to operate it. Even the Chief of the General Staff, Sir Peter Wall, has added:
“Ultimately history tells us that in some circumstances committed land forces may be the only way to achieve decisive outcomes in support of our strategic objectives”.
Will the Minister confirm that the cuts have all been about means before ends? We will have the smallest Army in 200 years. In 2010, the SDSR got rid of our Harriers, our carriers and our Nimrods. We have been fighting in Afghanistan and we have had one black swan after another: the Arab spring, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Crimea. What next? Can the Minister confirm that the morale of our Armed Forces is in a very sorry state and needs to be addressed? What about the esprit de corps? Could he confirm the state of esprit de corps, which is the essence of our Armed Forces? We are at the top table of the world. We have tremendous soft power, but we need the hard power and we need the critical mass. To conclude, as General Sir Richard Shirreff said:
“We all support the efforts to get the deficit down, but it is all about priorities. What really matters? Well, the first duty of government is to protect the nation … And the electorate need to understand there is no point in having hospitals and schools and welfare unless the country is safe”.
My Lords, I join many of your Lordships—in fact, all of your Lordships—in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, for initiating this debate. May I offer him some support? I think I speak for a number of my colleagues in saying that, if he is able to persuade the usual channels that we should have a full debate on defence in your Lordships’ House, then he can count on me to be one of his foot-runners on this particular issue.
I want to concentrate on the issue of the Reserves, the planned total size of which is 30,000. Perhaps I may say that my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, for whom I used to work as a junior Minister in the Ministry of Defence, will echo my recollection that if you go back 10 or 15 years what was then the Territorial Army had a trained force of over 50,000. To get to 30,000 therefore does not seem to me to be either impractical or impossible. I want to explain why I think it is of some significance and importance that we stick to that target.
My own experience, as president of the Council of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations for 10 years, was that there were some very important advantages in having what was then called the Territorial Army and is now the Reserve Forces drawn from large and small employers spread throughout the country. That is the first point: it would be quite wrong to ditch the target of 30,000 or reduce it in any way at all, because the reserves have a footprint across the whole of the country. With the Regular Army in particular withdrawing into a number of very large garrisons around the country, the footprint of the armed services could be reduced to our great disadvantage unless we maintain our target of 30,000. Even to speculate at this stage about reducing those numbers would send entirely the wrong signal about the efforts being made by employers. I am sure that my noble friend, who was responsible for liaison between large employers and the Armed Forces, will echo my point that it would send a confusing signal at this stage, when so much effort is being made.
I must tell your Lordships that the recent figures for recruitment into the Reserve Forces have begun to improve. If you go back three or four months there were some serious difficulties, but now the indications are that recruitment is better. We must maintain the national footprint of the Reserve Forces for political reasons—political with a small “p”, not party political—to make sure that we have the support and encouragement of our population for our Armed Forces.
The 30,000 target will include many specialists, and the nature of the Reserve Forces has changed over the previous 10 or 20 years. We are recruiting people with skills, whether in the medical profession or in construction, who can complement our Regular Forces so effectively and successfully. We have a five-year campaign running, and I am quite confident that we will reach the target. I am not in favour of sending the signal at this stage of reducing the target for our Reserve Forces to compensate for the need, it is argued, to increase our Regular Forces. We ought to stick to our guns—that may be an inappropriate comment, but I think it is true. We can reach 30,000 by 2018.
I look forward to working with the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, to secure a full day’s debate in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I join other Members of the House in congratulating and thanking the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, for this short debate this evening. Questions for Short Debate are one of a number of ways of probing and questioning the Government’s policy; others include Questions for Written Answer, Oral Questions and debates. The fact is that the Government have not convinced people that their approach and policy on this area are right. They do not appear to have convinced either the House of Commons Select Committee or experienced spokespeople in this area.
For this debate I turned to the recent report by the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, an organisation which meets several thousand Armed Forces personnel face to face every year. Paragraph 2.11 of its report states:
“There had been notable drops in reported morale from Army personnel for the third consecutive year”.
According to the surveys, morale has dropped in our Armed Forces every year of this coalition Government. Paragraph 2.12 states:
“Our visits took place amidst continuing high tempo, with much operational commitment at the same time as the impact of the redundancy programme was being felt”.
