Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the level of resilience of the Armed Forces, given the reduction in personnel and equipment as set out in the Defence in a Competitive Age command paper (CP 411), published on 22 March 2021.
My Lords, I am delighted to have secured this debate. I think it is a fairly timely debate. We look forward to hearing the maiden speeches of my noble friend Lord Hintze and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, with whom I worked in the Ministry of Defence—now I regret saying it—nearly a decade ago. They will know that it is the convention of maiden speeches to be not controversial. I hope they can both break that mould.
I will not labour my own points for too long because I retired from the Army as a major and we have down to speak four former Chiefs of the Defence Staff, one former Defence Secretary and NATO Secretary-General and one former First Sea Lord, and there is another Chief of the Defence Staff listening to mark my homework. I am not very happy about any of that, but they all have much more knowledge than I do.
Politicians need to understand defence and they do not. Spending money on defence is just like any other insurance policy. You have to pay the premiums on, for instance, a house. While people resent the premiums as a waste of money, when the house burns down, they turn to the insurance policy and find that they have not spent enough on their premiums. It is much more serious for our country if we are unable to defend ourselves because we did not pay sufficient premiums for defence.
What is the first duty of government? It is, and it always has been, the defence of the realm. Treasury Ministers especially see money spent on defence as wasted and continually try to cut it. Defence reviews are intended to reduce costs. I was involved in the 2010 review. It was very traumatic. I spoke to a fellow Minister and said I was thinking of resigning. He said, “Andrew, don’t be such a fool; they’ll just put somebody more compliant in instead of you.” It was weak—I know.
The 2010 review was driven purely by saving money. The Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time had no feeling for defence nor understanding of it at all. In the review, we talked a lot about asymmetric warfare. I do not remember any mention of an invasion of Ukraine with tanks. I do not recall Russia being mentioned particularly at all. We did not understand the threat then, as we do now, despite the invasion of Georgia in 2008. We naively thought of China as an ally for greater prosperity for a “golden decade”. We failed to recognise that the belt and road initiative is basically a tool of economic hegemony and imperialism.
At the same time, the review added the nuclear deterrent to the defence budget from the central government budget, which was of course a huge burden. It also added pension liabilities, which had not been there before—I am sure that someone will correct me if my memory is defective. During the coronavirus panic, we spent £410 billion or so on measures to combat the virus. I think that most people now acknowledge that that was not necessarily all money well spent. In that time, per year, defence got about 1/10th of that. There is now a cash increase, but inflation is wiping it out—and what is the first duty of government?
This debate is not intended as an exercise in nostalgia, but, during the Cold War, we typically had something like 55,000 soldiers in West Germany—cavalry, infantry, engineers, signallers and artillery—who were all facing the threat from the East. We had several hundred tanks—I think it was about 900, but I may be wrong—innumerable armed vehicles and a real capability to fight a war. We had, I think, 12 squadrons of fighter aircraft, helicopters, et cetera, as well as 20,000-plus airmen and tactical nukes for most of the time.
Young people—those under 50; I am old—do not really understand the Cold War and look baffled if you mention it. But it was a real war of deterrence, and it worked. There were four armoured divisions in Germany for most of the time, until 4 Div moved to York in the 1980s, as an infantry division. But, even then, we could field three armoured divisions—although they were always being cut by the Treasury, which is why, in the first Gulf War, 1 Div had to borrow units and personnel from across other formations. But, actually, it did pretty well in the first Gulf War: we had over 53,000 UK service personnel in total deployed there, including me.
Now there is war in Europe, which puts the security of all of us at risk. We could not possibly put a single division in the field. There was a good article in Monday’s Times titled:
“‘Hollowed-out’ UK military can’t send a division to war”.
I should say that the reporting was not prompted by this debate. But, 77 years ago, Winston Churchill—it is always a bad thing to quote him—made a famous speech at Fulton, Missouri, which noble Lords will remember. It is remembered because of the Iron Curtain reference—but read on. He said that the Russians desired
“the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines … From what I have seen of our Russian friends and Allies during the war, I am convinced that there is nothing they admire so much as strength, and there is nothing for which they have less respect than for weakness, especially military weakness.”
We have shown military weakness in NATO—notwithstanding the announcement about Leopard tanks yesterday—in the West as a whole and in the UK.
We scrapped most of our tanks. As it happens, I had a discussion in 1991 with the then Defence Secretary, in which I said that I thought the tank would be viewed as the horse of the late 20th century. Actually, I stand by that: they are very vulnerable to drones, laser-guided mortar rounds, et cetera. But they still have utility in war—if noble Lords do not believe me, ask the Russians and the Ukrainians. We have scrapped or amalgamated most of our cavalry regiments: the so-called vulgar fractions—13th/18th, 14th/20th, 15th/19th, et cetera. There is only one regiment—the Royal Tank Regiment—and there used to be four when I served 32 years ago.
This is not nostalgia for the past; these are the facts. I will let others comment on how few fast jets we have to support out troops. But, again, we are told, “Oh, we don’t need jets or aircraft”—but, again, ask the combatants in Ukraine. We are told that drones, cyber and modern technology will mean that we need fewer troops, but this is not a binary issue: we need both if we are to defend ourselves. We need new technology and troops to use it and, above all, to hold ground. Again, ask the soldiers in Ukraine, in ghastly, cold, water-filled trenches.
