Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am honoured to lead this debate today, although I fear that I am probably the least experienced speaker. I do not believe that yesterday’s debates and vote in Parliament have pre-empted our discussions this afternoon. The issue yesterday was about current and imminent military operations. Today, the issue is the Government’s SDSR White Paper, which concerns creating international stability and security in order to avoid conflict or confrontation arising in the first place, and, failing that, ensuring that we have the appropriate military capabilities to deal with any foreseeable problems. Post Mumbai and other large-scale atrocities, the horrific events in Paris do not mean that the White Paper is already out of date. It clearly anticipates such events and seeks to avoid them. I am sure that many noble Lords will want to cover the security situation in MENA because it is so central to our situation.
Today, we can look forward to no less than four maiden and 27 other speakers. Even with the time I have available, I cannot hope to cover all the ground of the SDSR. However, in due course, I think that we need to have far more detail about what is proposed in order to measure progress in future years.
The White Paper makes much of the fact that a strong economy is a prerequisite of a successful security and defence policy. Noble Lords will be aware that we spend more on interest payments on the national debt than we do on defence, and we simply cannot go on running a budget deficit for ever. At some point we have to pay off the debt. In the 2010 SDSR the Government had to make some very painful decisions and we have to be clear that they took on some significant risks.
I welcome the general tone of the White Paper, although it is necessarily rather more robust and stern than some of its predecessors. It offers three national security objectives. Objective 1 is to protect our people by meeting the NATO 2% target and investing in agile, capable and globally deployable Armed Forces. Of course, I would like to see more than 2% but one has to be realistic.
We are to respond robustly to the re-emergence of state-based threats, including with the renewal of the nuclear deterrent. The fight against terrorism, radicalisation and extremism at home and overseas will be prioritised by a range of sensible measures.
Objective 2 is to protect our global influence primarily with soft power. We will be spending 0.7 % of GNI on official development assistance—in other words, overseas aid with a slightly more relaxed definition, although still within OECD guidelines. I will return to this later. I was particularly pleased to hear about the increased resources to be allocated to the BBC World Service and the British Council. In the future we will be developing alliances, building new, stronger partnerships and seeking to persuade potential adversaries of the benefits of co-operation.
Finally, objective 3 is to promote our prosperity. We will do this by promoting a rules-based international order. Interestingly, we will be maximising prosperity opportunities from our defence, security, diplomatic and development activities. However, I hope that this does not mean that we will be relaxing our defence export control regime.
Some in my party question the wisdom of spending 0.7 % of GNI on ODA and protecting the aid budget, even in the difficult conditions of 2010. My background is military—that is, hard power—although I have also run an overseas aid operation. Nevertheless, I am sure that this is the right approach. When you look at the cake of government expenditure, the biggest slices, in order, are welfare, health, education, state pensions, interest payments, then defence at around £35 billion, and then, after several other ever-thinner slices, the DfID budget. Even with no aid budget at all, the cake would look no different and defence’s slice would look no bigger. For the reasons described in the White Paper, we need to have both soft and hard power. Of course, it is essential to spend ODA wisely and Command Paper 9163 describes how that will be achieved.
Paragraph 3.18 of the national security strategy covers the resurgence of state-based threats and, in particular, Russia’s behaviour. I approve of the tone and the drafting, especially where it is made clear that we want to co-operate. I think that we need to be very careful to make sure that we understand the Russian viewpoint. I suspect that their map of the world looks rather different from ours. That is one reason why I welcome the return to your Lordships’ House of my noble friend Lord Cameron of Fairfax as an elected hereditary Peer. He has much experience of Russia. I hope that after making his interests clear, he will not hesitate to regularly give us his insight.
I will leave cyber and technology to others, apart from welcoming what the White Paper says and making three of my own points. It is becoming apparent that, apart from the UK and France, EU states are poor at exchanging data, and we do not know who is in the UK at any time.
The White Paper mentions Galileo, which, as a satellite system, is just as vulnerable as GPS. Can the Minister say where we are with the terrestrial eLoran system, which might be much harder to interfere with?
I welcome the Government’s decision to renew the deterrent and have a vote in the House of Commons. I wonder how much time and money was wasted by the coalition Government due to the Lib Dems insisting on studying alternatives to a submarine-launched ballistic missile system when most of us are clear that there are not any. Can the Minister confirm that it is now necessary to run the Vanguard class of SSBN longer than was intended by the last Labour Government, even if it can be done safely?
I am sure that many noble Lords will talk about the maritime patrol aircraft. I was first briefed on the RMPA project before the 1997 election. It seemed even then to be an extraordinary project. The plan was to take an existing aircraft and give it new wings, engines and avionics but save the fuselage. Why not just buy a new aircraft and system, which would be far less risky? I was very surprised that the party opposite, in government, persisted with the project.
For SDSR 2010, I think it was better to cut a capability completely than degrade a lot of other capabilities by the traditional salami-slicing technique—but yes, of course it made it more difficult to ensure that the deterrent remained undetected, as I am sure many noble Lords will remind us today. It may be very inconvenient and challenging to get the necessary help from our allies in the current relatively benign strategic threat environment. However, no one is going to plan a strategic attack on the basis that there is a possibility that they might fleetingly know the location of one NATO SSBN. The beauty of having three closely aligned states with SSBN is that there is just too much uncertainty for a potential aggressor. It works.
I turn to other hard-power issues. The Royal Navy is just not big enough, but I strongly support the concept of the aircraft carriers because they can provide vigorous and independent air support to our forces deployed ashore. The White Paper talks about extending the role of the Type 45 to include ballistic missile defence. Presumably, that would be in a theatre or area role with interception in the terminal phase. Perhaps the Minister can tell us a bit more about that.
By the 2030s, the Royal Navy will have some new general purpose frigates. Can the Minister confirm that these will be proper warships and will carry and operate a helicopter? Although the offshore patrol vessels are not warships, but will be armed, I think that they will have much utility. I have seen the Irish OPVs being built at the Appledore shipyard, and I hope that the forthcoming shipbuilding strategy will secure a future for warship building, and not just in Scotland.
I am very concerned about the state of the Army. I recognise that I am not a capability manager. However, I think that we have too great a proliferation of armoured and protected mobility platforms, with too many UOR vehicles being taken into general service. These vehicles were designed for one particular operation, with no account being taken of long-term sustainability or other military requirements.
Currently, we have only three regular Challenger tank armoured regiments. Since we will only have two armoured infantry brigades, if I am correct, does that mean that we will be down to only two armoured regiments?
The White Paper indicates that two infantry battalions are to be reconfigured for defence engagement. It sounds to me as though a more accurate description is “downgraded and reduced”. Presumably, these battalions will not have the capability of even a light-role battalion. Can the Minister confirm that I am right in my thinking and what the headcount of these battalions will be?
Apparently there are to be 10,000 military personnel available to assist the civil authorities at short notice. Can the Minister confirm that this is MAC A, military assistance to the civil authority, and not MAC P, military assistance to the civil power, and that MAC P in the UK is normally only provided by Special Forces when military primacy takes place for only a short time? I think that it would be helpful if the Minister could explain exactly what this policy means.
Regarding air power and the RAF, I welcome the enhancements outlined in the White Paper. We also now have a much-improved and modern transport fleet that is well-placed to support future operations.
Finally, I turn to personnel. I think that this will be the biggest challenge in delivering the SDSR in future years, in particular nuclear and other highly skilled technical people, both in and out of uniform. I think that some very senior officers have a touching faith in what can be achieved with contractors, especially in theatre. Interestingly, the White Paper has almost nothing to say about reserves. Perhaps we will see a paper on that later.
I am a little worried about what might be behind some of the White Paper’s comments regarding accommodation, pay and allowances. Personally, I would like to see the Armed Forces pay review body take a rather more proactive role in ensuring that the Armed Forces are able to attract the right quality of recruit.
I look forward to hearing the views of other noble Lords. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is somewhat poignant that five years ago today the newly refitted HMS “Ark Royal” entered Portsmouth harbour for the last time to pay off, accompanied by her doomed Sea Harriers. It was just one of the very poor decisions in SDSR 2010, which has resulted in a 30% reduction in our nation’s military capability since 2010.
Turning to today, the analysis of Britain’s changing strategic environment in SDSR 2015 is, I believe, largely sound. However, surprisingly, it fails to point out that we are an island, which seems fairly important in grand strategic terms. But SDSR 2015 remains replete with the tensions that are inherent in Britain’s taut defence budget. The slightest shock and/or commitment beyond what are now very limited defence planning assumptions could bring the entire SDSR edifice crashing down. Plus, everything is predicated on the assumption that the economy will continue to grow.
Our uniformed leaders are so relieved that there were no cuts in SDSR 2015 that they welcome it as a triumph. Indeed, it is their duty to do so—that is their job. But much of the trumpeted new money is existing resources re-tagged. If one compares the 2015 defence accounting model with the 2009 defence accounting model, one sees that British defence expenditure is 1.7% of GDP. This is because it includes so-called other, mainly non-military, items of expenditure that are within NATO’s definition of defence expenditure but not within the traditional British definition.
The much-lauded £12 billion increase in the defence equipment budget will include up to £11 billion of efficiency savings. It involves cutting 30,000 MoD civilian posts, many of which were created after SDSR 2010 to replace military personnel. Presumably, that will have a considerable impact.
SDSR 2015 is still clearly resource driven, rather than strategy, threat or interest driven. It makes us marginally stronger but fails to recover the capability lost since 2010. Debt reduction is clearly still more important to the Government than defence, and the Treasury’s continued grip on Britain’s defence strategy reinforces the “how much threat can we afford?” culture that still permeates Whitehall. That is somewhat surprising when one looks at an increasingly dangerous and chaotic world and thinks of things such as the decision made in the Commons last night.
SDSR 2015 imposes considerable constraints on the Royal Navy. The surface fleet is already down to 19 escorts. As I have said, that is a national disgrace. SDSR 2015 claims to want to preserve that number. However, it reduces the planned Type 26 frigates from 13 to eight, with five less capable further down the track, but there are no actual orders. What is the drum-beat of ship orders to ensure stability in our shipyards? I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, will today mention the study he put in hand showing the value of orders and the need to maintain these sorts of orders. Will we run all the OPVs? I believe that we are heading towards a two-tier Navy by default. Is that what we want? Force projection does not escape, with the disgraceful withdrawal of HMS “Ocean” at only 20 years’ life. My plea to the Minister is that we must keep her in PxO and not get rid of or scrap her. It would be a disgrace to do that at that age.
I am delighted by the commitment to the deterrent and to replacing the submarines. However, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, there is a very real risk in running these boats on to 40 years old. That is presumably why there is such an increase in cost for the deterrent replacement: running 40 year-old submarines is dangerous and very costly. If we are having to do this, there is a gap in the build programme. Let us put in another Astute class—we can effectively get one for less than £200 million. Let us think laterally; that is the sort of thing that we need to do.
Even to crew the modest planned force, the Navy needs an additional 3,000 personnel—it has only 450. So SDSR 2015 scores six out of 10 in my book and the nation needs to spend more money on defence if we are to meaningfully support international security and stability.
My Lords, the challenges of the 21st century ensure that traditional defence policies and capabilities alone are rendered inadequate to secure the United Kingdom or any other sovereign state. We need new capabilities, a broader understanding of security and greater international co-operation. In many ways, this is reflected in the SDSR and the strategic risk assessment of 2015.
The tier 1 threats are identified as international military conflict, instability overseas, major natural hazards, public health, cyber and terrorism. The timing of today’s debate could not bring into greater relief the extent to which those tier 1 threats are at play right now. They are not hypothetical; they are real and present. Yesterday’s decision in the other place regarding the engagement of the RAF in bombing ISIL in Syria and the debates in both Houses and among the public bring together a whole set of threats that have already been identified as tier 1: cyber, terrorism and international conflict. The decision yesterday reflected a commitment to our friends and allies in NATO and the EU, particularly in France, and highlighted the importance of international co-operation to tackle those current challenges, whether they be diplomatic, economic or military, through the UN, NATO or the EU.
Whatever view people took of the decision taken in the other place yesterday, it is vital to reflect on the commitment of the RAF and the Tornado squadrons operating out of RAF Marham and RAF Akrotiri. They are second to none in their commitment to this nation and our security, and I hope that everyone, regardless of their views on intervention, is able to recognise this. It is also important to recognise that, despite the welcome commitment to 2% spending on defence and the increased expenditure on capabilities and equipment envisaged in SDSR 2015—plugging gaps created by SDSR 2010—a range of commitments will put additional pressures on the Armed Forces: the deployments out of Cyprus, ongoing commitments to the Falklands and other international engagement, and responding to the current refugee crisis. How far have the Government looked at the impact of those repeated engagements on the armed services and on the morale of the Armed Forces?
In particular, on the second of the formal commitments —global reach, whereby the United Kingdom seeks to protect our global influence—the SDSR seems to suggest that global influence goes across all continents, with engagement against terrorism particularly in Africa as well as in the Middle East. All that puts pressure on our Armed Forces. Will the Minister convey to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister that, however much it is in the UK’s interests to engage with partners across the globe, we should not feel the need to make yet another commitment every time there is an official visit? Clearly, only engagement in war necessitates a vote in the other place. Other things may go under the radar, but all of them have an impact on our Armed Forces.