Paragraph 2.13 refers to:
“The continued erosion of the overall package, together with the impact of the redundancy process were felt to be adversely affecting morale, which was already considered to be fragile”.
The facts linked with that are that last year, mainly before these redundancies were complete, the working hours of our Armed Forces personnel were up to 47.9 hours per week. That is the average, week in, week out. The average weekly duty hours increased in one year by three hours to 70.7 hours a week. That is something that we need to take into account when we consider the wording of this Question and the assessment of whether we have sufficient manpower in the Armed Forces.
In my experience, any commercial organisation would make such fundamental changes incrementally: as you made one change, you would increase another. The Government have gone forward with these redundancies but have no idea whether they will ultimately be able to recruit 30,000 reserve personnel. I hope they are able to, but the transitional period between now and then is a great danger for us as a nation, as we have seen in the latest developments in Europe.
In a letter accompanying this report, the Minister said that the Government accepted all the recommendations of the Armed Forces Pay Review Body. Will he therefore tell us what the Government are going to do about the morale issue—some but not all of which is a direct result of these changes—and what they are going to do about the overall working hours of our Armed Forces personnel?
Paragraph 31 on page 11 of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee report, which was published on 29 January, states:
“It is essential that the MoD budget settlement allows for the delivery of Army 2020”.
I cannot find any overall commitment from the Treasury that has confirmed categorically that the money will be available for this. Can the Minister give us that assurance?
The first responsibility of any Government is the defence of the realm. Does the Minister believe that with the state of morale and the numbers of our Armed Forces, they have the manpower to deliver that?
My Lords, I also welcome this debate, called by the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt. For four years, I was privileged to chair the EU sub-committee dealing with foreign affairs and defence and it was a pleasure to have my noble friend Lord Selkirk as a member of that group. I want to pursue some of the themes that came out of some work that we did on European defence. A handful of things have changed quite substantially over the last couple of years. First of all, there was the American pivot to Asia which sent out all sorts of messages, the consequences of some of which we may have seen over the last month. There was also the move by Russia, and we now have the first threat to territorial integrity in Europe for 24 years. There are also a number of smaller internal and ethnic conflicts, particularly within north Africa. I just want to take one or two points from each of those.
I do not think there is any dispute that the United States was going to pivot towards Asia, and it also has a defence treaty with Australia. Over the last six months, we have seen very dangerous issues within the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Korean peninsula which show that we need to pay great attention to that area and that there needs to be very strong American presence, rhetoric and ability to act there. It was inevitable that the USA would move to look less at Africa and Europe, and that is not going to change. In 2011, we saw America leading from the back in the Libya operation and Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, has said that if NATO did not get its act together, its future would be dim and dismal. Perhaps this is what it has been shown to be over the last year—hopefully, that will change.
I am sure that as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, has said, we need to show more than economic reaction to the situation in Ukraine. This should not be military action at present, but NATO and the European states need to show strength and resolution. We must show that we are serious and that what I call the Medvedev doctrine—looking after Russian citizens outside Russia—is not acceptable to nation states west of Russia. About two years ago, when we took evidence on European defence, we were very struck at how the Baltic states and Poland said very strongly that they did not see peace in Europe as inevitable and that they feared the Russian Federation. How right they have been.
NATO expenditure has moved down from some 2.7% of GDP in the 1990s to some 1.6%. I welcome the major change in that direction, but there is always a time when that must start to reverse, and if there is a time when it needs to reverse, it is now. This is not just about expenditure as a proportion of GDP. Europe has 1.6 or 1.7 million people in uniform but very little ability to actually deploy them, certainly not without the help of the United States. We need to start moving forward with our European allies to change this.
The Central African Republic is the other area which is very relevant today. The European Union is now sending a force there, postponed by three months, but the situation there is absolutely critical. This is telling, given that it is 20 years since the Rwandan situation. I was very pleased to see a press release from DfID saying that we were supporting security there, but we were doing it by giving £2 million to UNHCR. Quite frankly, what is needed is for us, either with the European Union force or with France bilaterally, to send real military support to stop the potential genocide between Muslims and Christians there.
President Obama said at the EU-American summit earlier this month that freedom is not free. That may be a cliché and it may sound trite, but I believe at this time that it is absolutely true.