I pay tribute to my right honourable friend the Member for Uxbridge for his lead, when he was Prime Minister, in sending armaments to Ukraine. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will convey my message to the MoD and No. 10 that, first, we need to continue our support. But we also need to replenish our war-fighting stocks. How many MLRS have we sent, and how many do we have left? I am not sure about NLAWs; I read that we are spending some money on them, but we need to replenish our stocks. We know that sending one squadron of Challenger tanks is reducing our limited armoured capability. We must now spend extra money to fill up our armouries, as a first step—remember the insurance premiums.
I will touch briefly on the failings of procurement, which is a subject for further debates and which, frankly, is a scandal. They are caused in part by the swift turnover of military personnel, by incoming defence chiefs always wanting new and expensive additions to equipment to catch up, and by defence contractors, who can run rings round civil servants, who know little about industry. My noble friend Lord Hammond of Runnymede got a grip of this pretty well when he was Defence Secretary, when I was his Minister for the Armed Forces, but, sadly, it appears to be out of control again: witness the Ajax debacle. There is huge waste, which is to the detriment of our defence budget and operational efficiency.
I turn briefly to personnel. Resilience requires a steady flow of personnel to be recruited and retained. We will not even nearly hit our recruitment targets for this year, and the numbers leaving are increasing—I spoke to someone who should know quite a lot about this only the day before yesterday. Part of the issue is pay, but I suggest that it is more about a sense of purpose or mission. We desperately do not want conflict, but operations do encourage recruitment. We need reserves for resilience, but the numbers are in decline. From the figures, the Reserve Forces apparently decreased by 3%, and the number of new people joining has gone down by over one-third.
Personnel need to feel valued; it is the same as any other job. Over the years, the Treasury bean-counters have looked at reducing quality of life across the board. The messes of soldiers, sergeants and officers have been subjected to endless cost-cutting, so the mess is less likely to viewed as an alternative to home, which is what it used to be 40 years ago. For instance, the catering is outsourced; I have eaten some of it, and the quality is much reduced in general. I will not mention married quarters, which are again in trouble, or the determination to sell off the attractive houses for commanders because civil servants say, “Why should a general live in a big house?”—perhaps because they do not. It is about the perks being whittled away. One has to make an attractive offer to keep good people, who can earn more in the civilian world.
I chanced on this section of a former Defence Secretary’s autobiography:
“Britain can count itself fortunate in having such clever and capable people at the top of its armed forces. I often wondered why they seemed so much better than their counterparts in other similar countries. I came to the conclusion that it was the result of family history. Many of Britain’s senior officers have followed in their fathers’ footsteps”.
This is from See How They Run by Geoff Hoon, who was Defence Secretary for six years. There is some truth in it, but there are other reasons as well—it is particularly because people do not feel valued. So many Ministers over the years—I do not blame Geoff Hoon for this—have said, “What a good system we’ve got. We have such good Armed Forces and commanders. How can we change it and make it less good?”
Our Armed Forces are hugely admired at home and abroad, although I do not think that they are necessarily the envy of the world. But Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in September, which was seen by many millions around the world, showed discipline, attention to detail, pride and tradition, which astonished many, I suspect. But it is not by chance: the service personnel involved also fight wars, so let us not destroy our admirable Armed Forces by penny-pinching in so many ways. Tradition, pride and effective fighting and defence go hand in hand.
Finally, as an historian, I say that we should learn the lessons of history. In the 1930s, disarmament after the First World War was very popular: we could not possibly fight another major war. It is the same today: we are cutting our troops, ships and aircraft as I speak. A House of Commons Library paper published last April said:
“the Ministry of Defence’s day-to-day budget is … set to decline in real terms”—
that was before inflation reached what it has. There has been no change since that was written, so I say to my noble friend the Minister, the Ministers in the Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister: let the Government change tack. Speak softly, but carry a big stick. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, for generously acting as my supporters. I thank all Members on both sides of the House for their welcome and courtesy towards me. Kafka said:
“Before the Law a doorkeeper stands on guard.”
He was certainly right in that respect. This House would not function without the doorkeepers and ushers, and I am deeply grateful for their guidance and good humour.
The clergyman and essayist Sydney Smith wrote:
“I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so.”
Similar sentiments can be levelled at those who comment on your Lordships’ House without knowing very much about what it actually does. I fear that that may even relate to those who should know better.
Scrutiny is a key function of this House, but it also exemplifies something critical to the freedoms we enjoy today: namely, the difference between being governed and being ruled. Goethe was right to say:
“To rule is easy, to govern difficult.”
To be governed is to have a voice. In the case of your Lordships’ House, it is also to act as a constraint on what the late, learned Lord Hailsham termed the “elective dictatorship” of the other place, but without competing against it.
That your Lordships’ House is ever vigilant over the precious mandate entrusted to it is critical. I am all the more aware of that inheritance for not having been born on these shores. I was born in China, after my family were forced out of Russia following the revolution. A change of regime there sent us on the move once again, making my family and me refugees. We found a new home in Australia, when I was only a few months old. It is a country I continue to hold dear, and it is worth noting that today is Australia Day, 26 January. I came to the United Kingdom in 1984; it is a country that has allowed me to thrive and that has always been seen as the paradigm of parliamentary democracy, good governance and fairness. I feel deeply honoured to have been able to serve on a number of its great institutions, and to continue to do so.
I have always had an interest in politics and, to be clear, given my family’s history—which, if anyone wants, we can discuss over a beer—I have always had an acute interest in geopolitics. The world is becoming more complex and dangerous. That is exacerbated furthermore by climate change, which not only is very real but presents its own security challenges. Though having qualified in science and engineering, my career for the last 40 years has been in global finance, and I am deeply aware that economics is intrinsic to the effectiveness and well-being of the country.