My Lords, it is perhaps worth reflecting that, during the previous strategic defence and security review in 2010, it was made clear to the Government of the day that achieving the kind of reductions that they sought in defence expenditure, at the pace at which they sought to make them, would inevitably result in a degree of strategic incoherence. If the Government nevertheless wished to proceed on that basis, the best that could be achieved was to leave defence in a position from which it could rebuild coherence between 2015 and 2020, hence Future Force 2020.
That, however, would require real-terms increases in the defence budget in each of the years after 2015. The Prime Minister acknowledged as much when presenting the outcome of the 2010 exercise in the other place. Following the most recent defence and security review and the preceding spending review, that funding increase has now, happily, been put in place. I welcome this, but we must be clear that it does no more than was assumed in 2010. It will allow defence to deliver a coherent programme, but it does not bring defence spending back to pre-2010 levels. We will still have smaller Armed Forces, and they will still be stretched to respond to the demands that the Government place on them.
We should also remember that the SDSR sets out an intent; that intent still has to be delivered. Some of the most significant defence shortcomings in recent years resulted not from the 2010 review but from the further cuts that were imposed in subsequent years, so we must seek to ensure that the plan set out in the current review is adhered to. Even that outcome was in doubt until recently. Two years ago, the prospect of the Government reversing the decline in defence spending looked fairly bleak to most of us. Among the important factors in turning that position around were undoubtedly the strong signals coming from Washington that the UK’s position as a reliable partner was in serious doubt.
We have long put our membership of NATO and, within that, the transatlantic relationship at the heart of our security strategy. We flirted dangerously with weakening, if not destroying, that crucial pillar of our defence. Thankfully, we appear to have recognised our folly in time and to have amended our way, but we must ensure that we do not repeat the error.
Any strategy must consist of ends, ways and means brought together in a coherent and achievable way. Our object is the security of our nation, its people and their interests. Two of the principal ways in which we pursue those goals are through our relationship with the United States and our leading position within NATO. This means that we have to employ our forces in a way that is consistent and appropriate, that we have to make levels of investment that are consistent and appropriate to the international situation, and that we have defence capabilities that we are clearly willing to use when the circumstances so require.
There is of course plenty of scope for debate over the exact meaning of terms such as “appropriate”, “relevant” and “circumstances”, and these complex questions and the difficult choices to which they give rise are at the heart of any defence and security review. But what should never be in doubt in the minds of friends and opponents alike is our willingness to put our security at the top of our political calculus. We have started to do that in this review and through more recent events. We must continue to do so in future.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Attlee on securing this debate. I am also looking forward greatly to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who during the whole of my time in Parliament, which is just short of 50 years, seems to have been campaigning for something or other—he is the campaigner par excellence. In between that, he has been Secretary of State for just about everything, but we will hear about that in a moment.
This document is of course a defence review, but it is also an overall view of the nation’s rapidly changing place in the world and how we survive and prosper in the future. I want to concentrate on the Prime Minister’s quote on page 6, about our outstanding Diplomatic Service and our formidable soft power and how we must put the one behind the other. I want to refer also to national security objective 2 on page 11, which again talks about soft power and how clearly it must reinforce and work hand in hand with hard power and more traditional, conventional forms of power deployment and influence. It all sounds fine. It has good remarks in it about the BBC World Service and the British Council in an information age. There is no mention at this point in the report about the Commonwealth, although on page 54 the whole tone suddenly changes and the authors there—they may have been different authors—grasp both the enormous security and trade implications of the Commonwealth network.
More important than that is whether the fine aspirations that the Prime Minister sets out are being followed up. We have a huge aid budget and we can argue about at what speed it should increase and so on, but, whatever its size, it must be backed up by the rest of the diplomatic, security and defence machinery of the nation so that we get a maximum impact from the enormous resources that we are putting into international affairs. Frankly, that is not happening. It may be happening at a junior level but at the senior levels in government we are missing the necessary linkage. The MoD, the FCO and DfID must work more closely together. I agree that the huge resources of DfID, which is doing an excellent job in many areas, need to brought into closer connection with our national interests, national purposes, national security and, indeed, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as is the case in Australia, Canada and many other countries.
More widely, the report is weak on energy. It does not mention anything about the interconnectors which will keep our lights on. It does not mention much about Japanese nuclear power—not Chinese, but Japanese; I declare an interest—which will be the key spearhead in the development of our low-carbon economy. There is not much on Middle East oil and rather high hopes on US shale gas, which, by the time it gets to Europe, will be very expensive. There is little on Asian security and the newly developing common aim between India, Australia, New Zealand and Japan in containing Chinese expansion in Asia. Generally, the authors have not quite grasped that we have moved from an industrial world to an information world; that large-scale military force is less important than it was 50 years ago and that new agile forms are needed; that there are no superpowers anymore; that we live in a network world; and that we must invest in new tools of diplomacy in this network world.
For a clearer insight into what is really happening for this country, I refer noble Lords to a recent document from the London School of Economics Diplomacy Commission, which understands these points. It picks up a number of ideas from your Lordships’ own soft power report, without attribution—but, never mind, I am being kind to it—and frankly, if we want to understand where this country ought to be going, that is a much better read.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who was such an eminent Cabinet Minister while I was campaigning. I am also pleased that my noble friend Lord Touhig will be replying and that many other noble friends are contributing.
Forty-five years ago, when notorious for running on to rugby and cricket pitches to stop all-white South African sports teams selected on race not merit, I never imagined being here. Indeed, a tabloid editor wrote at the time:
“It would be a mercy for humanity if this unpleasant little creep were to fall into a sewage tank. Up to his ankles. Head first”.
I thank my sponsors. My noble friend Lord Kinnock, a great Labour leader, welcomed me into the Labour Party in 1977 to speak at a massive Tribune rally without mentioning that they always sang “The Red Flag”, its words then unknown to me. Perhaps my miserable performance inspired John Redwood’s excruciating public rendition of the Welsh national anthem. Your Lordships may be unaware that my noble friend Lady Morgan of Ely is as talented a singer-songwriter as a politician, as she proved with a provocatively witty song at my wedding. She was outshone only by Nelson Mandela, who mischievously apologised, “But I hope to be there next time”.
It has been a long journey from Pretoria boy to Neath Lord. I thank the people of Neath for their warm support for over a quarter of a century. In recent months I have often been asked about retiring, but to me retiring from politics would be like retiring from life. Politics has been in my DNA from when, as a boy, my brave anti-apartheid parents, Adelaine and Walter Hain, were successively jailed, silenced by banning orders and finally forced into exile in London in 1966, when I was 16.
The defence review clearly has to take account of one of the biggest threats to our country’s immediate security—the barbaric ISIL/Daesh. I hope your Lordships will challenge a British foreign policy seemingly based more on dominating headlines than serious diplomacy. Syria represents one of the worst western foreign policy catastrophes of modern times, encouraging a terrible human calamity to become a disaster of almost biblical proportions. For this was never just a battle between a barbaric dictator and a repressed people, as the Prime Minister first argued. Instead, it is a treacherous civil war, a fiendishly complex battle between Sunni and Shia Muslims, between Sunnis and fundamentalist Sunnis, between Saudis and Iranians and their militia proxies, and between the US and Russia.
Today the Prime Minister at least has a plan for the first time. It leaves me almost persuaded, not least because when voting last year to back air strikes against ISIL in Iraq to stop its genocide, I pointed out that it had also to be attacked in its Syrian heartland. Britain must use its leverage now to insist that the regional powers take full ownership of this battle and, above all, that there is a credible ground force strategy—that the Prime Minister’s alleged 70,000 rebels is emphatically not. Nor is his reliance on the army of an inclusive Syrian Government. That is a future aspiration and certainly not an option for the foreseeable future.
Kurdish forces are fighting ISIL/Daesh impressively, but only in their own territory. Shia militias or Iranian soldiers are no answer fighting a Sunni enemy in bitterly aggrieved Sunni communities in both Syria and Iraq. Western ground troops would create exactly the battle that ISIL/Daesh craves. The imperative now must surely be for Sunni soldiers from Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, Jordan and, above all, Turkey to fight and beat ISIL/Daesh. Britain could and should offer logistical support to those Sunni ground forces but they are indispensable.
Finally, I thank all the staff of your Lordships’ House, who have been fantastically helpful, especially Nicola Rivis in Black Rod’s office. I also thank your Lordships, across all parties, for your generous welcomes, especially the noble Baroness who told me, “It’s nice to have somebody young joining us”. I am a trifling 65 with six grandchildren.
My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on his maiden speech. He has had a long and varied political career. His anti-apartheid stance is well documented, as was his time later in the Foreign Office. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the other place, I regularly had the opportunity to debate African and European issues with him, particularly the future of Gibraltar. For me and thousands of others, however, it is his work as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that stands apart. He was the author of the financial assistance scheme to compensate those in pension schemes which had collapsed. As one of those victims I can now thank him for sorting it out.
Turning to the main issues, it is impossible to cover such an important aspect of policy in only four minutes and I hope that in due course the Government will allow more time properly to debate these issues. For now, I can touch only briefly on UK aid, the BBC World Service and an appreciation of the strategic defence and security review.
The recommitment to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid and development is welcome, as is the commitment to substantially improve the transparency of ODA. However, how does this increase in aid to fragile and conflict-affected states relate to the overall target of 30% of all UK aid? The unilateral decision to end budget support and how focusing more on our self-interests will work while still protecting the focus on poverty are also strong causes for concern. Having signed up to the sustainable development goals agenda in 2030 just two months ago, it is disturbing that they now appear to be given a low priority and that the call to “leave no one behind” seems to be fading gradually away.
With its annual budget rising to £340 million, the BBC World Service plans to increase its audience from 300 million to 500 million, particularly in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Eritrea. It will see a welcome return to joint Foreign Office and licence fee funding. Its impartiality helps to improve good governance and accountability in places that lack any semblance of either, to echo the London Times. There is not a lot of point to it, however, if the audience is prevented from receiving the message. The switch from short-wave transmission from Bush House in London to local FM stations in developing countries created a worrying vulnerability to interference and closure by the political estate. The argument at the time was that relatively few people had access to short-wave receivers while everyone had an FM transistor radio. I am not so sure. In my experience in fragile African states, everyone knew where to go to hear a short-wave BBC broadcast in times of trouble, whether it was to the workplace, to a friend or to the village headman. What evidence has been collected in the interim on the incidence of local FM radio stations carrying BBC World Service broadcasts being taken over by authoritarian Governments while short-wave transmissions elsewhere continue unchecked?
Finally, a few words about the SDSR. The unveiling of a more strategic, threat-based approach is welcome. It seems that a valuable lesson has been learned from the resource-driven approach to the 2010 SDSR. That has become rapidly obsolete with the emergence of unforeseen and as yet undetermined threats from Daesh and a resurgent Russia. To quote the Royal Aeronautical Society:
“We must avoid becoming prisoners of the present. Only the development of a more flexible, agile and technologically-advanced military, that can be readily and rapidly deployed in times of crisis, will ensure the UK maintains vital national security and influence on international issues whatever the geo-political situation”.
My Lords, the topicality of the noble Earl’s debate today, coming as it does just a week after the publication of the 2015 SDSR, can surely not be in doubt. It is a delight, too, to have four maiden speeches in the debate, three of them from noble Lords for whom or with whom I have worked in the past. Not only is the debate timely, it provides an opportunity to consider the UK’s security posture at a time of greater international volatility and challenge than has been the case for many decades. Recent trends of a drift towards a new world disorder and away from the new world order which some mistakenly predicted would follow the end of the Cold War are too numerous to require listing. The Government’s commitment to,
“work with our allies and partners to strengthen, adapt and extend the rules-based international order and its institutions, enabling further participation of growing powers”,
is therefore both welcome and overdue if that drift is to be challenged and reversed. It rightly recognises the extent to which Britain’s security extends beyond what could be called the classical formulation of the defence of the realm and requires a major collective effort, if it is to be achieved.
I shall focus my remarks on chapter 5 of the SDSR, entitled “Project our global influence”, and within it on two issues—support for international peacekeeping and help to fragile states. First, in recent years, this country’s contribution to UN peacekeeping has become at best marginal, and at worst insignificant. That could be explained, even if it could not be entirely justified, by our preoccupation with operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. That can no longer be so. The demand for UN peacekeepers, both military and civilian, remains as high as ever, with more than 100,000 currently deployed worldwide, and that shows no signs of abating. We cannot reasonably expect others to fill the whole of that on their own. The decision in the SDSR to double the number of military personnel we contribute to UN peacekeeping operations is therefore welcome, but I hope that the Minister can say whether the baseline for doubling is the present deployed figure or the figure including the 300 additional personnel announced by the Prime Minister in October for South Sudan and Somalia. If it is the former, I have to say that the commitment is thin gruel.
Do the Government accept that what we need to try to do is to make a real contribution not only in numbers—those well-known boots on the ground—but in the provision of more sophisticated equipment to UN peacekeeping, and more sophisticated personnel who are required if modern peacekeeping is to be effective? I refer also to things like reconnaissance drones, helicopters, intelligence capacity and many other logistical aspects of these operations. Are we prepared to contribute such items in the future?
Secondly, I refer to the commitment to spend at least 50% of our aid budget on fragile and failing states. This recognition is really welcome, and I hope that the UN and the OECD’s DAC guidelines will now take better account of the reality that you cannot do development in fragile or failing states. You have to stabilise them first and then you can do development. I hope that we can make a real success of that commitment.