My Lords, the thanks of all of us, especially from myself, are due enormously this evening to the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, for giving us the opportunity to have just a starter or taster of what we hope will come later on in the Session. He has probed what I understand may be fairly fertile ground with my noble friend the Minister, and we may have a full debate at a later stage in this Session.
Your Lordships may recognise that the noble Lord is a man of enormous expertise and competence. I know from my relations with him, and thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and other noble Lords in the House of Lords Defence Group, that he is a soldier and a man of enormous charm. However, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, this evening, he is also a man of some considerable steel, and he says what needs to be said, tactfully but realistically. He may hit hard with the Ministry of Defence, but it is recognised with enormous gratitude in your Lordships’ House.
Thank goodness that I looked at the timetable and found that I had just three minutes—I shall certainly be under that. The text for this evening’s Question was particularly on the Reserve and Regular Forces. We have had notable speeches from my noble friends Lord Freeman and Lord Glenarthur on the Reserve Forces. In the various activities of the British Army in deployment in the past 10 or 15 years, the number of reservists who go to make up the total number of forces who are sent overseas, particularly Army, is one aspect—but there is much more. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur will know that it is the specialist forces, particularly his medics, who go for long deployment abroad and who bring enormous skills. Without their skills, operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere would be virtually impossible. Certainly, medics—I understand that there are engineers in other particular disciplines—have these specialist skills and are available.
I understand that three of your Lordships who have spoken this evening—my noble friends Lord King and Lord Freeman and myself—are conscripts who go back 50 years or more. As far as I recall, we were liable for two years’ full-time service and four years in the reserves. Certainly, I was never called up because I had a triple fracture of the leg that finished my full-time career; it probably would have ruled me out. I am not too sure what happened or what the rules were in the late 1950s, and whether it was obligatory or recommended that, having spent two years full time, you did four years as a reservist and fulfilled your duties in that regard. Our current Army has 82,000 regulars, with 30,000 reservists—at least, that will be the target figure. I hope that that will be quite enough to fulfil national and, above all, international requirements, let alone responsibilities.
I salute and am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, for giving us the opportunity this evening and asking what needs to be done. I conclude swiftly by thanking my noble friend the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, made a fair point, possibly, about my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. But I hope that he and the rest of your Lordships’ House, particularly those of us who have had the good luck to serve on the House of Lords Defence Group, recognise that my noble friend the Minister is certainly one of the most outstanding Defence Ministers in your Lordships’ House.
I have spent 41 years with the House of Lords Defence Group. I first went in 1973 to RAF Leuchars and RAF Kinloss. In all that time, I have known and learnt more, and one thing I have learnt is how lucky we are to have the constant support that we have from my noble friend the Minister and his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence. We are even luckier to have the support that we have had this evening from the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt. I cannot wait to hear what my noble friend has to say.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association Northern Ireland. My interest in these affairs comes from the fact that I was in the Regular Army and then served in Northern Ireland with part-time reservists. I am now involved with the Territorial Army.
My few short remarks refer to the Army reserves and to the target of 30,000 fully trained Army reservists that we have heard about. I ask the Minister where those 30,000 are going to come from because, at no time in the history of the Reserve Forces, has the full complement been fully trained. In our experience, 30,000 members does not refer to 30,000 fully trained; it is normally 75% or below.
In Northern Ireland the reserves were fully recruited—and even overrecruited—until the introduction of Capita, the new recruiting agency, into this process. The Province also had the highest percentage deployment rate per head of the population but recruitment is now going down. What has changed? It is not the availability of potential recruits. The conditions of service are improving; they are even better as time goes on. Only one thing has changed—the introduction of an agency and the breaking of that vital, personal contact during the initial stages of recruitment into the reserves. The Government may feel that this is moving with the times and noble Lords may compare it with modern banking and the increasing lack of personal contact with the branch managers and staff. We all have to bank somewhere, so we have to put up with that, but recruiting of potential reservists is different. They are probably employed, live within happy families and are looking for a new dimension to their lives with others from their local community. They do not have to join, nor deal with the faceless internet, and they do not want delay and hassle on top of their daily lives.