I declare an interest as an honorary captain in the Royal Naval Reserve and as a former captain in the Australian regular army, where I served in the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. For our civil society to function, it is critical for it to be served by professional Armed Forces. Their sense of service and duty is exemplified by my friend—and I do mean friend—the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, with whom I share this maiden speech day.
The ability to legislate freely is something many take for granted. We should feel blessed, rather than burdened, that we have a solid constitution with checks and balances, built up by precedents and the lived experience of generations over centuries. That is not easy; it is protected by our exceptionally professional, ethical and effective Armed Forces, who are there by consent, commanding the respect of the nation, our allies and the world.
My noble friend Lord Robathan is correct to highlight the issue of resilience. Support for the Armed Forces at this time is an absolute priority, and, for our services to be effective, we must also ensure that service families are adequately cared for. I was delighted to note the announcement of a revised families strategy. I declare another interest as a patron of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity.
The ambitions set out in the Command Paper, Defence in a Competitive Age, underline the range of threats we face. It is well known that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, but that vigilance is not free. Given what we see in Europe currently, it is not contentious to say that the world is becoming increasingly challenging, complex and dangerous. The UK’s regular place at or near the top of annual soft power surveys is something to be proud of, but soft power without hard power is, frankly, no power at all. The integrated review aims to
“create armed forces that are both prepared for warfighting and more persistently engaged worldwide”.
It is right; it is time to invest more, not less. One thing is very sure: complacency is not an option.
I thank noble Lords for welcoming me. I sincerely hope that I will add constructively to your Lordships’ House, and I have every intention of doing so with the courtesy and graciousness I have seen in others here.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hintze, in his maiden speech. I applaud and agree with his final sentiment that complacency is not an option. I know him well and recognise his remarkable and successful business career, his pride in his Australian background, especially so on this Australia Day, and his remarkable record for philanthropy, not only to the Armed Forces but to institutions such as the Natural History Museum. He has a lot of experience and wisdom, and we therefore look forward to hearing more from him in future.
I will speak about Ukraine, about which we really should have a full debate in this Parliament, both in this House and in the other House. It is increasingly clear that Vladimir Putin has declared war on the West. It is also clear that we are not responding adequately to that overt challenge to our countries and what we stand for. There is no visible urgency in our national behaviour. It is, of course, a war unlike the wars of the past. However, that old-fashioned type of brutal war is being waged against the territory and the people of the sovereign state of Ukraine. In contrast, Putin’s war on the West is much more subtle, more hybrid, less visible and more multifaceted, but just as potent and damaging. By using misinformation, election interference, cyberattacks, corruption, organised crime and malicious diplomacy, and by exploiting every crack in our democratic societies, he is seeking to disrupt and to weaken the fabric of our liberal, open democracies.
At the same time, that has nothing to do with promoting an alternative economic or social model, as the Soviet Union sought to do with its brand of Marxism-Leninism. Putin may well harbour, in secret, demented dreams about recreating that oppressive empire, but, in reality, he is violently posturing to gain attention and hoping to establish some parity with the United States of America. With his economy tanking and his young, economically active population draining away, those are simply foolish delusions.
The issue for us today as we approach the 365th day of Putin’s three-day war against Ukraine is: what should we be doing in response to the declaration of war by the Russian President? Here is my checklist of what we need to do. First, we need to secure our own societies and democratic systems. With London still a reservoir of Russian dark money, as we heard earlier, and London’s lawyers still doing the dirty work for Russian money men and women, more needs to be done to enforce and toughen sanctions against those who do the Kremlin’s bidding or who profit from his regime.
Secondly, our defences need strengthening, as has already been said and will be said again in this debate—and I am sure in the other maiden speech, from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, who I know and respect very well as a friend. That does not just mean spending more on defence; it means replenishing the stocks we are giving to the Ukrainians. Thirdly, we need to give the Ukrainians more. If, as Ministers continually say, the Ukrainians are fighting for themselves, their country, and for us, as indeed they are, by holding stocks and equipment here, when our front line is actually in eastern Ukraine, we leave ourselves dangerously exposed.
The fourth thing we need to do is to tell the Russian people that we, NATO, the European Union and the West are not attacking Russia. Instead, we are helping the sovereign state of Ukraine to defend itself against an unprovoked attack. How do we get that message across? The answer is that we did it in the Cold War and can do it again. More Russian language information needs to get into Russia, and we need to promote the independent BBC World Service, as well as YouTube, Instagram and a host of means that can get past the wall of deceit and lies which characterise Russia’s propaganda outlets. A younger generation can access the web, but the older folk—that is, the majority—in Russia depend on the official media, with its Orwellian approach to truth and facts.
Fifthly, we need to tell the Russian military, whose advice Putin clearly ignored when he ordered the invasion, some bold truths. The Russian high command knows that it was ill-prepared for such an ambitious war, and that it had, through faulty and over-optimistic intelligence, completely underestimated the opposition, resilience and ingenuity of the Ukrainians. The Russian military know that they are struggling against a formidable, highly motivated Ukrainian population, now being armed with western-supplied, sophisticated weaponry that they have no answer to. In their collective memory must be the parallel with the Red Army in Afghanistan in February 1989. They were faced with an endless, unwinnable war costing lives and precious resources, so the Kremlin ordered the mighty Red Army of the Soviet Union to come home. Nobody was asking at that time for an off-ramp or a ceasefire, or some face saver for the Russians. They simply folded their tents and left—and 32 months later there was no Soviet Union.