Finally and in conclusion, I congratulate the Government on a review that is generally both more realistic and more action-oriented than the 2010 review. Whether it will also be more effective will depend on its implementation. In recent years, a rather wide gap has opened up between the Government’s rhetoric on international development and their actual performance. The success of this review will be determined by whether that gap can be narrowed, and in that context I welcome the outcome of last night’s debate in the other place and the decision there to authorise the extension of our military operations against IS to include its heartland in eastern Syria, a decision that I believe was morally, legally and strategically the right one to take.
My Lords, it is easy to say that it is a great honour to join your Lordships’ House, but it is hard to convey quite how much it means to me. I thank my supporters, my noble friends Lady Stowell and Lady Bottomley, and my mentor, my noble friend Lady Browning, for their unstinting encouragement and help. I am afraid I shall continue to need it, having already sat on the wrong Benches, stood when I should have been sitting, and no doubt sat when I should have been standing. I also thank and congratulate the staff of this House. I do not know how they recognise us all, but I take my hat off to them.
In my time in another place as a Back-Bencher, Minister, Chief Whip and chairman of the Defence Select Committee, I came to appreciate with admiration the depth of the wisdom and expertise that is available on a daily basis in this House. An obvious example of that is the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, whom it is a privilege to follow, but then I have been benefiting from his experience on issues of nuclear proliferation for many years now, so no change there. He told me a fortnight or so ago that he was an optimist; I am not. I have been described by the Times as making Eeyore look like a happy-clappy type, and your Lordships are just about to find out why. And how daunting it is to be speaking in a defence debate surrounded by noble and gallant Lords and former and current Defence Ministers, and how thankful I am that I have only four minutes, which has to limit the number of mistakes I can make—but time will tell.
I declare my interests in that I advise Thales UK; Pure Storage, the computer storage company; and the strategic company SC Strategy Ltd. I am also an unpaid adviser for the Electric Infrastructure Security Council of the United States.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence. I suspect that most of us would like to see more, but in a time of austerity this is a real achievement. There is one aspect of the review on which I shall concentrate. Since the Industrial Revolution, the developed world has begun to rely on technology to an extent which has been increasing as the pace of change picks up. The developed world is now completely dependent on, for example, computers and electricity. This was the subject of an excellent speech in a debate in this House about a month ago by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. Without computers, we could not function efficiently. If we lost our electricity, we could barely function at all. We would have no money, no communication, no chain of command, no water and no fuel. It would, as they say, be a really bad day. So our reliance on electricity creates for us an existential risk—a potential single point of failure that leaves us vulnerable as never before.
Therefore, I particularly welcome the concentration given in this review to the extra money provided to GCHQ, and to the recognition by the Prime Minister of the need for exercises to protect our energy infrastructure. I welcome the fact that when Oliver Letwin set out these vulnerabilities to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and asked for resources to deal with them, the Chancellor told him that he was being insufficiently ambitious and gave him more. I believe that that reflects well on both of them because, throughout the developed world, modern warfare will be fought not only on the beaches, in the fields and on the streets; it will be fought inside our infrastructure in ways we will not be able see, with no warning and with devastating consequences. I believe that the Government understand this, but there is much still to be done.
My Lords, I very much appreciate my noble friend Lord Attlee initiating this debate. For me, it is also a special pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot’s most thoughtful maiden speech. I am absolutely sure that his experience will add lustre to this House. Over the last five years, James and I have had many discussions on defence. His knowledge on the subject, gained over many years, was put to excellent use when he served as chairman of the Defence Select Committee in the other place. As a matter of interest, having two ancestors who both fought at the Battle of Trafalgar and rose to the rank of admiral, and another a general, commanding cavalry in the Battle of Waterloo, his natural interest in the Armed Forces is possibly not surprising.
In the speech I made in the defence debate after the Queen’s Speech, I felt it only right to congratulate the Government on the outcome of the defence and security review. We are unquestionably in a better place than I and many others imagined six months ago. It has been received positively by our armed services. I understand that our American friends, who regard us as their key partner of choice, are pleased with the outcome, in particular noting the enhanced Royal Navy capability. Great effort has gone into this review, and I am sure that we all wish to thank all those involved, in particular the many civil servants, whose efforts often go totally unsung.
I completely endorse the Government’s strong link between prosperity and security. Indeed, I strongly suggest that the Armed Forces have an even greater role to play in this link. All three services can reinforce the Government’s global prosperity ambition through their deployed footprint, utilising soft power through exercises, visits and partnerships, signalling our regional commitments, military strength and military technology. All this makes the work of our industrial defence sector and our diplomats a great deal more effective. It will unquestionably help to enhance our international trade and will, of course, create wealth for the United Kingdom.
Having said that, I must nevertheless add a strong note of practical caution. The work to create and, indeed, restore the necessary capability has only just begun. It would take many highly motivated, capable people many years to make it happen. Leadership and commitment to the pace and quality of delivery is crucial. We must not waste a single day. As recent history clearly demonstrates, events may challenge us at any time, as my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot just mentioned, before we are ready to respond.
The core point of the 2% is that 20% of it is being spent on new kit, which will undoubtedly be a major factor in enforcing positive change. However, much of the new equipment will not be delivered and operational until 2025 and beyond—20 years after the 2010 SDSR future force planned structure. The world looks far more dangerous. In a sense, we will see a window of vulnerability over the next decade. In the round, we may not achieve the full strength of our military capability until 2030—that is three times the length of World War II and three Parliaments from now. In my view, everything that can be done to pull forward this programme would not only lead to much greater efficiency and cost gain, but motivate innovation. The time gain could be crucial to the United Kingdom’s security. The next two or three years will be more than exacting for our armed services as the budget now includes the cost for rapidly enhancing our cyber and intelligence capability.
In times of crisis, I am sure that the Government would find another £1 billion to accelerate this very positive change programme. Do we need to wait for a crisis? It is excellent news that we now have clear political will to engage and re-engage from strength. I hope that our Government will be prepared to consider going the extra mile, which would be splendid for morale and save money for the nation. I therefore ask my noble friend the Minister to consider my request to go the extra mile. I took very careful note of the very powerful speech by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup. I look forward to the time when allocation to defence will be at least 3%.
My Lords, while I welcome and congratulate all our maiden speakers, I welcome and congratulate my noble friend Lord Hain in particular. As has already been suggested, his campaigning history goes back a very long way. He is still active today. I recall first meeting him on campaign visits to Scotland in the 1980s, when, as a young mathematics teacher, I used to do his son’s homework when he came with him for the visit for the weekend. It is terrific to be sitting beside him and to welcome him to your Lordships’ Chamber.
I welcome much of the content of the new national security strategy, but I will focus in particular on the stability element of the topic for debate, and the new policy statement UK Aid: Tackling Global Challenges in the National Interest. Much of the national security strategy is framed in the right terminology. As has been said, it recognises the critical links between development, diplomacy and defence. But in too many instances its rhetoric is not always matched by the content. For example, the section on the United Nations refers to UN peacekeeping, but does not in any way reference UN peacebuilding or the work that has been done over recent years to build greater collaboration between the United Nations, the World Bank and other multilateral institutions to secure greater success in post-conflict reconstruction.
The section on the European Union is far too cautious. It does not reference the potential of the External Action Service or the development commission to make a real difference in the world to the stability that we all seek. In the section on migration I was shocked to find only one paragraph of four sentences, the first of which talks of a comprehensive strategy; the other three make it clear that there is no such thing. When migration is a driver of so much conflict in the world today, surely that should have had greater recognition in this strategy. I was also surprised, given the key role of the United Kingdom in ensuring that goal 16 of the new sustainable development goals references peace and justice and their importance to development, that the section on the sustainable development goals does not mention that particular challenge.
However, I welcome the fact that the new policy commits 50% of our aid resources to fragile states and regions. I believe that a focusing of our overseas aid on the places that need it most, where we can make the most difference, is long overdue. I also welcome the new £1 billion fund for conflict stability and security. However, even now, the descriptions of the purpose of these new funds, the priorities that are being established and the strategies that will be used are far from clear. Will the Government consider allocating time in the new year for a debate on the strategies behind these two critical new commitments? We know that, after 15 years, the millennium development goals will not be met in any conflict-affected state in the world by 31 December. Not only will they not be met as a whole, but not one MDG will be met in any one conflict-affected or fragile state. There can be no peace without development, but there can also be no development without peace. If we are aiming for international stability as well as British security, we need to give greater priority to that within the detail of our strategy in the coming years.
In conclusion, I welcome the strong commitment given by the Government to defence spending and to development spending. To do this at the same time as cutting back on our diplomatic effort in so many important places and on the detail of our diplomatic analysis, research strength and accumulated knowledge over the years is a backward step. Development and defence, hand in hand are important, but development, defence and diplomacy have to go together if we are going to have the international security and stability that we seek.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, a very distinguished former First Minister of Scotland. I agreed with much of what he said.
When I stood in the October 1974 election, came fourth and lost my deposit, I never dreamed that I would rise today as a Member of your Lordships’ House. I want to thank everyone who has made my arrival here in the last few weeks such an enjoyable experience. I am genuinely grateful for all the guidance and help I have received at all levels and from my sponsors, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope. The doorkeepers, attendants and catering staff are incessantly cheerful, helpful and friendly—not just to me but to my friends and family, my demanding children and grandchildren.
I had the honour to represent the constituency of Gordon for 32 years. Gordon is not a place; it is the heartland of the Gordon family, historically headed by the Dukes of Gordon, including General Gordon of Khartoum and the 18th-century Duchess who recruited soldiers into the Gordon Highlanders with a kiss. It also produced a Prime Minister, Lord Aberdeen, who appointed Gladstone to his Cabinet. Lord Aberdeen’s family seat was Haddo House where, until fairly recently, June, the late Dowager Marchioness of Aberdeen, presided over many musical and cultural activities. She endeared herself to me when, after one election, she said: “Malcolm, I am so pleased you got back. I worried you might lose. I was so worried, in fact, I very nearly voted for you”.
A colleague said to me that if you are going to be a long-serving MP you need to reinvent yourself from time to time. I certainly have carried out many different roles, including leading my party in Scotland and working with Donald Dewar and others in the constitutional convention to lay the foundations for the restoration of the Scottish Parliament. I am more committed than ever to the case for a federal United Kingdom that can secure the wishes of the majority of the people of Scotland to be self-governing within the UK, rather than leaving it.
I am particularly proud of the role with which I was entrusted by the House of Commons for 10 years, as chair of the International Development Committee. That gave me a privileged and unique insight into the work of the UK’s aid and development activities— by government, by world-class development and humanitarian NGOs and by charities and international and global players. It is on the basis of this experience that I choose to make my short intervention in this debate.
I understand the Government’s aim of demonstrating how our official development assistance directly serves the national interest but it has to be done while conforming to the OECD Development Advisory Committee guidelines. I am pleased that the aid review continues to highlight the focus on poverty reduction as a key objective, as it must be if the post-MDG objective of eliminating absolute poverty by 2030 is to be realised. I also note the interesting report of this House’s Committee on Soft Power and reassert my own view that tackling the challenges of poverty, humanitarian disasters, migration and conflict requires the whole of Government’s engagement. I can only echo the committee when it said,
“soft power can only deliver tangible and measurable results over time, and with patience and dedication”.
I would express caution that, while we retain flexibility, we do not chop and change priorities too quickly and too often. In particular, in our desire to address the current refugee crisis—and I have visited refugees in Lebanon and Jordan—we should not divert funding from vulnerable communities in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.
I welcome the fact that the Government’s national security strategy and strategic defence review maintain the commitment to tackling conflict and building stability overseas. I will watch with interest how the increase in the fund from £1 billion to £1.3 billion will be prioritised and in what ways the Government will deliver annually 50% of DfID’s budget in fragile states and regions.
I hope I shall have further opportunities to address this House on these matters and that, from my past experience and continuing engagement, I shall be able to contribute usefully to the deliberations of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, we have four maiden speakers. It gives me great pleasure to have the honour of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, on his excellent maiden speech in such an important debate. Although we come from opposite corners of Scotland, I am reassured to note that we have both campaigned on similar issues of health and transport. He has had considerable experience, not only as deputy leader of his party, but also as Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and spokesman for multiple departments. He mentioned his role in the Scottish Constitutional Convention and I am sure we shall look forward to the benefit of that experience in the coming months as well. His speech has given a very different view on defence and international security and stability from the perspective of the International Development Committee. The constituency of Gordon has benefited from his experience for 32 years, and I am sure that noble Lords on all sides of the House look forward to his contributions based on his very wide experience.
I believe that this is the most encouraging defence review for some time. Sadly, previous reviews have to my mind overlooked the developing threat and concentrated far too much on reduction and cost saving. It is true that the threat has evolved massively over the last 30 years, particularly in the fields of cyberattacks, electronic intelligence and international terrorism on a large scale, such as is seen in Syria at present.
I am a firm believer in the nuclear deterrent and concerned that, while Russia appears intent on restarting what was so carefully dismantled 30 years ago, now there are nuclear threats from other nations as well. I agree that the concept is abhorrent but am sure that the deterrent is effective, if only by its established existence over the last 50 years. The whole scenario of warfare has changed and appears to have settled into a pattern of multinational approach, rather than the solo campaign such as that fought in the Falklands and South Atlantic, and I welcome a strategy of working with partners.