Northern Ireland was 100% recruited through traditional recruitment carried out by local sub-units, through schools, sporting and other clubs, and through friends who might have been current reservists. This new system has failed to be user-friendly at the first hurdle. The Government must also adapt their recruiting of reserves to the changing circumstances of today. Since the Iraq war, the reservists have joined up to go on operations, but now we are back to a training role, and there is no impending operation, for which we are all thankful. It may be a different type of person who will be required. Different support will be required for their families and even more enhanced support for their employers who may be less inclined in the long term to permit staff time off for training and topping up the numbers in the regular units. This might seem a thankless task to an employer. It is interesting that, towards the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, when we used so many part-time people, not only businesses but also government departments, such as those responsible for schools, roads and housing, were becoming more and more reluctant to allow their people to get away. Perhaps this does not have the long life that the Government would like to think.
I suggest that the Government have a much larger mountain to climb than they realise. I look forward to hearing the Minister say how they think they are going to do it. Time will tell.
My Lords, I add my thanks to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, for securing this all too short debate on our reserve and regular Armed Forces. I endorse the tribute paid by the right reverend Prelate to our Armed Forces.
By now, of course, the key questions have already been raised, not least by my noble friend Lady Dean on the state of Armed Forces morale, and by other noble Lords on recent developments around the world. I wish to re-emphasise one or two points. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, referred to all three armed services, and that concerns have been voiced in particular about personnel numbers in the Royal Navy. However, I wish to confine the rest of my comments to the Army.
When the announcement was made by the former Secretary of State for Defence that the size of the Regular Army was to be further reduced to 82,000—some 12,000 below the figure stated in the 2010 strategic defence and security review—he did it against the backdrop of an announcement that the size of the trained Army reserve force would be increased from 19,000 to 30,000 by 2018. He has also since confirmed that the rundown in the size of the Regular Army was linked to the increase in the size of the Reserve Forces. That would seem a logical stance to adopt since the increase in the number of reservists should be achievable if the Government are determined to provide whatever money is required to achieve that objective, although that, of course, does not necessarily mean that sufficient recruits of the required quality and skills will be secured.
That policy has now been changed by the Government, who have repeatedly declined to give assurances that the Regular Army will be reduced only in line with the intended increase in the size of the trained reserve force being achieved. That decision raises important issues. The first is that the Government must believe that a Regular Army of 82,000 is sufficient to deliver the military capacity and capability objective in the defence planning assumptions on which the strategic defence and security review is based without any increase in the size, or change in the composition, of our Reserve Forces. If the Government do not believe this—I ask the Minister to confirm the Government’s position—then declining to make the reduction in the size of our Regular Army dependent on achieving the intended increase in the size of our Reserve Forces must put the military capacity and capability objective in the SDSR at risk, and with it our national security as well. However, if the Government confirm that their position is that a Regular Army of 82,000 can deliver the military capacity objectives in the SDSR without increasing the size of our trained reserve force, that invites the question as to why we are increasing the size of our Reserve Forces to 30,000, and for what military and national security objectives are we doing so.
The Government have also inferred that the increased trained reserve force will provide some specialist skills which our Regular Forces will not possess to a sufficient degree. If that is the case—I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm the Government’s position on that point—how is it that the rundown in the strength of our Regular Army is not dependent on the increase in our trained reserve force, even in respect of these specialist skills, if our national security is to be safeguarded? I hope that the points I have just made are ones to which the Minister will respond in his reply to the debate.
Finally, reference has already been made to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. In a recent report, that committee expressed its doubts that the Army 2020 plan represented a fully thought through and tested concept which would allow the Army to counter emerging and uncertain threats and develop a contingent capability to deal with unforeseen circumstances. It said that the Ministry of Defence needed to justify how the conclusion was reached that the Army 2020 plan of 82,000 regular and 30,000 reserves represented the best way of countering these threats. No doubt the Select Committee’s point is one to which the Minister will also wish to respond.
My Lords, I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, for introducing this very important issue. I share the right reverend Prelate’s thoughts for those members of the Armed Forces serving on operations and, of course, for their families. It is right that we should do everything we can to ensure that our country is not caught unawares in the event of unforeseen crises and threats. The noble Lord’s Question concerns the sufficiency of our manpower. In addressing it, we should look first at the existing scope and scale of our commitments worldwide.