Sixthly, we need to tell Putin and the small number of cronies around him advising him and telling him all the time what he wants to hear, that all his strategic objectives have failed. He wanted to stop NATO enlargement, he wanted to split Europe, and he wanted to split Europe from the United States of America—all failed. He wanted to crush and eliminate Ukraine from the map, and instead he has produced a new, deep, permanent feeling of nationhood in that country. He wanted to annex and absorb the Donbas and the land corridor to Crimea, but now his spokesman cannot even describe what has been annexed and what they still hold.
We need to tell Vladimir Putin this: one step over the Article 5 NATO line and there will be an existential risk to the Russian motherland. Here is another message for the man in the Kremlin, who gave us this terrible war. Speaking, as I do, as the only person ever to announce the invoking of Article 5—that guarantee that an attack on one NATO country should be seen as an attack on them all—I can tell Vladimir Putin this. I met him nine times during my time in NATO, and at that point we did good business together, but I tell him now that the Article 5 guarantee of a nuclear weapons alliance goes well beyond normal red lines.
Finally, we need to address the global south and the lack of understanding of Ukraine’s position in Africa, South America and India. It seems that many countries in the south see this is as a regional conflict of payback for NATO enlargement or a challenge to the over-mighty US and the arrogance of the West. However, they must understand that, if it becomes accepted that borders can be changed by force and that sovereign states can be invaded and annexed, if nuclear blackmail intimidates neighbouring states, many more countries than Ukraine will be on the danger list. We need urgently to get that message over and to make an effort to get it heard loudly.
I end with a sentiment worth the House pondering on if anybody is worried about further escalation. The greatest nuclear threat we face today is a Russian victory. We must do everything possible to prevent that happening.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, for securing this important debate at such a crucial time for the defence of our country. I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hintze, on an excellent maiden speech, and I greatly look forward to the contribution of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, who has much wisdom and experience to contribute on this subject and to the House’s wider deliberations.
Resilience is a crucial issue for any military organisation, but for ours more than most—and for ours in particular. It is not our policy, on the whole, to start wars; we are usually on the receiving end of them, which means that we are generally at a disadvantage at the beginning of any conflict. An aggressor has the advantage of choosing the time, place and manner of military action, and will very often seek to take advantage of an opponent’s weaknesses. There will be weaknesses, since no nation’s military can be strong everywhere, at all times. That means that we need the capacity to absorb the first blow, to roll with it, recover our balance, adapt to the circumstances and demands of the particular conflict, and then to seize and exploit the initiative. Even the briefest study of military history will serve to illustrate the point.
What gives us the necessary resilience, and what are the particular capabilities and characteristics that enable us to overcome disadvantage and get on to the front foot? The most commonly heard answer to this question and one that we have certainly heard today is the size of our Armed Forces—the numbers of ships, troops and aircraft. Indeed, size does matter. Losses are often highest in the early stages of a conflict. Start with too little, and there may be insufficient capability left on which to base a recovery. The noble Lord, Lord West, may have a view on that from his own experience.
One argument sometimes put forward in defence of reduced numbers is that we do not intend to fight in high-intensity conflict on our own, and that it is our membership of alliances such as NATO that creates the necessary scale. To an extent that is true, but only to an extent. The argument itself can pose dangers. If too many members of an alliance continue to reduce force levels on the basis that contributions of others will create the necessary mass, that mass will never be achieved. That has certainly been the situation in NATO for many years now.
We need larger Armed Forces. Numbers have been progressively reduced by successive Governments on the basis of cost saving, with no underpinning strategic rationale. In the early 1990s, for example, the Government insisted on defence cuts as a post-Cold War peace dividend, despite the fact that we had just been involved in a conflict that had stretched our resources to the utmost and had nothing to do with the Soviet Union. It is worth remembering that the only way that we were able to field a division in the first Gulf War was by cannibalising just about the whole of the British Army of the Rhine—and all three services are much smaller now.
Inadequate force levels are not just a problem in high-intensity conflict, though. The Government’s appetite for the employment of the military instrument frequently exceeds their willingness to sustain appropriate capacity. At the moment, for example, Typhoon squadrons are spending long periods deployed on operational duty in response to the dangerous situation in Ukraine. Of course, it is absolutely right that they should do so, but the relatively small size of the force means that people are frequently away from their families, they are unable to train effectively when they are at home base, and morale is suffering as a consequence. Poor morale leads to poor retention, which simply exacerbates the problem.
Numbers of troops and of platforms are by no means the whole story. Soldiers in battalions, sailors in ships and air crew in aircraft are of little use if they do not have the systems that allow them to succeed in modern combat or the weapons with which to fight. The Defence Secretary has confirmed what we have all known for a long time: that the Army cannot field a fighting division. But this shortcoming is not a consequence of too few soldiers; it is because they do not have the necessary communications, logistics support, armoured mobility, weapons systems or munitions. The same is true of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. Both services can field some remarkable capabilities, but not in the number required or with the necessary sustainability. One of the earliest lessons of the war in Ukraine was the reminder—for those who needed it—of the appalling rate of consumption of weapons in such conflict.
I will not give comfort to potential adversaries by detailing the UK’s specific weaknesses here. The noble Baroness the Minister knows full well what they are. I will simply note that, in evidence to your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee at the end of last year, the Defence Secretary confirmed that the UK had for far too long “hollowed out”—his words—our stocks of weapons and munitions. He has publicly repeated this statement in just the past few days. So, while we certainly need to expand the size of our Armed Forces, our immediate and urgent priority is to ensure that our current force structure can fight effectively and enduringly in high-intensity conflict. At the moment, it cannot.