I am pleased that the Government have confirmed that expenditure is, and will remain, at the agreed 2% of GDP, and look forward to this being maintained in all future Budgets. More than ever before is a guaranteed expenditure necessary. The list of new equipment promised in the review is also very encouraging. Properly equipped aircraft carriers will be essential to help us to fulfil the obligations we have on the worldwide theatre, along with fighting ships and helicopters. However, it should not be forgotten that it takes only one good shot to lose that asset. I hope that plans are in place to provide adequate resources to ensure the security and protection needed to support all our future deployments.
This is a very long review and I want to focus on only two subjects. I am saddened, though, that with the increased threat and greater demands on defence resources and following so many reviews with proposed cuts, there is such a small increase in the numbers of personnel, and that the Army is to be maintained at only 82,000, which I assume includes reservists. I welcome the 1,900 increase in personnel to cover cyber and other threats, but I hope there will be enough to cover the defence force requirements, particularly given the expectation that twice as many available forces will be used for peacekeeping and other international roles. Equally, I appreciate that the use of remote technology and modern equipment can replace personnel included within that plan.
Previous reviews have cut manpower to a point where it has become a significant issue, as I have found in conversations with serving personnel. Long operational deployments with a short home base time before training for the next deployment have a wearing effect on morale and family life. This is particularly noticeable in specialist sectors such as air defence and support arms, where skilled operators in specific roles are very much in demand. While I welcome the improvements to family life, pay and accommodation, I fear that the human factor of the service men and women is not being given as high a priority as it should.
Secondly, I could see no provision for a greater allowance of resources for training. A shortfall of personnel means that operational demands are likely to absorb training time and resources will be cut as well. The provision of shiny new equipment appears to be just sufficient to fulfil the role expected.
Will the Minister, in summing up, give me some assurance that I have in fact misread the review; that as well as the shiny new equipment there will be adequate time and resource for training, and, indeed, the human elements of the services; and that the manning levels of all services will be regularly monitored and even increased if necessary?
My Lords, even before we reach the halfway point of this debate, a range of significant and important matters have been raised. Some merit much more substantial consideration—for example, international partnerships and relationships, the deliverability of counterterrorism and the cyberterrorism agendas, and the huge importance of diplomatic presence and influence. To these I add the projected development of the delegated model.
Like others, I look forward to further opportunities to discuss these and the many issues before us as we consider the SDSR. However, I shall restrict myself to three specific and, I hope, succinct comments and queries. First, noting the small increase in numbers in the defence review—400 for the Navy and 300 for the Air Force—what steps will the Ministry of Defence take to address the equally important matter of skills imbalances in the services—for instance, the Navy’s challenge in recruiting engineers? Existing commitments, equipment and new hardware need not just any soldiers, airmen and sailors but properly skilled, trained and experienced men and women. Further, if, as I suspect, military commanders sought increases, or greater increases, in their numbers—if they argued that they needed, let us say, 2,000 more—do the Government accept responsibility if one or other of the forces cannot deliver what they ask and expect of them?
Secondly, paragraphs 60 and 61 of chapter 4 of the White Paper amount to just three sentences announcing a 30% reduction in defence civil servants. There is no detail there. Indeed, the lack of it makes me quizzical, perhaps even anxious about whether there is clarity within the proposal. So I ask: is some percentage of this already anticipated; for instance, in withdrawal from Germany or from outsourcing or privatising plans already in place? What does this reduction mean? It might seem to imply that further civilianisation of tasks is not possible. Might it, by contrast and worryingly, mean that the tasks presently done by civil servants are to be transferred to the armed services, further stretching their people resources?
Thirdly and finally, in the Royal Navy and in Portsmouth there is relief at the news that the one new carrier that is operational at any time will have 24 aircraft. Can the Minister tell us what decisions have been made about the attribution of these aircraft? If not, when will these crucial decisions be made?
My Lords, for well over 50 years, I have been a silent attender at the deliberations of this House, initially on the Steps of the Throne, then later at the Bar of the House. I have always been immensely impressed by the important role that this House plays in the working of the British constitution. Therefore, for me, it is a huge privilege and pleasure to have the opportunity of addressing your Lordships directly from these Benches.
Inevitably, one is conscious of those who have been before. If your Lordships will forgive me a personal observation, when I look at the Privy Council Bench occupied by three of my noble friends, whom I have known for a very long time, I am conscious of my father and father-in-law. They used to sit there together, mostly in harmony and very often grumbling about the shortcomings of a government spokesman.
I am also very touched to see the noble Baroness my wife on the Cross Benches. This is not an Oscar ceremony and anyway I eschew the emotional stuff but it was very brave of her to marry a prospective politician and very resilient of her, if I may say so, to attend his maiden speech—she has heard an awful lot of the other ones. Frankly, without her I would not have survived the political course.
I am extremely grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Garel-Jones and Lord Goodlad, who did me the honour of introducing me to this place. We go back an awfully long way—back to 1979 and the Government Back Benches, to the Government Whips’ Office and, of course, to the Foreign Office, where we had the privilege of serving under the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, who to my mind is one of the most distinguished Foreign Secretaries this country has had since the war.
I am deeply touched by the kind reception I have received from so many of your Lordships and the staff of this House. In return, I am very conscious that the qualities expected of a Member of this place are very different from those that are expected down the corridor; in particular, a more collegiate, less partisan approach to debate and a certain self-restraint as to the frequency and length of one’s interventions. It is in that spirit that I respond to the Motion so well moved by my noble mentor, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I will confine myself to making four substantive points and no more.
First, the defence review is to be welcomed, especially as regards the enhancement in equipment and the recognition for nimbleness and flexibility. The Chancellor is to be congratulated on making the resources available. But our forces are lean and in a crisis we may not have the opportunity to repair the deficiencies. So I hope that the Government will be sensitive to the need to accelerate some of the programmes. In that context, I will make a point about Paris. Our security forces are well used to dealing with prolonged sieges and terrorists who are anxious to escape with their lives, but we face something different now; namely, suicidal killers intent upon widespread and immediate murder. In respect of them, I hope that our services are properly armed, equipped and trained.
The second point I want to make relates to keeping your word. One needs to be very cautious about giving assurances and uttering threats but, once done, they must be honoured; otherwise, policy-making loses all credibility.
My third point relates to Russia. Putin’s Russia is never going to be a comfortable neighbour, but we now have real issues in common. I hope that we can come to some modus vivendi. True, it will be at a price. The annexation of Crimea will not be reversed and the displacement of President Assad will not be the first priority, but I think we can come to a modus vivendi.
Lastly, on ISIL, I speak as one of those who voted against the second Gulf War. I was a teller on that Motion and assisted with its drafting, but I think that the House of Commons made the wholly right decision yesterday. I do not believe that bombing specific targets in Syria will defeat that organisation, but not to play our part will diminish our standing among those already engaged. It would also display a shaming degree of disengagement. The moral and ethical basis for such action clearly exists. The recent Security Council resolution gives explicit legal authority and, incidentally, it was declaratory only of long-existing principles of deterrence and self-defence. Precisely those principles justify the use of lethal force against individuals such as Jihadi John, who have committed heinous crimes against all humanity. For they have made themselves outlaws in the true sense of the word in that by putting themselves outside the reach of the law, they have also put themselves outside the protection of law.
Those are the four points that I venture to place before your Lordships’ House for your consideration.
My Lords, that was quite a speech. I am glad that there were not eight points. It is a very great joy to follow my noble friend and Lincolnshire neighbour Lord Hailsham. He is a considerable figure and has made a considerable speech. As he was speaking, in fact, I kept thinking of that description which Churchill once gave when he said, “That is not a maiden speech but a brazen hussy of a speech”. We have heard a robust speech, robustly delivered, and we look forward to many more.
I have known my noble friend Lord Hailsham for many years. I knew him when he was the most dogmatic of government Whips, lecturing the 1922 Committee on how we should behave. I saw him as a splendid Minister of Agriculture when he came to stay at our home and spoke in my constituency, accompanied by his bag-carrier—one George Osborne. I also knew him when he became the gamekeeper turned poacher par excellence because in 1997, when our party was somewhat reduced in numbers in the other House, he became the harrier of the Government, never giving them quarter and keeping at them day and night—in fact, so much at night that they brought in Programme Motions so that he could not carry on doing it. He is a notable addition to your Lordships’ House. I am delighted that he is here and it is a privilege to congratulate him on a very notable maiden speech.
I am conscious that this defence review is a significant improvement on the one we had in 2010. A number of your Lordships have made that point during the debate. I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Sterling of Plaistow when he urged the Government to try to accelerate the timetable a little. We really need them to do that.
Talking of brilliant speeches, what a marvellous speech Hilary Benn made in the other place last night. Yesterday’s debate and decision brought into sharp focus the need for our defences to be kept up. We must identify and distinguish between enemies and irritants. I was glad that my noble friend Lord Hailsham talked about Russia, because many of us have of course been irritated but we have a common cause. We must remember that it is not possible easily to fight wars on two fronts. We have to give real priority to identifying and eliminating the worst enemy we have had for many generations and making common cause with the great power of Russia—and it is a great power.
We need a broad alliance with those with whom we have much in common. I urge the Government, through my noble friend Lord Howe, who is responding on their behalf, to have real recognition of that fact and, in consequence, to have a determination of the priorities which will serve the nation well. The review is a good blueprint: it maps out a strategic direction which needs to be followed but, as my noble friend Lord Sterling said, rather more quickly than the review itself indicates.
I wish the Government well in what they are doing. I again congratulate my noble friend on a splendid debut and look forward to the rest of the debate.
My Lords, I add my own congratulations on the four maiden speeches we have heard this afternoon. All four maiden speakers not only are well known to me but have been colleagues and indeed friends of mine for decades. I commend them to the House as the ideal candidates for coming to this place, because they are men of great integrity, they are all people of very considerable experience and knowledge of the world, and they have always been committed, as I am sure they will remain committed here. We will therefore have very valuable contributions from them for, I hope, a very long time.
I do not want to say much about the SDSR itself. I thoroughly agreed with the brilliant analysis delivered by my noble friend Lord West and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, on that subject, but just add one thought, which I might repeat from time to time to make sure the Government do not forget it. Although of course I am delighted at the purchase of the P-8s, the Government would have saved an awful lot of public money and avoided an awful lot of risk if they had kept the Nimrod MRA4. It was a great mistake to cut those aircraft up in the vandalistic fashion that they did when they came to power in 2010.
I have a good announcement for the House, which is that I think we have solved the long-standing problem of the black hole—the alleged deficit in the MoD’s programme, which it is said the Labour Government left in 2010 to their coalition successors. I have been conducting correspondence with the noble Earl about this for some weeks. Buried in his latest letter to me is a single sentence telling us that the Government went through our programme, which was based on resources being increased at 1.5% in real terms per annum, to see what would happen if resources had no real-terms increase at all but were flat in real terms for the 20 years of the programme. Of course, they came up with a deficit, and my maths showed that that deficit was even greater than the £19 billion or so in the equipment programme which is mentioned in the noble Earl’s letter to me. I wanted to put all our correspondence in the Library of the House but, when I tried to do so, I discovered that Back-Benchers could not put correspondence in the Library. Ministers of course can, and I invite the noble Earl, if he would be so kind, to put our correspondence in the Library so that colleagues can follow this matter in detail. I hope we will not need to speak about it any more because this particular myth will be put thoroughly to rest.
I want to just say a little about Russia, which the last two speakers both touched on. Mr Putin must be congratulating himself on having carried off a brilliant coup. He has succeeded in getting away with changing frontiers by force, with annexing the Crimea and, in his own estimation, with ensuring that Ukraine can never join either NATO or the EU—partially because we have always said, since the Cyprus problem, that we would not have another state in either organisation which was split, and partially because it is quite difficult to extend an Article 5 guarantee to a country when a part of it is already occupied. He has guaranteed that the future of Ukraine will be very difficult and unstable. No one will have any incentive to invest there, and therefore the great poverty and very high unemployment in that country will continue indefinitely. I am sure that Putin thinks and calculates that that can in itself only lead to one of two things. One is that eventually the poor Ukrainian population will give up, throw in the sponge and vote in a pro-Russian Government, who will join the Eurasian Economic Union and do whatever else Putin tells them to do. The other is that the West will give up, and do a shameful thing and tear up its commitments to Ukraine on both NATO and the EU. The West will say that Ukraine cannot come into either organisation and will do some deal involving other parts of the world.
I am all for doing deals with the Russians, I must say, but not at the expense of good faith and the guarantees that we have given to Ukraine. Of course, the result of that would be more or less the same for Ukraine, but it would be a devastating blow to the morale of NATO, the EU and, particularly, the east European countries. It would be a terrible betrayal: something that we would regret for decades and perhaps centuries.
My final thought is therefore that we need to think carefully about how we can avoid that scenario. I think that the only way that we can is by thinking how we can extend an Article 5 guarantee to that part of a territory which is not occupied. That is a matter on which we should focus and which we should discuss with our allies over the coming months, despite the other very important issues which we also have to determine during that period.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for initiating this debate and in warmly applauding the four maiden speeches. I hope that it is not invidious if I single out my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie as a very strong addition to our Benches.
The SDSR was of course accompanied by the national security strategy. Although that is not name-checked in the title of this debate, it is security in the broadest sense that I want to focus on rather than defence. One priority in the national security strategy, according to the Government, is to:
“Help strengthen the rules-based international order and its institutions”.
To that end, the UK will work,
“to promote stability, good governance and human rights”.
