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Ukraine: Defence in a Competitive Age

Volume 820: debated on Thursday 7 April 2022

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to current events in Ukraine, what plans they have to review their command paper Defence in a competitive age, published on 22 March 2021.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare my interest as a serving member of the Army Reserve and chair of the Reserve Forces Review 2030.

My Lords, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine shows more than ever that the UK must be ready to defend and deter threats emanating from our adversaries in a deteriorating global security environment. That illegal war validates both the integrated review and the Command Paper’s commitments that defence will strengthen its deterrents, become increasingly adaptable and integrated with partners, and improve its ability to intervene and fight decisively. We will continue to review our capabilities and readiness levels accordingly.

I am delighted that we will keep our capabilities under review, but does my noble friend feel that we have the balance of investment correct between sub-threshold capabilities, such as cyber, and warfighting capabilities, such as tanks, planes, ships and armaments? Secondly, while I am sure that there are many lessons to be learned from the war in Ukraine, is one not the value of a reserve? The Ukrainian reserve is three times the size of its regular forces. Here in the United Kingdom our reserve is one-third of the size of our regular forces. Should that change?

To answer the first part of my noble friend’s question, he will be aware that the defence budget will grow from £40 billion in 2019-20 to £47.6 billion in 2024-25. That significant increase since the start of this Government puts flesh to the vision and the reform and renewal proposals of the Command Paper. I think the balance is correct, but as I have indicated we constantly review that balance. He is aware of Royal Navy shipbuilding plans, the future combat air system and the new proposals for equipment for the Army. That all reflects a very healthy resilience to deal with threat, however it arises. On the matter of reservists, I pay tribute to my noble friend, not just for the role he performs but for his excellent contribution in the paper he produced on how we might reform the reserves. This is enabling the Army to move to a much more flexible, resilient whole-force strength, which, including the integrated reserve, will be over 100,000 personnel from 2025.

My Lords, the defence Command Paper had two major errors, caused by one underlying problem. It was wrong to pay off ships, aircraft and people—numbers of Army personnel—for jam tomorrow. Sadly, the enemy has a vote, and he might not want to fight us in 15 years’ time; it might be tomorrow. The second problem was that we have not invested properly in the whole area of hard kill—kinetic kill—as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton. Yes, we need cyber, AI and quantum, but people are being killed in Ukraine at the moment by hard kill, not laptops. The reason for all of this was a lack of funding. No matter what fine words are said, not enough has been spent on defence for some years. Could the Minister go back to the Secretary of State and say that, in the final analysis, with the possibility of war right upon us, now is the time to spend money on the Armed Forces? It is crackpot not to do that.

My Lords, I have huge respect for the noble Lord and his experience, but I disagree with his analysis of the Command Paper. Indeed, when he talks about jam tomorrow, I say look in the mirror and face the images. I argue that the budget figures that I quoted earlier to my noble friend Lord Lancaster reflect an extraordinary increase in the defence budget—I think that the noble Lord is unfamiliar with this and would have loved to have seen it when he held his former, very senior role in the Royal Navy. From what the Command Paper has outlined, it is perfectly clear what we have, what equipment we seek to acquire and how we seek to achieve agility, flexibility and resilience. We are doing that to very good effect. Everyone has been surprised at not just the swiftness but the substance of the response to help the Ukrainians in their defence of their country in this illegal war. The UK has played a strong role in that bilaterally, as have our NATO global partners. That is a matter for commendation, not scaremongering.

My Lords, given the extent of the military equipment that we have supplied to the Ukrainian Government—I heartily support that—and the possibility of supplying more such equipment, heavily hinted at in the press today, what assessment have the Government made of the impact on our stock of equipment, which of course has an effect on our capability? What steps are being taken to replace those stocks, and how will this replacement be paid for?

The MoD constantly reviews our obligations—both our primary responsibility to defend the nation and our responsibility to contribute to global security with our global partners, whether in NATO or elsewhere. We therefore constantly review what we need to achieve and discharge that role. We constantly assess what we can donate; I thank the noble Lord for his helpful comments, and know he will be aware of the generous nature of that donation, recognised not just within the United Kingdom but by Ukraine. On payment, when we come to replenish stocks, which will be necessary due to our gifts of equipment to Ukraine, that will be dealt with by the Treasury special reserve.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee has just started an inquiry into last year’s defence Command Paper. One of the issues that it will seek to test is the proposition that structure can be replaced by solutions based on science and technology. Can the Minister assure us that, when departmental representatives come before the committee, they will be able to set out a clear strategy, explaining how this can be done? I also ask the Minister whether it would not be appropriate for the Government to be slightly less self-congratulatory about the recent increases in defence expenditure, welcome though they are, since they have merely repaired part of the damage that was done in 2010 and subsequently, when our defence expenditure was 2.5% of GDP?

I did not intend to sound self-congratulatory; I was merely pointing out the facts, which are a fairly stark improvement, as the noble and gallant Lord will be aware, on what has happened in previous years, under different Governments. On his point about the Command Paper and its relevance and fitness for purpose, I argue that it outlines a very comprehensive vision to reform and renew our Armed Forces for an age of global and systemic competition, dealing with threats and situations that are increasingly new to us. I welcome the noble and gallant Lord’s committee carrying out its analysis, and I am sure that, when representatives from the MoD appear before it as witnesses, they will give of their best, as usual, and endeavour to inform and assist it in its investigation.

My Lords, the world has changed, and we, like the Germans, must change our policy. At the very moment that the Minister is speaking, we are reducing the number of our troops, ships and aircraft. We must change our policy. Does she think that it is sensible to reduce our Armed Forces capabilities at the moment, when there is war in Europe?

I demur somewhat with my noble friend’s analysis. I have outlined an extensive programme of investment that will take place over the next 10, 15 and 20 years, and I think that that has been well received within the single forces. It is seen as a commitment by the Government to the serious business of defence and discharging our roles responsibly and effectively. The new model of the Army to which he refers, under the Future Soldier proposals, will in fact create a much more agile, flexible and resilient Army, able to deal at pace with the different characters of threats, whenever and wherever they arise. This is a matter of reassurance and commendation.

My Lords, given the new security situation in Europe following events in Ukraine, is it the case that, as David Williams, the Permanent Secretary, said to the Public Accounts Committee in February,

“the integrated review looks right to me, but we will of course want to review the calibration and our understanding of the threat and what the right response will need to be”?

So is there to be a review and what will that mean, particularly for the Army—as the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, raised—which is losing 700 warrior infantry vehicles earlier than planned, facing troop cuts and losing a third of its Challenger 2 battle tanks, if we are to potentially fight the kind of land-based conventional warfare launched by Putin?

As we understand the impact of the threat from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we will of course keep plans under review—I have indicated that and we will of course do that. We will remain threat-led; that is our raison d’être and how we operate, and we continue to review our capabilities and readiness levels accordingly. All of that is predicated on both the integrated review and the defence Command Paper. But the integrated review outlined that defence forces must prepare for more persistent global engagement and constant campaigning to counter emerging threats. So although we may not have anticipated conflict so quickly, the review recognised the threats posed by aggression from our adversaries. I remind your Lordships that the integrated review and defence Command Paper set out a year ago that the greatest nuclear, conventional military and sub-threshold threat to European security is posed by Russia.