This brings me to another dimension of the problem. Additional defence expenditure is of course required to bring weapons stocks not just to where they before we—rightly—donated a significant portion of them to Ukraine, but to where they should have been in the first place. We need suppliers, however, with whom we can contract for such purchases. The kinds of complex weapons that have been so successful in Ukraine cannot be produced overnight, and particularly not in the numbers that we and our allies need. That will require industrial capacity that does not exist at the moment.
We must expand our idea of resilience beyond the military community to encompass the industrial base that supports it. Such industrial capacity depends on private sector investment in the appropriate plant and personnel. But this will be forthcoming only if the investors see a reasonable prospect of a sustained return, which will in turn depend upon a fairly steady drumbeat of orders from our and other Governments. All too often, however, the procurement tap is turned on and off erratically in the face of short-term budgetary pressures. This is not the way to encourage long-term investment in industrial capacity. There is a need for a much more strategic approach to defence procurement if we are to sustain the industrial base necessary to national resilience.
Such an approach needs to address issues of culture as well as quantity. May I recommend the recently published report from your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee into the extent—or otherwise—that defence policy has moved from aspiration to reality? One of the report’s more concerning findings is that high-technology companies consider the Ministry of Defence to be one of the world’s worst customers. They say that its institutional resistance to innovative ideas, its low appetite for risk, its unwillingness to invest in experimentation and the subsequent commercialisation of novel approaches all conspire to deter high-tech companies from working with the MoD. But we have seen in Ukraine how an imaginative fusion of civilian and military approaches and technology can produce startling battlefield successes.
War and the threat of defeat can of course force co-operation between apparently strange bedfellows, but we cannot afford to wait until we are embroiled in an actual conflict before we face up to this challenge. We need a change of culture in our day-to-day processes, but the Ministry of Defence cannot do this alone. The Treasury, too, needs to adopt a much more entrepreneurial and co-operative approach to innovation, risk and long-term investment.
I have tried this afternoon to demonstrate that defence resilience is a complex issue and not just a question of numbers, important though they are. But underpinning all this is the inescapable question of money; 2% of GDP is simply inadequate to fund the aspirations set out in last year’s independent review and defence Command Paper. Both of those documents are being reviewed, but the reviews are taking place in the face of an even more dangerous world, so the equation will only have become worse. It is well past time that the Government faced up to their responsibilities in this regard. Fine words butter no parsnips—particularly when we cannot afford the parsnips in the first place.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, for this very timely debate. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Hintze, on his splendid maiden speech; I am delighted that he changed from khaki in Australia to dark blue in the UK. I am delighted by his links with the Royal Navy and welcome him to the House.
A few days ago, the Defence Secretary repeated, as was said by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, that our armed services were “hollowed out” and had been for a number of years, and that it was getting worse. Well, what a surprise. This is something that a number of us in this place have been banging on about for a considerable time. We were constantly told that we were talking nonsense. I looked back through Hansard; I went back only five years but, time and again, I saw that it was a constant theme of mine and that the government and MoD response every time was that I did not really understand it and that everything was well. Clearly, it was not.
The Ukraine war has been a wake-up call reminding us all of the fact that, in peer-on-peer conflict—I use that term advisedly, I must say—weapon usage rates are extremely high. This is something that we knew but, for a number of years, not least due to financial pressures and because our enemies have been terrorists and not national armies, successive Administrations have ignored what we had learned at such cost. What is quite clear is the inadequacy of both the weapons and munitions stocks across all three services. It is the same for weapon holdings as well. For several years, ships have left their home ports without full outfits of weapons. This is unacceptable because, once a ship deploys, it may well end up in a hot war. Historically, we were aware of that and never let it happen. For example, HMS “Exeter” was in the West Indies guard ship in early 1982; she was deployed south as soon as the war started in the south Atlantic. Although one would never use Sea Dart missiles in the guard ship role in the West Indies—stopping hurricanes and the like—she had the full outfit of Sea Darts and used them to very good effect protecting the carrier, fighting down south and shooting down Argentinian aircraft.
Addressing these problems should be one of the highest priorities for the Government, as was recognised by the International Relations and Defence Committee, which has been referred to already: its very good report recognised this. The other thing that has been highlighted is the importance of spares, support and maintenance back-up. As defence funding has been squeezed—and it has been, year on year, over the last few years—so crucial maintenance has been curtailed due to lack of stores items. This actually impacts on personnel: if you are a key maintenance rating on a ship, you are proud of your weapons system, you are ready to do the work, you will work overnight when the ship is in harbour, and then you are told, “We haven’t got that bit of spare gear: I’m sorry, you will just not be able to do it.” That is really bad for morale and it impacts on people staying in the service or leaving. Of course, it leads to breakdown of very key machinery and weapons systems and you then end up deploying without them.
There is clearly a need to build greater resilience into the UK’s own stocks, supply chains, as was mentioned by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and industrial capacity. Industrial capacity needs to be looked at very closely. I will not go into that now but, my goodness me, it does. It is not just quantity of ammunition, missiles and spares that are significant; the number of people and platforms have a significance as well. We have not faced a peer enemy in a hot war, really, since the Second World War—only briefly in Korea and briefly in the south Atlantic. Like the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, I do not want to be nostalgic about it, but between the break-out from Normandy and the surrender of the Germans on Lüneburg Heath, when we had huge, overwhelming air power, the British Army in Europe lost 4,500 tanks in action against the Germans. This gives an idea of the scale of these things.