Then there is a high-level objective in the document, which is to “project our global influence”, which covers means such as expanding our world-leading soft power, investing more in alliances and building stronger partnerships. I fully support both the overall priority and the enumerating objectives. What I struggle with is matching the Government’s words with their actions. How does the pledge to abolish the Human Rights Act, threatening our adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights and our respect for Strasbourg court judgments, comply with the aspirations of strengthening the rules-based international order, upholding our values and promoting human rights? If we cannot do it on the European front, how can we do it internationally?
Under the rubric of “protecting our people”, the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review pledged to work with allies to respond to threats and challenges. However, as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said, there is no mention of European co-operation in the response to the migration challenge. While there is a commitment to strengthen our capabilities to disrupt serious and organised crime, and the Prime Minister’s forward vows to counter threats which recognise no borders, those pledges are contradicted by the Government’s refusal to participate in a strengthened Europol—which, as it happens, has a British director. The Prime Minister said in his recent Chatham House speech that the EU matters for national security, so is he not endangering our security by repeating his periodic claim—not least in the Daily Telegraph today—that he might recommend a Brexit? The EU as such is hardly mentioned in the national security/SDSR document.
Another example of contradiction is the reported omission from the revised Ministerial Code of any specific pledge to uphold international law. That surely completely cuts across the pledge to a rules-based international order. Indeed, the constant sniping that we hear against judges and courts of all kinds—both European and domestic—strikes a contradictory note if the Government are attached to rules.
Too many in the UK, and even in the Government, seem not to be at ease with our international and European role and want to pull up the drawbridge and retreat into aggrieved and curmudgeonly isolation. We should, on the contrary, capitalise on our strengths in democracy, human rights and law and on our position at the intersection of so many networks—the EU, the Commonwealth, the United Nations, the transatlantic relationship and NATO—to contribute with confidence to Europe and the world. We should take our cue as a country from the contribution that all those British individuals who we furnish to European and international institutions make—most recently, and I congratulate her in her absence, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, the new Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. There are so many more whom I do not have either time or place to name-check. We as a country should follow their example.
My Lords, I welcome SDSR 2015, which starts with a vision of a secure and prosperous United Kingdom, with global reach and influence, with the NATO target of 2% of GDP spending on defence agreed by the Government. Thank you very much. There will be an increase in the defence budget in real terms every year—thank you very much—as well as a commitment to increase and not to reduce the Army below 82,000, and to increase the RAF and Navy by 700 people. Thank you very much. Spending will be,
“£178 billion over the next decade on equipment and equipment support”,
increasing by 1% in real terms. This is all excellent news. The nuclear deterrent will be maintained, and the replacement of the Vanguard class with the new class. There will be an increase in,
“the resources for counter-terrorism police and the security and intelligence agencies to pursue terrorists”,
“more than double our spending on aviation security around the world”.
This is absolutely marvellous. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, on his visit last month to the UK, spoke in the Royal Gallery of three joint defence exercises between the UK and India already in one year. This is marvellous. Does the Minister agree that we should continue that?
We will be dedicating 1.2% of the defence budget to science and technology over this Parliament, and establishing,
“a defence and security accelerator for government to help the private sector, allies and academia turn ideas into innovative equipment and services”.
This is absolutely brilliant—all music to my ears. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for initiating this debate and congratulate all the maiden speakers.
The Economist has gone so far as to say that the SDSR 2015 allows Britain to reassert,
“itself as a serious military power”,
and will allow it to regain some of the respect that it has lost in Washington. Given the debate and the action in Syria, both here and in the other place yesterday, there is every possibility that we will have to put boots on the ground to fight the spread of anarchy across Syria and Iraq, and we will be left in a difficult position.
The expertise in this House was demonstrated yesterday to be a hundred times that of the other place, yet we did not get to vote yesterday at all. It shows how important it is that we look ahead and recognise the effects of the so-called Black Swans. The Prime Minister said that we must expect the unexpected. Earlier this year, I was privileged to lead the debate in this House on the 200th anniversary of the Gurkhas’ contribution to the UK and India. My late father, Lieutenant-General Bilimoria, was commissioned into the 2/5th Royal Gurkha Rifles, Frontier Force, and commanded his battalion in the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh, was colonel of the Gurkha regiment and president of the Brigade of Gurkhas and retired as commander-in-chief of the central Indian army.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, spoke about soft power, the BBC and the British Council. Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard University said that a combination of hard power and soft power gives you “smart power”. SDSR 2010 was not smart—it was dumb. Quite frankly, it was negligent; we had no carriers, no Harriers, no maritime reconnaissance, cuts to our troops and means before ends. Does the Minister agree with the noble Lord, Lord West, that there has been a 30% reduction in military capability since 2010? I have been very outspoken in my criticism of the SDSR 2010, with the cuts to the troops of 80,000—you cannot even fill Wembley stadium. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke in Wembley stadium. Today there are barely 3,000 Gurkhas in the British Army whereas, in India, the Gurkhas are approaching 100,000. I was privileged to show General Dalbir Singh, the chief of the Indian army, from the 5th Gurkhas, around Parliament. Will the Minister confirm and reassure us that there will be no further cuts to the Gurkhas? Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw, former chief of the Indian army, said that if a man says that he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or a Gurkha.
Yesterday, we saw the fight of the evil of Daesh, ISIL, ISIS, Islamic State or IS, whatever these monsters are called—we decided to intervene in Iraq and Syria yesterday, whereas last year we decided to intervene only in Iraq. Does the Minister agree that that was a mistake and that we should have intervened in Iraq and Syria a year ago?
Without doubt, defence of the realm is the most important role of government. We are a tiny nation with just 1% of the world’s population but thanks to the hard and soft power we have one of the most powerful defence forces in the world, so powerful that the world knows that this hard and soft power emanate from a country that is respected for and has fought for freedom, fairness, justice and liberty for centuries.
My Lords, I fear that I may be flying under false colours in this debate, because the title makes direct reference to international security and stability but all my concerns are with the lack of any direct reference to our domestic internal security and stability, which I think should have been closely addressed in the report, and the lack of which I think is shameful. We are not going to be able to play any role in the international sector unless we have made our own internal lines secure and our own internal security reliable. Where are the initiatives to deal with that in a changing world?
We have had the horrible example of what has gone on in France, and I think that we should stop and think about what that actually means. It is a new form of warfare for which we have no ready-made defence. It is also hugely geared towards being tele-sensational. We should therefore be putting everything in place that we can to limit anyone’s capability to harness the media against us by putting on a “television spectacular”, as they did in France. We should be seriously considering banning all television coverage of any terrorist incident that occurs, because that is the lifeblood off which they feed. The most that I would go along with would be having some embedded tele-journalist going with our own internal teams.
We really need to have some internal rapid response units, which have got to be created specially, with the particular capability of addressing the other great deficiency in the report, to which the noble Lord, Lord West, has made reference: where are the defences of our greatest border of all, the sea? There is nothing. I live on the south coast. We have 140 miles of coastline with two tiny coastguard vessels that would not look out of place on the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens. There is nothing else at all. How is anyone going to have a rapid response to any sea-borne attack coming in? That is our easiest and most vulnerable target of all.
The report ought to be addressing the possibility of creating two very intensive rapid response units; I suggest one at Northolt and one at Catterick, and dividing the country between them on those lines. They should be equipped with a minimum of seven or eight helicopters each to give them reach anywhere in the country where a situation could arise, and they should have a dedicated combination, accessing the police most emphatically and the fire brigade if necessary. The SAS should emphatically have a permanent always-on-duty presence in each of those camps, and there should be an ability to go wherever.
In the French episodes, the first news that we had came in at 9.22 pm on the Friday evening. By the next morning the television was permanently showing the subject. We have to ensure in our case that anything that occurs here is completely wiped out as an attack before the television cameras come on by the morning; otherwise, once it goes that far, there is no holding it. The report does not at all address an adequate rapid response unit, and that is shameful. I hope very much that the Minister and his team will look back at this to see what they can do. It is not going to be very cost intensive because, if we are not going to be making war abroad, our own resources can be reshaped and reallocated to create these response units. For God’s sake, though, please give them some viable craft to patrol our shorelines.
I wanted to address my final half-minute to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, but he has just left. The noble Lord was the other man in the ruination of the first great romance of my life, though he probably never knew it and never even met the lady concerned. She thought he was a combination of Jesus Christ and Trotsky. She got herself arrested every Sunday afternoon, and I had to appear in court on Monday morning and pay her fines for four years in a row. I was nearly bankrupted by it, so I am very glad to see the noble Lord here; he owes me an apology and quite a lot of money.
My Lords, I do not think I can cap that. Knowing all four of the speakers from the House of Commons, I know they will all make a great contribution. Some years ago, I considered inviting my noble friend Lord Hain to plant a tree in my constituency, but we got a bit worried that, when he cut the first turf, he would not know where to stop. He could have laid waste to the whole of Shepherd’s Bush Green, so we did not.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for his assistance in getting the LIBOR funds for the Mary Seacole memorial, plus the memorial gardens for nurses and other medical forces in combat zones and in danger zones, such as west Africa in the Ebola crisis. The Army has asked me to spread the word that it appreciates the opportunity to convey to people the importance of recognising the whole force concept—not just nurses and doctors but the people recruited from the NHS to go out to danger zones in order provide assistance. It is important, however briefly in a debate of this nature, where time is so limited, to put on record that sometimes we do not recognise enough the need for memorials to people in and around the armed services—not just the service personnel, but those they recruit and employ in other areas. I hope the proposed memorial gardens will meet an unmet need in the country. I know we all appreciate it. The Minister might be slightly worried because charities keep ringing me and asking how much money is left in the LIBOR fund. One lady said to me that, if it runs out, they could slap another fine on them if they are late with her bank statement. There is an offer there.
There are only two points I want to make in this inevitably short debate. The first is about the naval base at Bahrain. I led a delegation to Bahrain last year. I know there is criticism of the Government there, and some of it is justified, but that very small country is struggling to develop the rule of law and a democratic structure. We sometimes underestimate how difficult that is for countries, but it is particularly difficult when just a short way down the causeway you have Saudi Arabia and just across the Gulf, directly opposite, you have Iran. It is a very unenviable position for a tiny nation to be in and the naval base and the US naval base lend stability to that country and are very important. In paragraph 5.57 the Minister commits the Government to build a new naval base, and I very much want to see that happen. This SDSR puts right some of the things we got wrong in the previous one, which was poor. Sometimes I feel that the wording is better than what the reality might turn out to be.
My final point is one that my noble friend Lord McConnell made about the crucial importance in this day and age of linking up foreign policy, defence policy and development policy. One example is Libya. I supported the Libya operation, but I was worried, as with all these interventions, about whether we would get the post-conflict situation right. Generally speaking, I am in favour of intervention. Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State under George Bush, got it right when she said that the really big mistake that the West made in post-war years was to give too much sympathy to dictators. When these brutal dictators fall, whether it is Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi or Assad in Syria, the consequences are enormous because their country is virtually wrecked and has very little structure to it. We need to do better than we have done so far. It is not easy to get it right. What I am saying should not be taken as criticism, particularly of our staff in Libya, who I know are putting their lives on the line at times, but it is profoundly important that we link up these three areas of policy and make sure that we make that extra effort in the post-conflict situation.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie on his excellent and informative maiden speech. His expertise on international development is obvious, but his knowledge and experience are much wider. During the coalition, he was always a source of wise and generous counsel. He was also one of the most articulate advocates in the media for the role of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition, a job we did not, I confess, always make easy for him.
I also congratulate all the noble Lords who have made compelling maiden speeches. I spent a number of years working in South Africa, where the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, is not surprisingly held in very high regard.
I will focus on the Government’s strategy for international development assistance, which was published alongside the SDSR. In particular, I will address the key role of economic development as part of our international aid effort, the strengthening of tax collection systems and the development of own resources. First, however, I will address the tone of the document. It describes the approach of the Government as a,
“fundamental shift in how we use 0.7%”,
which will show that,
“reducing poverty, tackling global challenges and serving our national interest … are inextricably linked”.
But I am not sure how that marks a fundamental shift. The coalition strongly believed that these issues were intrinsically linked. It supported a greater emphasis on economic development, recognised the role of ODA in strengthening global peace and security and responding effectively to crises, and was committed to helping the world’s most vulnerable.
The fact that this strategy was published under the imprimatur of the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes me slightly uneasy. I suppose that by now we are getting used to George Osborne’s omnipresence—if not his omniscience—but in my experience, if George gets involved, there is always a trick to look out for. Therefore, we will need to scrutinise very carefully the budgets of those departments which will now spend ODA to check that the Chancellor has not just found a way to fund departments he is otherwise cutting.
However, I strongly support the emphasis of the coalition Government, continued by the current Government, on economic development as part of their aid strategy. It seems self-evident to me that the purpose of our aid budget must be to assist countries to get to the position where development can be driven from their own resources. Aid is necessary to assist many countries in overcoming the huge challenges that they face, and I am proud that the coalition met the 0.7% GNI target. However, the provision of aid is not a demonstration of success—it is the opposite. Our objective must be to provide aid in the most intelligent and effective manner to release the economic potential of the countries to which we provide it so that in time they no longer require our support. Stimulating private sector growth and freeing up trade is critical to driving this development. However, we must be clear about our objectives.
The Government are keen to stress the opportunities for British business that arise from our aid strategy. If that means that with economic development will come rising demand and that British business will be well positioned to take advantage, I wholeheartedly support it. However, our economic development strategy has to be about creating an environment where indigenous business can spring up and grow, where an educated populace can provide a skilled workforce and where the resulting economic activity can fund social development. It cannot be about flogging British goods and services or about multinational corporations further exploiting the resources of developing nations. That approach has comprehensively failed in the past.