Currently, we have more than 30,000 service men and women committed on operations. They are providing significant contributions to security and stabilisation in Afghanistan, combating piracy off the Horn of Africa, countering narcotics in the Caribbean and keeping open vital choke points in the Strait of Hormuz. Recently we have seen British Armed Forces support the French in Mali. We have deployed HMS “Daring” and HMS “Illustrious” to the Philippines to assist in the humanitarian effort in the wake of the hurricane. We have seen regulars and reserves protecting possessions and property against the recent floods. In the past week we have dispatched a submarine to help hunt for the missing Malaysian aeroplane. These are examples of the activities that our Armed Forces are currently engaged in, and all happening in a period of transition. If anyone was under the illusion that the post-Afghanistan world would be a quieter place, then events in Syria and latterly in Ukraine have swiftly dispelled that illusion.
Several noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord King and Lord Burnett, asked about Ukraine. What has happened there is completely indefensible. This is the most serious risk to European security that we have seen so far in the 21st century. The priority now is to deter further Russian military action, de-escalate and find a diplomatic solution. The Government have made it clear that they remain committed to a diplomatic solution to the current crisis in Crimea and Ukraine, and in this respect are pursuing a number of diplomatic and economic initiatives, including targeted sanctions and representations in international fora. In terms of reassuring allies, the UK was one of the first to offer tangible contributions, with our offer to supplement NATO’s peacetime Baltic air policing mission. NATO will continue to provide appropriate reinforcement of visible assurance of NATO’s cohesion and commitment to deterrence and collective defence against any threat of aggression to the alliance.
My noble friend Lord Burnett asked about Russian defence spending. Russia has previously stated that it intends to increase defence spending. It intends to spend $650 billion up to 2020, including the acquisition of eight nuclear submarines, 600 jets, 1,000 helicopters and 100 warships, in an attempt to modernise its armed forces.
The noble Lord, Lord Soley, mentioned the next SDSR. Clearly the SDSR in 2015 will consider whether our foreign policy and security objectives have changed in the intervening five years, and the implications for our Armed Forces.
The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, asked what we are able to do under Future Force 2020. It will enable us to conduct simultaneously an enduring stabilisation operation of up to 6,500 personnel, equivalent to operations in Afghanistan over the past decade; one non-enduring complex intervention of up to 2,000 personnel, equivalent to that undertaken in Libya; and one non-enduring simple intervention of up to 1,000 personnel, equivalent to the UK’s support to France in Mali. This level of capability has been tested against a wide range of scenarios and a whole of government assessment of the likely future threats and commitments facing the UK. We are confident that it allows us to protect and promote the UK and its interests in an effective, sustainable manner.
The noble Lord also asked about risks. The Armed Forces are going through significant restructuring. Throughout this period, there will be shortages in some roles. However, we can be clear that there are safeguards in place to ensure that front-line operational capability is not affected. All three services continue to recruit, and the Army recently launched a major recruiting drive for both regulars and reservists. We are confident that we have, and will continue to have, the right personnel and skill sets to satisfy all strategic defence priorities.
Several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Lee, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and my noble friend Lord Lyell, asked about reserves recruitment. The latest reserves recruitment campaign began in January. All three services have used a range of advertising methods from radio, TV and online recruitment targeted at the youth audience to deploying uniformed personnel at prominent locations such as shopping centres. The initial response to the recruitment campaign is encouraging, as my noble friend Lord Freeman said. Local reserve units have been heavily involved in recruiting activity as they know their local areas best of all. From this, the Army is analysing the lessons identified and the reports of good practice, and is encouraging units to share and promote their good practice.
We have introduced a number of new initiatives to simplify the recruiting process. These include the revised medical process, introduced in January, and the new online application forms. It is still early days. The length of time that it takes applicants to progress through the application and training pipelines means that it will take a while for the actual impact to become realised, but we are very positive.
My noble friend Lord Glenarthur asked about recruiting levels against the 2018 target for reservists and regulars, and he also asked about retention in the regulars. The figures released on 13 February in the defence statistics demonstrate that the Reserve Forces are on track to meet or even exceed the interim target for April this year. We have always said that growing the reserves would be a challenge, and the start of that challenge is reversing the long decline in numbers. The trained strength figures are expected to dip initially because it takes around two years for a recruit to complete the training and join the trained strength.