The loss rates of tanks in the Ukraine war and the clamour by Ukraine for more armour show that tank numbers are important. There had been a growing consensus that the tank was a thing of the past. Attack helicopters, drones and smart long-range missiles meant they were rather like the battleship and no longer relevant. It always struck me as strange, I have to say, when I sat in committees in the MoD: if the tank was no longer important, why the hell were we spending so much money on systems to destroy them? But that is another issue. We have been too quick to discard tanks, and the fall in numbers is now a real problem, I believe, for the Army. Of course, we have given some away as well—quite rightly, but, my goodness me, I think we need to look at that carefully.
I have another figure from years ago. One hopes there is never fighting like this again, but 105 years ago, post the battle of Amiens where we defeated the German army, the British Army, probably the most powerful British Army we ever had, was advancing and beating the Germans day by day until the surrender on 11 November 1918. We suffered 412,000 casualties out of the 1.9 million men fighting. Once again, personnel losses in the Ukraine war have been highlighted: when you are fighting like this, you suffer large losses and the massive conscription efforts by the Russians, in particular, but also by the Ukrainians, show this. When I did my platoon commander’s course in 1966, the average regiment had about 760 men in it. Now, the average regiment has about 400 men in it. I cannot believe that is just because they are doing things more efficiently. When it comes to rifle teams and such things, you need certain numbers. So numbers are actually important, and with war raging in Europe and the possibility of a world war, do we really believe that 70,000 is the right strength for our Army? I am not sure that is right.
Certainly, as an island nation—I would say this, would I not?—in the final analysis, the maritime is the most crucial environment for the security, survival and wealth of our nation. In World War II, the Royal Navy lost 132 destroyers ensuring that survival. We presently have six in our Navy. In the Falklands, 16 of our frigates and destroyers were lost or very badly damaged. We do not actually have that number operational today. Numbers are important.
As for logistics, it is interesting that, between the wars, we used to think about these sorts of things. We actually ensured that, with our 850-ship Navy, we had enough oil in stock in the UK to fight for six months at war rates. People were thinking about resilience. People do not seem to think about resilience now: everything is just enough, just in time. Yet our NATO allies look to the UK to provide maritime capability. The chairman of the US joint combined chiefs said that sea power was something that
“the United States, for a variety of reasons, expects our British allies to contribute to.”
Our contribution, I have to say, is smaller than is needed.
I find it extraordinary that, as almost every other country has raised defence spending, some by huge amounts, as the war in Ukraine has progressed, the UK has not. How much risk are we willing to take? It is all very well providing Ukraine with equipment, and it is absolutely right that we should, and if necessary, provide even more, but I think we should make sure that our forces our ready and fully equipped for a possible war. By doing that—people watch this—we are much more likely to prevent a world war. People such as Putin look at our Armed Forces. He has looked, over the past few years, at how we and Europe seem to have had no interest in our defence forces, and he has taken that as a green light to go and do things. I end by saying that I believe the Government are sleepwalking into disaster unless they rapidly grip this issue and increase defence spending.
My Lords, I want to speak for the first time in this House on such an important topic, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, in a debate with so many noble and noble and gallant speakers. I am grateful to the courtesy shown me since my arrival. I express my gratitude to Black Rod and her team, the clerks, the officers, the police and security staff of the House, especially the doorkeepers who helped me and my family on the occasion of my introduction. On that day, I was very fortunate to have as my supporters my noble friend Lord McDonald of Salford and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach.
I served for almost 50 years in His Majesty’s Armed Forces, in the Royal Air Force, flying as a joint officer. I held command in every rank, deployed in many operations in many countries and have served extensively overseas, including as chair of NATO’s Military Committee. Therefore, I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, and I wish to emphasise the centrality of our alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which grew from the wisdom—including much British wisdom—of those who saw the ugly reality of the Soviet Union’s expansion in eastern Europe.
Once again, over 70 years later, we are seeing the consequence of President Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine, with Russia revealed to all of us as an aggressive, full-scale military dictatorship. The war continues, with no immediate prospect for peace. As we have already heard eloquently described, there are many lessons for us in the UK and for all our allies. Some, if not all, are not new. One I would highlight is the critical importance of unity among allies. As the war approaches its grim first anniversary, sustaining unity in support of Ukraine will require sustained effort.
As we debate our resilience, we should bear in mind that President Putin continues to challenge any narrow definition of national security by weaponising energy supply and energy infrastructure, especially pipelines and the cables and other under-sea capacity upon which we depend and which must be protected—even food security and concepts the UK fought to establish, such as international waters and international airspace. Sustaining freedom of navigation is now at risk and is vital to the prosperity of the UK. Therefore, we need to widen our definition of national security and integrate our efforts to secure our national resilience, as was eloquently described by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup. In this, defence, our outstanding intelligence agencies and others need to play a part.
Many of our Scandinavian friends and allies practise total defence, which is a blend of defence, regular and reserve, national reserve, border security, protection of infrastructure, cyber defence and integration of what some noble Lords may recall as civil defence. If our infrastructure needs to be protected, we should organise our national security to do so. As the geographical consequences of the climate emergency to our own north threaten the high north and the Arctic, where geopolitical disturbance threatens us directly, one way we should respond is to develop the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force, which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, created 10 years ago and many of us have evolved ever since.
This force embraces our close allies in Scandinavia, the Baltic states, the Netherlands and Iceland. I would argue that this idea’s time has come. With shared values and culture, the Joint Expeditionary Force is NATO-facing, flexible and has the potential to do more. We could digitise it with a UK-created secure, future-proof command and control network—an important lesson from Ukraine. We could continue to integrate and share intelligence and co-operate on future capabilities. In short, we have created something special; we should exploit it.