That brings me to the second key issue: how Governments can strengthen their ability to get hold of their own resources through strengthened tax collection systems. As Dr Carlos Lopes, executive director of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, told us this morning at a breakfast for the Africa APPG, the solution for Africa is not more aid but using aid effectively to release domestic resources. The tax take in African countries is half the world average. The extractive industries pay less than half that.
In conclusion, I welcome the emphasis in the strategy on tackling tax evasion and avoidance and on improving tax systems in the developing world. That is closely tied to tackling corruption, for although the formal tax take is low in many developing countries, the informal tax burden through corruption can make the costs of doing business prohibitive.
My Lords, in the 100 years or so since Britain gave up its proud policy of splendid isolation, we have been beset by a number of violent attacks. Some of these have been primarily murders of individuals, as in the case of the anarchists of the early 20th century and the IRA in the 1960s and 1970s. The bombing campaigns of the Germans in the First and Second World Wars were indiscriminate attempts to disrupt and kill, but as far as I know they did not target individuals. From the 1920s onwards, and intensely after 1945, we were beset by the revolutionary Bolshevik regime of Soviet Russia, whose interest was to subvert western civilisation by all means short of war. It is very satisfactory to think that that era has come to an end, and Russia has become a nation rather than a crusade—I echo the words of Chip Bohlen, the American ambassador to Russia, in 1962. The Falklands inspired a war but Argentina, of course, never threatened these islands.
Now, we respond to the new subversion of the caliphate, or Daesh, or ISIL—it seems that it is a movement with as many names as Chinese emperors. Their aim seems to be to kill indiscriminately, unlike the anarchists or the IRA, but all the same to shock the world by what the anarchists call the “propaganda of the deed”, and to force the West and Christianity out of the entire Middle East.
There have been similar violent movements in the Muslim world in the past, such as the Assassins in medieval Lebanon, but the difference is that there are now suicide bombers, which is a new development. Since we need to be in the Middle East for our own commercial and strategic interests, and because, after all, we have friends and allies there, the UN has agreed to react and encourages us to do so in strength. As a historian of military matters to some extent, it is hard for me to imagine that we shall be able to defeat this new enemy without some form of ground campaign. Those 70,000 Syrian soldiers of liberty in whom the Prime Minister urges us to have faith may turn out to be less reliable allies than the Kurds, whose success nevertheless would not be a recipe for peace in the Middle East in general because of Turkey.
Saladin, the great medieval Kurdish general who conquered Jerusalem, taking it from the crusaders, would have been delighted to hear that statement in this House. If noble Lords want to know more of Saladin, I recommend The Talisman by the great Sir Walter Scott, whose novel is the best investigation of the crusades.
In my final minute, I would like to say how much I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, when he talked about control of the media. However, what he has raised is a very difficult matter and such control would require a great deal of strength and intelligence. It is not a question of asking a newspaper editor to shut down critical cartoons, as was the case during the war in the era of Mr Herbert Morrison, the grandfather of the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson.
My Lords, unlike the four admirable maiden speeches that we have heard today, this is not my maiden speech, because I made that 36 years ago when I was 23. However, this is the first time that I have spoken in your Lordships’ House for several years following a short involuntary absence since 1999. I am very honoured to be back and thank those of my noble friends on this side of the House who voted for me. I hope to be able to repay their trust.
I declare two interests in this debate. First, I am the co-founder and chairman of a private security company, and, secondly, I am a senior executive with one of the world’s leading tanker shipping companies, which is also owned by the Russian State Property Fund. I think it is only right that I declare those. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his kind remarks in relation to me and my connections with Russia. I hope to be able to contribute on the subject of Russia in future.
On the subject of Russia, in particular I would like to approve the statement in paragraph 3.22 that Her Majesty’s Government,
“will seek ways of cooperating and engaging with Russia on a range of global security issues”,
including ISIL. That seems an admirably practical approach.
But also keep in mind Lord Palmerston’s famous maxim that we have no eternal enemies or perpetual friends; we have only our eternal interests.
Turning to the review itself, and keeping an eye on the clock, I commend the Government on their clarity and impressive vision. I also single out for approval three particular ambitions that they mention in their review. The first is that of strategic reach, and in particular reference to the incoming QE class carriers, F35s and a land division strike force. Secondly, it is paramount to maintain our position at the top table in NATO and other international and strategic alliances. Thirdly, we should ensure that service men and women, and in particular their families, are properly looked after when their loved ones are abroad.
However, having spoken to current and former soldiers recently, including Special Forces soldiers, I ask the Government how their impressive vision is going to sit with the current realities, especially the funding realities. As one of them recently said to me, “This time, not another fudge, please”.
I would also like to ask three particular questions. First, is NATO too old-fashioned and cumbersome for purpose? We need a NATO spearhead force able to mobilise and be deployed at short notice. Secondly, can the British Army really deploy a war-fighting division and is our reserve structure able to mobilise quickly in a crisis? Thirdly, does the review contemplate enough innovation and collaboration across the defence community?
I support the point made by my noble friend Lord Robathan yesterday about the tension between the expressed desire to recruit more Special Forces soldiers, but this coming from a smaller and smaller gene pool.
Finally—perhaps one original point—I would like to adopt the suggestion that I know is being promoted by the CGS at the moment in relation to his new CHACR initiative; namely, aligning the UK’s commercial and military objectives while abroad, as do the US and France rather aggressively. I think it would do well for us to adopt the same to bridge the obvious funding gap.
My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Attlee for giving us the chance today to look at the defence review. He and I go back quite a long way, from bouncing like peas in a pod in Poole harbour when we visited the special boat squadron, as members of your Lordships’ defence group. He showed commendable guts then. My noble friend also accompanied me to Kosovo, where we became entangled with the Swedish and Finnish brigade, which was attached to our own brigade out there. My noble friend has been of valuable help and I assure him, and indeed the Minister, that the House of Lords defence group, otherwise known as the war Lords, has not gone away. The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, is not with us for some reason today, and, alas, my noble friend Lord Astor is taking a short period of leave. However, I say to the Minister that we have always relished the enormous and very tight relationship between military defence and Back-Bench Members of your Lordships’ House who at various times in their lives perhaps got their knees quite brown in one way or another, either as a conscript or worse.
I direct your Lordships’ attention just briefly to paragraph 4.40 in the paper in front of us today. It refers to the brigades and the number 50,000. It might come out in the course of his remarks, but can the Minister let us know what the mix of those 50,000 will be? That might be the number, but there will be all sorts of capabilities and capacities involved. Indeed, there is a very valuable illustration on page 28. I was particularly interested to see “LAND—A war-fighting Division”. The symbol for “Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance” seems rather like that of the Whips’ Office, but I do not worry necessarily about that.
Perhaps I may then direct your Lordships’ attention to paragraphs 4.45 and 4.46, which detail the Special Forces. In any defence debate or on many matters, the less said about the Special Forces the better. We are delighted when we get news later of what happens, but one particular aspect of paragraph 4.46 concerns me a trifle. It states:
“We will buy advanced communications equipment”.
I say cobblers to that; we want the best. And only the best will do, not just for the Special Forces but for the men and women who are also occupied with them.
On paragraph 4.48, perhaps my noble friend will be able to enlighten me either today or in writing on the term “innovative brigades”. I am interested in what the mix will be or what they might get up to.
On paragraph 4.49 on the Typhoons, can my noble friend let me know at some stage what the mix in the numbers will be? I understand there to be 138 F-35 Lightning aircraft at some stage. Can he advise me, please, what the mixture of F-35As and F-35Bs is likely to be?
The noble Earl, Lord Stair, who, alas, is not in his place, mentioned accommodation. This has concerned your Lordships’ defence group when we visit, but I am delighted to see in paragraph 4.53 that this will be one of the major projects. I see the noble Lord on the Front Bench indicating that my time is up—he will be relieved to learn that I am about to sit down—but if my noble friend the Minister could glance at paragraph 4.53, it would reassure me greatly.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. It has been good to see that this SDSR has arrested the decline of the defence budget over the past five years and made some attempt to redress some of the woefully short-sighted decisions made in 2010. It is particularly encouraging to see in the Prime Minister’s foreword to the review his recognition of the need for,
“sea lanes to stay open and the arteries of global commerce to remain free flowing”,
and, from this, maritime security and the role of the Royal Navy moving back to where it should be in the centre of our defence strategy.
However, in the context of keeping sea lanes open, I have two concerns. First, safe navigation is fundamental. The Minister will be aware of the vulnerability of the global navigation satellite system—GNSS—to interruption and jamming and of the availability of eLoran, which is not similarly susceptible and provides a safe back-up in this eventuality. I declare an interest in this as an Elder Brother of Trinity House. Would the Minister care to comment on the Government’s intentions regarding a reliable and robust alternative to GNSS when eLoran is terminated at the end of this year when the French shut down their station, a station without which the eLoran system cannot function? There is a national resilience component to this—it is not just safe navigation—with regards to GNSS-generated positioning, navigation and timing, or PNT. It is on its signals that key elements of much of our national infrastructure depend.
Secondly on safe sea lanes, and as I mentioned in the debate following the Statement on the SDSR in the House last week, we should be concerned about the small size of our destroyer/frigate force. These are the workhorses of the fleet on which we depend to keep the sea lanes open. In replying to questions, the Minister said:
“As regards the sufficiency of ships, we are advised by the Chief of Naval Staff that a 19-ship destroyer and frigate fleet, capable of co-operating on a global scale, is what is required”.—[Official Report, 23/11/15; col. 518.]
That may be so, and it may be what the Chief of Naval Staff said, but that is only because the number of tasks that we have traditionally and quite properly undertaken has been cut to accommodate the paucity of escorts.
For example, if the aspiration to meet national security objective 2, which is to project our global influence, is to be sensibly realised so far as the Royal Navy’s contribution to the core MoD task of defence engagement is concerned, we need more ships to cover the necessary footprint. Although we may be able to draw some comfort about the announcement of the concept of designing and building a new class of lighter, flexible, general-purpose frigates, it is simply too long to wait until the 2030s to see them.
In the upcoming and new national shipbuilding strategy, I exhort the Government to see what can be done to bring forward the introduction of those ships into service. This will benefit the industry by having a better shipbuilding drumbeat; it will generate earlier foreign sales potential, where other navies like to see the Royal Navy using a class of ship before they buy into it; and, of course, it would underpin the United Kingdom’s role in supporting international security and stability in the light of the SDSR.
My Lords, I congratulate the four maiden speakers and wish to make three brief reflections.
First, there is a consensus that this SDSR is valuable and welcome. It is certainly an improvement on its 2010 cost-cutting-exercise predecessor. However, I question whether the pace of change has been fully taken into account. There must be concern about the timeframe given the many uncertainties—the play of the “contingent and the unforeseen”, the “unknown unknowns”, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, 9/11, the Arab spring and mass migration to Europe—all of which stand as a corrective to long-term planning.
There is a need, of course, for flexibility and agility in doctrine and procurement, where the lead times—such as for the maritime patrol capability and the new strike brigades—are long. Again, the Vanguard replacement seems to have been stretched incredibly from 2024 to 2028, and now to the early 2030s. Surely the case for adaptable platforms capable of modification as the nature of the threat changes has been made.
The history of the Upholder class submarine is instructive—planned in the early 1980s, abandoned in the early 1990s and eventually sold cheaply to Canada. I concede that part of the reason was cost-cutting, but the key consideration was that its role as a barrier to Soviet incursions into the North Sea had become redundant. Thus, even five-year projections can be swiftly undermined by events. For example, had Scotland become independent with an anti-Trident Government, we would need a massive rethink of strategy and bases.
We need to learn from overseas examples. From his previous knowledge of the health brief, I ask the noble Earl whether he is confident that there is, for example, sufficient spare capacity in our London hospitals to cope with a major terror attack as the Paris hospitals appear to have coped. Is the planning for this contingency adequate?
My second reflection is that the SDSR has a welcome emphasis on inter-departmentalism at home and co-operation with our alliances abroad—certainly compared with its predecessor—but are the boundaries between the MoD, DfID and the FCO still too stark, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said? Should the departments not be seen as three legs of a tripod? Yet two of the three legs have a guaranteed budget, so the FCO has to take the strain. Is the balance correct? Are the boundaries of these budgets sufficiently flexible? For example, our military contribution to tackling Ebola was properly charged to the defence budget.
I come to my third and final reflection. The Oracle at Delphi advised those who sought its wisdom to “know yourself”. Yes, we are pre-eminent in soft power, but have we reached a true understanding of our role in the world? Did I detect a certain bravado in the tone of the review? The Prime Minister said exultantly, “Britain is back”. Have we made a root-and-branch examination of our role and capabilities? The Falklands, the last of our unilateral campaigns, could not now be repeated. The review should be read in parallel with the LSE review already cited. Thus, have we fully adjusted to our proper role in the alliances with increased specialisation in procurement and in regional market share? Is there now a case for a new St Malo treaty to add Germany to the Franco-UK alliance? Must we in the UK continue to have the full spectrum of capability? I am not confident that these and other questions have been adequately answered in the review.
My Lords, in congratulating the four very good maiden speeches, perhaps I may invidiously pick out that of my noble friend Lord Hailsham, who was introduced on the same day as me last month. I think noble Lords will agree that he will contribute greatly to this House. He made some excellent points and I thought that his timekeeping, in keeping himself to within four minutes, was particularly to be congratulated.