Regular Army recruiting is forecasting a 30% shortfall in soldier entrants caused by a combination of factors. This is being tackled through an improvement to the recruiting process. This shortfall has been taken into account in our manpower forecasting and planning. Under Army 2020, the Regular Army is reducing from 102,000 to 82,500. Today, the Army has a shortfall of some 4,000 people against the structure, but this will be cancelled out as the structure is reduced over the next three years. Current voluntary outflow levels are above the 10-year average. The range of criteria used when forecasting VO is wide and includes economic advice from the Office for Budget Responsibility, historic behaviour and expected trends. The result of this forecast was used when modelling the requirements and it led to a reduced requirement for tranche 4.
My noble friend Lord Lee asked me about the carriers and the cost increases. Until a new contract is signed, the current agreement remains extant. This agreed a 90:10 share of costs. The Secretary of State stated in November 2013 that,
“under the new agreement, any variation above or below that price will be shared on a 50:50 basis between Government and industry, until all the contractor’s profit is lost”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/11/13; col. 251.]
The revised deal, including the revised 50:50 share line that better incentivises industry to control costs by allocating an equitable share should costs grow beyond the new target, is expected to be approved this spring, and the new contract will be signed on completion.
My noble friend also asked about escorts. The Royal Navy has 19 operational frigates and destroyers: 13 Type 23 frigates and six Type 45 destroyers. These ships are held at varying degrees of readiness. Three ships are currently deployed overseas, conducting operations in the Persian Gulf, the eastern Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Four ships are undergoing training in preparation for forthcoming international deployments or are held at high-readiness for contingency operations. One is conducting defence engagement in Dover in support of the HMS “Cavalier” 70th anniversary celebrations, eight are in routine maintenance in their home port, and three are in deep maintenance. I hope that that addresses my noble friend’s questions.
My noble friend also asked about Joint Strike Fighter dates. Initial operating capability for the UK’s F-35 aircraft is scheduled for December 2018, with carrier strike capability scheduled for 2020. I am happy to tell my noble friend that these remain on track.
My noble friend asked for an update on ScanEagle. The ScanEagle has been successfully, swiftly and safely introduced into service, fulfilling an urgent operational requirement. This day and night capable UAS is operated from Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels and provides an important uplift in persistent surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. It is currently in use on deployed operations, providing real-time intelligence to the ships’ staff and has already proved itself to be an important addition to our maritime capabilities.
My noble friend asked about the numbers of Type 26 frigates. The Government’s current planning assumption is the construction of 13 Type 26s.
I will do my best to answer as many questions as I have time for, but I am conscious that I will not be able to answer all noble Lords. I shall write to those whom I am unable to answer now and copy in all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, asked about morale. This is a challenging time for defence. Morale and esprit de corps are monitored within the Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey. We take this issue seriously and we are aware that we have work to do.
My noble friend Lord Burnett asked about the Trident replacement. Over the next year the programme will continue to evolve as the submarine design matures. Detailed preparations will continue for main gate in 2016, ensuring that the design, costings and procurement strategy are mature. A further report to Parliament will be made later this year.
My noble friend Lord King mentioned small and medium-sized enterprises and their concerns over reliance on reservists. We recognise the contribution of SMEs and that Reserve service can affect them more greatly than larger firms. That is why we are bringing in employer incentive payments of up to £500 per reservist per month when a reservist is mobilised.
My noble friend also asked about accommodation in the UK for forces returning from Germany. The MoD has set aside £1.6 billion to implement the army basing plan, providing nearly 1,900 new service family accommodations and 4,800 new single living/bed spaces.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, asked about our resilience to cyberattack. Defence takes cybersecurity extremely seriously. Across the UK as a whole cyber skills are in short supply. The best way to address this is through a mixture of Regular and Reserve forces.
The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, asked about working hours and the minimum wage. We have worked to ensure that the sacrifices and dedication of our personnel are recognised. They have continued to benefit from pay rises and other benefits, including subsidised accommodation, generous pensions and plenty of paid leave. It is therefore entirely misleading to suggest that any of them earn less than the minimum wage.
I am running out of time. This Government have taken difficult decisions in order to preserve the sustainability of the Armed Forces. That was the responsible course of action. No one thought that the transformation of our Armed Forces to Future Force 2020 would be easy—if they did, it would have been done much sooner. The services are rising admirably to the challenges of change. They are shaping their own future while continuing to deliver everything required of them in current operations.
House adjourned at 9.24 pm.