As noble Lords have heard, other lessons from Ukraine are also not new: the importance of intelligence-led operations; manoeuvre and armour; air-land integration with artillery at the rates of exchange that we have heard; and agile, empowered command and control at the tactical level. Above all, I emphasise the importance of logistics. My first predecessor as chair of the Military Committee was General of the Army, Omar Bradley, who said famously,
“Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics.”
Any discussion on UK defence resilience has to include stock replenishment and sustainment.
As we have heard today, there is a place for innovation and new technology which, through research and development, is being brought rapidly to the battlefield by, with and through NATO, and there is a new centre to do that in London. However, as we have also heard, technology is not a substitute for the Armed Forces. As we focus on logistics, we need to understand technology’s additive to the qualities we need of mass, motivated people, equipment, and a sense of mission and purpose.
The war in Ukraine is not the only challenge we face. The rise and global ambition of China, including as a military power, continues to be an issue. There is instability in Africa and there are unresolved issues in the Middle East. Closer to home—and here I declare my interest as the Prime Minister’s special envoy to the western Balkans—we need to remain vigilant to President Putin’s wider ambition to sow division, create instability and undermine NATO. The Russians remain very active in the Caucasus and the Balkans. We and our allies need to be active in response and remain strong to prevent the political crises in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, and especially between Serbia and Kosovo, becoming security issues. As I have been taught on many visits to that troubled region, the price of freedom is not free.
The problems we face have been highlighted by many eloquent speeches, and many of the solutions have been tried before. I would argue that the time we are in makes implementation of those solutions urgent in the interest of our national security. The British Armed Forces continue to attract regular and reserve wonderful people, and they need our support. To paraphrase another famous speech from Winston Churchill, we need to brace ourselves to our duty. I am personally grateful for the patience and courtesy that has been demonstrated to me, and I hope to contribute to the important work of this House.
My Lords, it is my privilege and great pleasure, on behalf of the whole House, to express our warmest thanks to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, who has shown in that speech, through his great experience elsewhere, a depth of knowledge which we will find helpful, interesting and inspiring in the future. As he mentioned, he has great experience on which to draw, as Chief of the Defence Staff, as chairman of the NATO Military Committee and, more recently, as the Prime Minister’s special envoy to the western Balkans, where he has made significant improvements in understanding and in relationships at the highest level there. To all of that great experience he adds a charm and a friendly manner. I am quite certain that his contributions to this House will be valued extremely and welcomed very much in the future.
During the fourth Oral Question on Wednesday last week, the noble lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, asked the Minister for
“credible evidence that the Government are even now replenishing our own stocks of military equipment”.
In response, the Minister said that the MOD
“very closely engaged with industry”,
and with partners,
“to ensure that, holistically, industry is able to understand demand and plan accordingly to supply it.”—[Official Report, 18/1/23; col. 1823.]
I should like to pose again the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. Holistically or not, the Minister’s response was deeply disturbing; nothing seems to have been ordered, let alone delivered. Perhaps the Minister also shares my concerns.
Is some interdepartmental bureaucratic wrangle about costings causing inevitable and unjustifiable delay? Let me hazard a wild guess. The equipment donated to Ukraine had been pre-owned, so its valuation might not be that of new supplies—even ammunition has a shelf life. As some of the new stock will be to replenish UK holdings, if bought with additional stock for gifting to Ukraine, the unit price might be reduced. What assumptions should be factored in on that score? How much should be ledgered to the defence budget and how much to the consolidated fund, which is there to support operations beyond the normal peacetime activities of the UK Armed Forces? But while our forces are not involved in direct operations, some of their kit and ammunition certainly is involved.
There will of course be uncertainty about for how long and how much more we should give fighting equipment to the Ukrainians. Industry will need to know quantities to cost their new or renewed production. What is already only too clear is that much of that given to Ukraine is not surplus to the MOD’s requirements, awaiting destruction or the auctioneers. What might be termed the UK Armed Forces’ war stocks have been justifiably used in some quantity—after all, is that not what war stocks are there for? But in almost 12 months since the initial gifting of arms to Ukraine, no replenishing orders and contract stages have been reached; this is extremely worrying. Maybe the Minister will be able to reassure the House that these concerns are much misplaced. As other noble lords have already pointed out, a key component of resilience is the ability to fight on effectively even after initial losses may have been inflicted. Gifting from war stocks is another form of loss.
One of the most telling lessons of the present conflict between Russia and Ukraine is not the repeat of World War I trench warfare but the reach and accuracy of missiles and other kinetic attack delivered over considerable distance from the air. For example, take the Ukrainian’s sinking of the Moskva, a missile cruiser; or the severe damage and destruction of key bridges and arms dumps; or Russia’s successes against Ukrainian infrastructure, even hundreds of kilometres from the actual front lines. Such successes underline more than ever why our own Armed Forces must have the ability to absorb losses well behind, as well as along, the front line, without losing the ability to fight on. When it comes to the viability of the UK’s deterrent, a paucity of conventional fighting capability in war would be catastrophic. It could mean that all too soon the Prime Minister faced an Armageddon decision to use our deterrent or to surrender.