We are really taking up where we left off yesterday, except that in my case I was the 64th speaker in that debate, but today I am the 28th, so I suppose that I have been promoted. I welcome much in the SDSR, and today I concentrate on the Army. I walked down the Royal Gallery earlier and saw the names on the panels of those from the House of Lords who have died in service to this country. Many of course would have been volunteers for the First World War and the Second World War, but many would have had careers in the Army. We should all ask whether the Army will remain an attractive career.
Accommodation is extremely important, but young men—and they are primarily young men—want excitement, adventure, job satisfaction and above all a challenge. I am afraid that they may be less bothered about en suite facilities. Some 82,000 troops in the Army are too few. In the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan we created a much more professional force than the one I joined. If we wish to retain those professional people, we have to offer them a continuing challenge. I was talking to young officers on Tuesday night. One had been to Oman, Jordan and Belize in the past year, which was pretty interesting. They were clever young men, and in their late 20s they look at an 82,000-strong force and think that, in the future, perhaps their careers may be limited.
On numbers, there are too few soldiers if we wish to saturate a city, as the French did in Paris after that attack. There are too few to deal with infrastructure attacks, as my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot mentioned in his maiden speech. Turning to those boots on the ground about which we hear so much, in the first Gulf War we deployed a division, as I recall. In the second Gulf War in 2003 we deployed something similar, although both were pretty difficult. Now it would be very difficult, and the Falklands, which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has just mentioned, would be impossible. That is because we have very few boots to stick on the ground. The SDSR has great aspirations, but I repeat: we need more troops. I should say that I told the Prime Minister this five years ago when I was a Minister in the MoD, and I survived—for a few years, at least.
If our Special Forces are to be elite and special, they have to undergo a rigorous selection process. Often that process is actually rather unfair and good people fail to get through, but one is totally reliant on the quality and the capability of the personnel—the individuals. Our Special Forces are very busy and extremely good at their job, but you cannot create larger Special Forces on a whim. The Americans tried something similar in Vietnam and it did not work well. Yes, of course the equipment is important, but you need to select and keep good people. Reducing the size of the Army to half of what it was 40 years ago has shrunk the pool from which we can recruit.
Until the 1980 embassy siege, not many people had heard of the SAS, but now it is lauded to the rafters. A huge amount is expected of the Special Forces. I am concerned that we expect too much from what, by its very nature, has to be a small, elite force. I remember training Sergeant Major Taff Richards, formerly of the Welsh Guards, running a selection in 1981. He said, “There are no supermen here. We cannot perform miracles or walk on water”. We have to have excellent people, we have to keep them, and we have to select from a larger pool.
I welcome the direction of the SDSR, but only that. I have highlighted the three concerns that I have about our depleted Army. It is too small, I am concerned that it does not offer an attractive enough career structure to keep people in, and we should not assume and cannot expect that very small, elite special forces can do everything that people seem to think they can.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for tabling this timely debate. I think we would all agree that we have had a really interesting few hours. I congratulate the Government on the full-spectrum approach to our security taken in the SDSR. The complexity of every security issue that we face means that we need to take a more strategic and co-ordinated approach to using our military, intelligence, diplomacy, international aid and soft power resources to contribute with other like-minded states to our international security. Others on my Benches who are more expert than I have addressed aid and diplomacy. Here, I welcome my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie and his maiden speech. He will be a welcome and great addition to our Benches.
On defence, the equipment announced in the SDSR and the posture that Future Force 2025 will deliver will, once set up, enhance the UK’s ability to support international stability and security with Her Majesty’s Armed Forces when required. The UK has never demurred in its commitment to working with our allies and partners to deliver international security. This SDSR acknowledges the important role that Britain plays. We can explore this further in Monday’s debate in the name of my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire.
When considering our ability to support international security and stability and work with our allies, one of my concerns is the personnel levels in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and in the supply chain, and our ability to deliver sovereign capabilities—more specifically, our ability to recruit and retain expertise in high-skill trades, such as nuclear engineers, avionics and also cyber specialists. I will return to cyber shortly. Having the equipment to deploy in support of international security is one thing; it is quite another to have the requisite personnel so that military capabilities can be fully used when directed by HMG.
The increase of the UK’s expeditionary capability to 50,000 personnel will mean that one in three of the defence force will need to be deployable at any one time, compared with the current overall ratio of one in five. This narrows down to one in four for the RAF and one in three for the Royal Navy. What impact will this have on harmony time? There will be a division for high-intensity combat, drawing from two armoured infantry brigades and two new strike brigades. The strike brigades will use the Ajax armoured vehicles and the new mechanised infantry vehicles. Regulars and reservists will work on strategic communications and hybrid warfare alongside one another in the two new brigades. They will deliver better battlefield intelligence.
In addition to the stupendous new carriers, which will form the platform for the F35s, three new logistic ships will be purchased to support them, along with a mix of Astute submarines, Type 26 and Type 45 frigates, plus the yet-to-be-designed all-purpose light frigate. Many of us wait with bated breath on that one. The Royal Marines will also be available to use the carrier’s amphibious capabilities.
As far as the RAF is concerned, the announced purchase of nine P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft is welcome after the cancellation of Nimrod in 2010. While these aircraft have an important role monitoring the UK’s sovereign maritime area, they also have a vital role working with our allies to hunt submarines in the Atlantic—an activity that the UK unilaterally removed itself from fully participating in in the 2010 SDSR.
It has been said that the RAF has had a good SDSR—some might say not before time. Its pilots will fly the C35s off the two new carriers, two new Typhoon squadrons with added capability and 20 new Protector RPAS, as well as a recapitalised air transport fleet.
The noble Lord and I might hope that, but that is not what the briefing that I have been to said. Time will tell.
All this paints an exciting future, but it is very much a future picture. The noble Earl the Minister will remember a question asked at the excellent Peers’ briefing on the SDSR about the timeline from 2015 to 2025, so that it is easy to follow the implementation of each capability. If it were to exist it would be hugely informative and very helpful.
I turn to personnel issues. On cuts to the Civil Service working within MoD, will the Minister acknowledge the general fall in morale? The loss of their expertise will be considerable and, once gone, it cannot be recovered. Will he confirm whether redundancy will be strategic or voluntary? With a restriction of 1% on salary increases, does this send the right message to those who are staying, when outside pay rises for the same skills are 4%? What estimate has been made of lost skills and experience, and what packages might be made available to those who would pose a strategic loss?
We face a range of threats, some state led. The return of Russia to the SDSR should come as no surprise—five years out is a long time. Some threats come from rogue players, such as Daesh and al-Nusra. Some, like cyberthreats, could come from someone's bedroom—that of a terrorist or a bored student. Cyber is real and poses a serious threat to the workings of our machinery and to civil society. I am sure that any recently purchased equipment or systems have built into their commissioning a detailed cyberdefence specification. Retrofitting is another issue; it is less straightforward and poses a far greater risk.
The commitment and realisation in the SDSR that cyber is a real and daily threat is welcome. The investment of £1.9 billion in defensive cyber over five years is to be applauded, as is the publication next year of the national cybersecurity strategy. There is a huge need to be fleet of foot in this as the picture emerges and new tools become available on the dark web. Change is the norm; it is rapid and without notice. The decision to base cyberthreat analysis and detection at Cheltenham is interesting. Where will the policy direction be determined?
Cyber is the future. We need to develop a large cohort of all manner of cyber expertise, working with operatives and with our trusted allies and partners. The recently announced Institute of Coding is a great initiative. I sincerely hope that applicants reflect the pattern in the Middle East and in India for similar courses, where more women than men apply.
During the last 20 years or so, we have seen the growth and importance of soft power alongside military hard power. I liked the “soft plus military equals smart” that was said earlier in the debate. I welcome the move to expand our presence in our embassies worldwide—an extension of deep country influence. We should never underestimate their influence and ability not only to be the face of UK plc, but also to be our eyes, ears and voices in country.
In a previous debate, I also welcomed the addition of the British Council and the BBC World Service to the SDSR. Having lived in the Middle East for some years and worked in the British Council, I have seen its activities and impact at first hand. It is the envy of many and if it did not exist we would have to invent it. I have just received a letter from the Minister and I am fairly sure that the question I am about to put to him had not been checked in that letter. If I repeat a question, then I forgive him—or perhaps he will forgive me.
Whichever way. Can he confirm that there will be no cuts to either the British Council or the BBC World Service? How does the extension of deep country expertise dovetail with cuts to the FCO budget?
We have heard some fascinating maiden speeches—four and a half of them. We have heard the challenge from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on peacekeepers. I think that was unique. Noble Lords have woven most other points in and out. I welcome the positive tone of the SDSR, the commitment to 2% spend and the annual uplift announced by the Chancellor. As noble Lords have said, more needs to be done. All is not perfect. Our Armed Forces are prepared to put their lives in peril for us. We owe it to them.
My Lords, in this debate the House is being asked to take note of Britain’s,
“role in supporting international security and stability in the light of the Strategic Defence and Security Review”.
We have heard some first-class maiden speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Arbuthnot, Lord Bruce and Lord Hain, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. Each has served with considerable distinction in the other place and I have no doubt that they will do the same here, bringing their very considerable experience to our debates and enhancing the standing of your Lordships’ House.
The debate could not have come at a more important time: less than 24 hours ago we began air strikes against ISIL in Syria. The defence of our country and Britain’s international role in fighting probably the most evil of terror groups to inhabit our world is very much on the minds of our fellow countrymen and women. At the outset I pay tribute to the brave men and women of Britain’s Armed Forces who, day in, day out, put their lives on the line to defend our freedom and our way of life. In my eyes and, I am sure, in the eyes of many others, they have no equal. Now that the decision to engage in Syria has been taken, no matter whether we agreed with this action or opposed it, we have to get behind our forces, giving them and their families our full support.
It would be easy to stand at this Dispatch Box and tear into the strategic defence review. It has many shortcomings and we considered some of these in the debate following the Statement on 23 November, and a number of noble Lords have shared their concerns today. It would be easy to make party political points and hit out at the Government over the review. However, that is not my aim or intention. Today, of all days, we need to be a united country and a united Parliament.
There are still many unanswered questions about the review. Britain is a maritime trading nation and keeping open the world’s sea lanes for trade and commerce is vital to our economic well-being, yet our Navy is small, stretched and lacks sufficient vessels. There is also concern that we have too few personnel to man our ships. The SDSR told us that Britain will increase the size of its frigate fleet in the long term. Will the Minister say what is meant by “long term”? Is it five years or 10 years? How long is it? If he has answered that in the letter I received 20 minutes ago, I hope he will forgive me for asking the question again. We are told that there will be a new class of lighter, flexible, general-purpose frigate by the 2030s. Can the Minister put some more meat on the bare bone of this plan, or is it another of those “long on promises and short on specifics” that characterise much of the review?
The size of the Royal Air Force is at an all-time low, when monitoring submarine incursions in or near our territorial waters is increasingly important. The SDSR tells us that we will buy Boeing P-8 maritime patrol aircraft to perform the task that was once done by Nimrod. Can the Minister say when Britain will have a fully operational independent capability to do this? I am told that it will be 2020. Is that correct?
In the case of the Army, the SDSR sets out a plan to form two new strike brigades, with 5,000 personnel, capable of rapid deployment. When will that take place? My reading of the review suggests that it will be 10 years before the rapid strike brigades can be deployed. I return to a question that I asked the noble Earl on 23 November, to which, probably because of pressure of time, he did not answer. Is it true that our Special Forces have shrunk by 40% due to restructuring and reduced numbers? The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, said in his speech last night that the pool of talent for the Special Forces has been shrunk by cuts, a point to which he returned today. He said that the Army is half the size it was when he joined 40 years ago, adding that it was difficult, if not impossible, to increase the size of the Special Forces further without dropping standards, and that that would make them no longer special and no longer capable of the task asked of them. That comes from a former soldier and Defence Minister. The noble Earl might care to reply to that when he responds.
If we look at the size of the Army, the review makes it clear that the Government will continue their policy of filling the gap in the number of full-time soldiers by increasing the reserves. The SDSR tells us:
“We will continue to grow our Reserves to 35,000”.
Can the noble Earl tell us when this will be achieved? What of this comment from his noble friend Lord Attlee, speaking in the debate on the reserves in October, who said:
“I still think that the plan for volunteer reserves is deeply flawed—in particular, in trying to suggest that volunteer reservists will be identical to their regular counterparts”.?
He went on:
“They may be interchangeable and they can certainly be interoperable, but they are never going to be the same. There is simply not enough time for training to get to that level of proficiency”.—[Official Report, 22/10/15; col. GC 59.]
Is the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, wrong when he tells us that the shortfall in regular soldiers is to be filled by less well-trained reservists who will never get to the level of proficiency we demand of our regulars? I am sure the House will be interested in the Minister’s response.
In our debate on the reserves, the Minister recognised the importance of retention. Can he update us today on this matter? Can he tell us the rate of recruitment and retention? In October he said that we had “turned a corner” on this matter about a year ago. How far around the corner are we? Just a handful of the 90 pages in this review mention the Armed Forces at all. There are still many questions but time prevents me asking them.
Finally, I will say something about the SDSR telling us that Britain is,
“the world’s leading soft power”.
The Government have acknowledged the importance of soft power with an £85 million investment in the BBC World Service to support initiatives in Russia, North Korea, the Middle East and Africa—a point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. Although we recognise the BBC to be one of the UK’s significant cultural exports, can the Minister indicate whether the Government have given any consideration to recommendations made by the Select Committee on Soft Power?
