Skip to main content

Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review

Volume 801: debated on Wednesday 8 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when the integrated security, defence and foreign policy review will report on the United Kingdom’s place in the world.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has committed to undertake the deepest review of Britain’s security, defence and foreign policy. The review will examine how we strengthen and prioritise our alliances, diplomacy and development, and how we reform Whitehall to support integrated policy-making and operational planning. It will consider all aspects of our defence and security capabilities, including our approach to procurement and maintaining our technological edge. An announcement on the review will be made in due course.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. This review is very welcome, not least to those of us who have argued for some time that the UK should be updating the strategy set out in 2011 on conflict, stability and security. It is welcome that defence, diplomacy and development are all referenced both in the gracious Speech and in the supporting documentation. The UK is in a unique position internationally, because of our commitment to defence, our commitment to development and our diplomatic resources, to make a real impact. I would welcome an assurance from the Minister and the Government that due weight and respect will be given to development as well as diplomacy and defence, as this will ensure that this review and its outcomes have the most impact in whatever “global Britain” might now mean.

My Lords, I agree completely with what the noble Lord has just articulated. On international development, as I indicated, the review will be broad-ranging, with a number of interwoven strands. The precise scope of the review has yet to be determined, but I can tell the noble Lord that the policy to maintain 0.7% of gross national income for development will remain unchanged.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware—I am sure he is—that over the last three years your Lordships’ International Relations Committee has produced a stream of reports on Britain’s changing role, security and foreign policy in utterly transformed world conditions and an entirely new international landscape? Would he tell his colleagues in government that all they have to do is read some of these reports? It would save them a lot of work and trouble.

I am grateful to my noble friend and can reassure him that those reports have been read. I can only endorse his central point: the world is changing rapidly. Technology is advancing at pace, international relations are becoming more complex, and conflict and climate change are driving migration at scale. That is why the Government must not get stuck in outmoded practices and ways of thinking. We have to be nimbler on our feet, adapt faster and take decisions in an integrated and better fashion. The review will address all these issues.

My Lords, did the Minister listen yesterday to the speech of my noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, who recalled that he and the late Robin Cook worked together to produce a defence and foreign policy review that lasted an unprecedented 11 years? They achieved this by forming a defence review built on agreed foreign policy objectives. Will the Government follow that sensible pattern? It seems a common-sense approach to this sort of review, although, having said that, I recall my mother telling me as a young man that in life I would find that sense was not that common.

My Lords, I listened with care yesterday to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and agreed with a great deal of what he said. However, this review is about more than defence. It is about both defence and the wider context in which defence operates: our international relations, international foreign policy and national security. Defence will be bound up in this, and I anticipate that the kind of far-reaching and comprehensive review he referred to, which took place under the Labour Government, will be broadly mirrored in the work that we do.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that our standing on the world stage is also heavily influenced by our ability to defend against cyberattack—most recently the micro example of the hacking of the New Year Honours List but, more alarmingly perhaps, the likely retaliation from Iranian activity in the cybersphere. What deep thinking around cyber and the joining up of the strategy across the digital skills of every department, which need to be upgraded, will be in the review? I make a plea that we think imaginatively and creatively about how to bring people into this very important aspect of the defence services.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness. As I said, the precise scope of the review has yet to be determined, but I have no doubt that cyber will feature large in the subjects to be addressed.

My Lords, it is clear that this will be a long-term review and will take a considerable amount of time. Meanwhile, our policy towards the Middle East, which has been made very much in close relation with France and Germany, will be left as we leave the European Union at the end of this month without the framework through which we have operated. Are there plans to make some interim arrangements until we come to the end of the review, for example by responding to the proposals floated by the French and German Governments for a European security council, which would keep Britain in the loop?

My Lords, we aim to keep pace with whatever happens in Europe after we leave the EU. However, we have made clear that, while we are leaving the EU, we have committed to strengthen our co-operation with Europe on security, our intelligence services have highly effective co-operation to build on, and, of course, the foundation of European security since 1949 has been the NATO alliance, which will not change.

My Lords, in yesterday’s debate—I do not know whether the Minister was present—I asked a question about the nature of the review and the fact that the three lead departments were the FCO, the MoD and the Cabinet Office. Development is a key part of this strategy, and I am concerned that DfID does not have the same lead role. I did not get a response yesterday; I hope I get one today. One of my old trade union general secretaries used to say, “If you want to knock someone’s shed down, tell them that you’re knocking the house down.” We have a problem here regarding the future of DfID. I hope that the Minister can give us some strong reassurance that it will remain a stand-alone department with its own Secretary of State.

My Lords, I am not in a position to resolve questions about the machinery of government. However, as I said in my original Answer, one of the main aspects of the review will be to see how we can best reform Whitehall to support more integrated, joined up policy-making. I have already indicated that the international development theme will be central to that work.