Many BRIC and Scandinavian countries shape their foreign policies around explicit soft power goals; for example, China has opened 327 of a projected 1,000 Confucius Institutes, encouraging philosophical understanding of its civilisation; and Finland sends monitors to join the Red Cross in Ukraine, not just for humanitarian aid but specifically to get closer to the people and to understand their wishes and needs. Worryingly, the Select Committee report concluded that Britain is weakening rather than bolstering its soft power institutions. Especially following the events in Syria, it is essential that the Government begin to make soft power central to any foreign and defence policy thinking. I would be grateful for the Minister’s views on this. Perhaps he could tell us a little more about what might be done other than the planned investment in support of the BBC.
I am sure the whole House will agree that it is the first duty of any Government to look to the care and well-being of their citizens, and that must begin with the defence of our nation. So when the Government come to Parliament with a document such as this, setting out their plans for our strategic defence and security, it is only right that it is given the most careful scrutiny. That has been done all around the Chamber today.
My Lords, we have had a detailed and extremely well-informed debate, benefiting, as ever, from your Lordships’ experience and expertise on defence matters. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Attlee on having introduced it so expertly. I congratulate also most warmly the four maiden speakers, each of whom in their own way has shown how maiden speaking should be done. Time has been tight but we have covered a great deal of ground.
I begin by reminding noble Lords of the context in which our discussions have taken place. We are living in dangerous and difficult times. The threats we face are growing in scale, complexity and diversity. In the past year alone we have seen a newly aggressive Russia using proxies to menace the borders of Ukraine. We have seen the Daesh death cult export the horrors it has perpetrated in the Middle East across the globe, from the beaches of Tunisia to the streets of Paris. We have also seen a great migration spilling across Europe’s borders and into the Mediterranean due to the effects of growing instability in the Middle East and Africa.
Such threats do not just pose a danger to us directly but undermine our entire international rules-based system on which our values of tolerance, the rule of law and freedom depend. Yet in the face of these dangers, we will not retreat to our shores. Instead, we will continue protecting our people, projecting our influence and playing a central role in supporting global security and stability.
Our strategic defence and security review, published last week, strengthens our defence in three ways. First, it gives us the means to match our ambition. This Government have prioritised defence and security over many other areas of public spending. We have made a commitment to meet the NATO 2% target. We have put in place £2 billion of the joint security fund, which will see the defence budget rising in real terms by 3.1% in this Parliament. On top of that, we are meeting our UN target by spending 0.7% of gross national income on development. Additionally, we are increasing our investment in our security and intelligence agencies, and in counterterrorism. That money allows us to take the full spectrum of measures needed to tackle the causes and consequences of the threats that we face: tackling the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism; refocusing our aid budget to support fragile and broken states; and preventing conflict across the world.
However, our SDSR is about hard as well as soft and smart power. There will continue to be times when we need to employ armed force to counter aggression. That is why, in the past year, we have been acting around the world, whether policing Baltic skies to deter Russia’s expansionism or using our Brimstone and Hellfire missiles to degrade Daesh in Iraq. Following yesterday’s vote in Parliament, we will be doing more in Syria. We are determined to stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies and strike at the heart of the terrorist lair.
This brings me to my second point. Our SDSR gives us the might to deliver, at home and overseas. Our Armed Forces are now increasing, not reducing. We have an equipment budget that has risen by £12 billion to £178 billion over 10 years, and we are using it to establish a potent new expeditionary force. It will be able to deploy 50,000 people, rather than the 30,000 we previously planned. It will give us two new strike brigades and be equipped with: more F35s, and earlier; more Typhoon squadrons; nine new maritime patrol aircraft; new frigates and the two fully-crewed aircraft carriers; and more ISTAR and more cyber, along with £2 billion more on special forces. At the same time, we are guaranteeing our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent by replacing our four nuclear submarines. Lastly, we will be keeping our capability on the cutting edge by launching a new defence innovation initiative next year.
Thirdly, our SDSR recognises that we must work with allies and partners to deliver our national security goals and tackle global threats. Of course, we have always worked with partners but, in the past, this happened far more by instinct; tomorrow, it will happen by design. At the heart of this new approach is our commitment to NATO, the cornerstone of our defence. As well as meeting our 2% commitment, we will be leading NATO’s new high-readiness Spearhead force in 2017 and at next year’s Warsaw summit, we will be pushing to ensure that the alliance delivers the military capability and investment agreed in Wales.
Besides NATO, the UK will be leading the joint expeditionary force of seven like-minded nations. On Monday, we signed a memorandum of understanding giving our forces the green light to train and operate together. We are also strengthening the institutions on which our rules-based international order depend, notably by doubling our peacekeeping contribution to the United Nations. But bilateral relationships are as significant as multilateral ones so we will be enhancing our special relationship with the United States; working with France as part of the combined joint expeditionary force, which stands up next year; and expanding our DA network, forging new friendships while bolstering our alliances around the world.
My noble friend Lord Attlee asked me a number of questions. First, he asked where we are with eLoran, an issue also raised by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce. As part of our work to improve the resilience of our precision navigation and timing systems, we are studying a variety of technologies. However, the need for a readily available and highly precise system with worldwide coverage is likely to mean that our requirement for resilient global navigation satellite systems will endure. I will write to my noble friend and the noble and gallant Lord if I can provide further information on that issue.
My noble friend Lord Attlee also asked me about the Vanguard class of SSBN and whether the intention was to run that on longer than originally intended. As set out in the 2010 SDSR, we have assessed that we can safely manage and maintain the Vanguard boats until successor submarines are introduced into service in the early 2030s. He asked me about extending the role of the Type 45 to include ballistic missile defence. As the White Paper sets out, there will be a programme of exploratory work around the BMD role for the Type 45, but it is too soon to speculate any further at this stage. My noble friend also asked about the new general-purpose frigates. As set out in the White Paper, the exact requirements for any general-purpose frigate will reflect other decisions taken as part of the national shipbuilding strategy to be announced next year.
My noble friend also asked about the two armoured infantry brigades and whether that means we will be down to two armoured regiments. The design of the armoured infantry brigades, so that they meet the Army’s revised structure as announced in the SDSR, is being considered as part of new work being undertaken by Army HQ, so is work in progress. He questioned whether the two infantry battalions which are to be reconfigured for defence engagement would have sufficient capability—I think he said they would not have the capability of even a light-role battalion. That is not correct. As current world events demonstrate, the ability to build the CT capacity and fighting power of regional partners will be a vital aspect of the UK’s future national security. The exact size and shape of these battalions will become clear as the concept develops, but these are exactly the kind of stimulating, challenging and relevant roles required to retain our most skilled and ambitious soldiers. As regards the 10,000 military personnel available to assist the civil authorities, my noble friend was correct in saying that this would be via well-established procedures for providing military assistance to civil authorities, with the military working in support of the police.
My noble friend Lord Fairfax, who I am delighted to see back on our Benches, made several very well-put points. I can tell him that the UK will lead a very high readiness joint task force from next year. The planning assumptions in the SDSR increased our ambition for the Army, and our plan is to deploy a war-fighting division as required. There is a strong emphasis in the document, as he will have observed, on innovation, and a substantial innovation initiative will be announced in the coming weeks.
If my noble friend Lord Lyell will forgive me, I will write to him about how the force of 50,000 will be made up, but it is important to emphasise that the Army is able to deploy a division now with sufficient notice, which could consist of an armoured infantry brigade, 3 Commando Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade, as well as forces from other nations. Joint Force 2025 is about improving capabilities to enable us to deploy a division from a wider range of Army formations more quickly.
I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that there are no plans to reduce the numbers of Gurkhas in the British Army. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked me about the provision of UN peacekeepers. The number of service personnel serving at present as UN peacekeepers is 291, of whom 276 are currently in Cyprus. Up to 370 additional personnel could be assigned to peacekeeping duties in South Sudan and Somalia, but I will write to him on the question of the baseline. However, as for equipment, I hope it will be a reassurance when I say that any UK forces deployed on UN duties will be trained and equipped, as normal, to the extremely high standards that we have always had in this country. The noble Earl, Lord Stair, questioned whether the figure of 82,000 includes the reserves. No, it does not. The reserves will be on top of the 82,000, with a total of 35,000. Manning levels have been increased—not by a great deal, but the corner has been turned.
A number of noble Lords devoted their remarks to matters relating to soft power. I will not elaborate hugely on what the SDSR contains on that subject, although I am the first to acknowledge the integral importance of UK development assistance to long-term security and prosperity. Our commitment to spend 50% of overseas aid on the states most important to national security will undoubtedly focus on south Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, asked me about Special Forces numbers. It has been the practice of successive Governments not to comment on the size of the Special Forces, but I re-emphasise to the noble Lord that we are investing £2 billion in new equipment for Special Forces, which I hope will be an encouraging sign of the emphasis that we place on the role that they play for this country.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, asked me about access to the World Service FM broadcasts. If I may, I will write to him on that topic, as I will to the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on both the World Service and the British Council.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, focused her remarks on morale and whether the Armed Forces are now large enough to cope with the tasks that are required of them. I simply say that, by deliberately planning for the Armed Forces to do more and improving their productivity, which is undoubtedly what we are doing, we will better reflect the current demands on the force, and we will configure better to meet the demands of multiple, smaller and more geographically dispersed operations. We have also built in the agility to reconfigure the force to respond to a higher priority challenge, should it arise. However, we are the first to recognise the risk of overstretch and of damage to morale, so her points were very well made and are well taken.
The noble Lord, Lord West, spoke about the 2% figure for NATO. The 1.7% figure that he cited is an external estimate of the defence spend for 2020-21, not now. I would say that comparing defence spending now with 2010 is not appropriate, because before 2014 we spent considerable amounts on operations such as that in Afghanistan. We now spend less, but with no impact on our capability.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, asked about funding for the military involvement in the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone. The net additional cost of Operation Gritrock in Sierra Leone was in fact met by DfID.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, perhaps understandably, spoke, as he sometimes does, about the size of the Royal Navy fleet. We will indeed maintain a destroyer and frigate fleet of at least 19 ships. We will look to increase that number by the 2030s. The fleet will be supported by a very capable and renewed tanker fleet, and a fleet of up to six patrol vessels will support our destroyers and frigates in delivering routine tasks and enhancing our contribution to maritime security and fisheries protection. Altogether, this means that not only will our fleet grow for the first time since World War II, but its high-end technological capabilities will allow it to provide a better contribution and to retain a first-class Navy up to 2040 and beyond.
The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, asked about the flexible general purpose class of frigate, which I mentioned earlier. Our plan to commence in 2016 a concept phase assessment for an additional light frigate, which may result in a different type of frigate that satisfies the requirements of the Royal Navy, will proceed shortly. We believe that if the design and concept is worked through, it will be attractive to the export market. A combination of the modern Type 45 and the new anti-submarine warfare variant, the Type 26, should be sufficient in the mean time to provide protection to the deterrent and maritime task group. It is envisaged that the general purpose frigate will be able to conduct a wide range of other maritime security-related roles around the world, and thus take some pressure off our high-end warships.
The noble Lord, Lord West, asked about HMS “Ocean” and bemoaned the fact that it is going to be decommissioned in 2018. This is not in fact a bringing forward of the decommissioning date; it will continue in service as planned well into this Parliament, but, as part of the SDSR process, the decision was taken not to extend the 20-year lifespan that she originally had. We need, indeed, her personnel to man the new carriers.
My noble friend Lord James spoke powerfully about the need for a capability for home defence. I can tell him that that is foremost in our thoughts; my right honourable friend the Prime Minister recently announced that up to 10,000 trained Armed Forces personnel would be available to assist in any major incident within the UK. The SDSR also includes our work to provide closer military border force co-operation and better maritime surveillance. It is important to understand in this context that we have a cross-government approach to meeting our maritime surveillance task; the Royal Navy and UK Border Force provide different capabilities, which are suitable in different situations.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth focused some of his remarks on the plan to reduce the civilian workforce. It is too soon to say how those will play out. Further efficiencies will need to be found beyond our existing change programmes; we will undertake a series of studies that will identify opportunities for more innovative and flexible ways in which to work, including through better technology and moving work to different locations. The reduction in MoD civil servants will include many personnel in change programmes that are already under way, including the final draw down of British forces in Germany.
I will, of course, write on those issues that I have not had time to cover—
The report has a great deal to say about the Commonwealth network from both a trade and a security point of view. My noble friend has not mentioned that, and it may be difficult to do so now in the last few seconds. Will he ensure that when we debate the Commonwealth on 17 December he, or a fellow Minister, will be properly and well briefed in that aspect, because it is central to the future of this country?
I share my noble friend’s emphasis on the importance of the Commonwealth. I shall ensure that his words are registered in the right quarters as regards our debate on 17 December.
Our message here is clear—the danger may be increasing but so, too, is our determination to counter the threats that we face. Our SDSR ensures that we have the means and might to match our ambition; it guarantees that, whatever challenges lie ahead, the UK will remain at the forefront of international efforts to preserve our security and stability for many years to come.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, especially the Minister for answering it. I agreed with almost all noble Lords, although I think that some of them need to research the existence of the Fleet Air Arm. I remembered during the debate that I had forgotten to raise one particularly obvious point but, fortunately, no other noble Lords raised it, so I can keep it for another event. In the mean time, I beg to move.