If a major fighting ship or two are lost with all hands, or aircraft or aircrew are caught by air attack on parked aircraft or on the mess, or key artillery pieces are destroyed, our limited fighting strength is further reduced. To fight on, replacements need to be immediately to hand. That is resilience—a resilience all too clearly lacking, I am afraid, in today’s ORBAT. Surely it is time to gear up replenishment as though we were ourselves at war. The urgency required seems non-existent. If, as the Secretary of State admits, our stocks are hollowed out, let us see and hear of procurement action this day. Maybe we need a Kate Bingham-style approach to defence procurement in the future.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Robathan for introducing this debate. I agree with everything that noble Lords have said so far. Before saying anything substantive, I must refer to the two maiden speakers; I know I am not really supposed to. The experience of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, in NATO will be invaluable in complementing the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. I am pleased that he mentioned the importance of logistics, because I will be saying a word about that in a moment. Turning to my noble friend Lord Hintze and his excellent maiden speech, what I find admirable about him is that he initially trained as an engineer and had a short but useful time in the Australian army, in the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, or—I am late—RAEME.
My noble friend Lord Robathan mentioned numbers in one UK armoured division on Op Granby. On Op Telic in Iraq, when the division crossed the start line, it had 25,000 men and women on the nominal roll—I repeat, 25,000. My noble friend mentioned the importance of armoured formations and, by implication, armoured battle groups. As the Russians are finding out, and as was reported in the Times recently, to attack dug-in infantry with anything but an armoured battle group is suicidal.
Touching directly on the war in Ukraine, I entirely agree with noble Lords, but I think it is too early to draw conclusions about what our defence posture should be in the future. We may be learning lessons—we will learn lessons—but we need to see what the outcome is. I also agree that we urgently need a full-scale and non-time-limited debate on the war in Ukraine, which really is an existential threat. We probably need to have regular debates on that.
Like many noble Lords, I think the Government are doing an extraordinarily good job in dealing with the war in Ukraine. Unfortunately, when I took a step back from Westminster during my recent illness, it seemed to be the only thing they were doing well. However, I praise my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for his sterling efforts and his frankness when discussing some of the problems in defence.
I am sure all noble Lords want to support the UK Government by speaking at various events about the war—but with authority. Speaking for myself, I cannot do this if I can rely only on a combination of the Times and the Economist, no matter how good they both are. Last year, I asked:
“Is the Minister aware of one difficulty: the paucity of briefing that we are receiving?”—[Official Report, 27/4/22; col. 354.]
In answer, my noble friend the Minister made the expected noises, including citing Parliamentary recesses, but I think I have had only one invitation to a briefing since that date.
The House will recognise that there will be a range of erroneous reasons why the Putin regime thought the time was right to invade Ukraine. Among these are—to some extent—Brexit, the accompanying instability and a weak UK Government caused by a hopelessly divided Conservative Party. The United States has its own problems. So far as the UK is concerned, there is also the false impression that we are no longer interested in defence and deterrence, despite the protestations of Ministers. When our opponents do their analysis of our Armed Forces, that must be the inescapable conclusion. We look happy to be able to deal with bush fires in the Sahel with “persistent engagement”, but not willing or able to deploy a fully bombed-up armoured division—or even exercise a small one.
We might be able to provide a mechanised division but, since we lack the necessary resilience, this will take nearly 12 months. However, what the Americans want from us is a fully supported armoured division at a useful state of readiness—a point made in the recent Select Committee report. When our opponents analyse our capabilities and resilience, they could be forgiven for thinking that we have only a heavily armoured gendarmerie with no depth, no redundancy and no reserves, especially in terms of logistics.
To provide your Lordships with just one illustration of hollowing out, I will have to go into the realm of military logistics; I apologise if this is too much detail. It is obvious that military logisticians will seek to have as few different types and models of logistics vehicles as possible. One reason is to reduce the spares inventory and the special tools and test equipment that is necessary to support these vehicles in theatre. This applies in particular to engines and main assemblies.
In the years towards the late 1990s, the British Army was supplied with numerous batches of Land Rovers. However, in terms of engines and main assemblies, they were not interchangeable, although outwardly similar. This caused huge logistics problems in supporting the Land Rovers in the field, especially in the Balkans. The last Labour Government carefully procured a range of trucks called the Support Vehicle, or SV, manufactured by the MAN company in Germany. At the time, the maximum number needed would have been carefully calculated, allowing for attrition and, most importantly, unexpected demands. In other words, that Government were prepared to pay the insurance premium referred to by my noble friend Lord Robathan. It would have been a disaster to have to buy a subsequent batch of these trucks, because they could never be built to the same build specification and the Land Rover problem that I referred to would then be repeated.
I mentioned unexpected demand. During the UNPROFOR days and Op Grapple in the Balkans, we were lucky enough to have a Malaysian battalion come and help on a UN deployment. Supporting their own trucks so far from their home base would have presented the Malaysians with insurmountable logistical difficulties, so we loaned them several of our own Leyland DAF four-tonners. We had plenty available, and we had the spare parts in theatre. We were able to provide second-line equipment support or, if necessary, give the Malays a replacement vehicle. Most importantly, we had the resilience—we had the fat.
Up until recent years, the MoD would not sell or dispose of logistics vehicles unless either the fleet concerned was obsolete or there was no longer any obvious use for the vehicle—the latter being hard to imagine for a general service truck—or, of course, the truck was damaged beyond economic repair. About two years ago, I became aware that the MoD was selling unused or nearly new MAN SV trucks with very low mileages. I asked my noble friend the Minister a suitable Written Question, and my heart sank when, on 13 January 2021, I received this answer:
“Due to a change in threat assessments, a surplus of MAN SV6T … trucks has been identified. To economise storage and support costs, a number have been identified for sale.”
We used to have what we called a war maintenance reserve; we obviously do not have one now. Would my noble friend give the same answer now? Are we still selling off perfectly serviceable MAN SV trucks? I ask, rhetorically, what signal does deliberately reducing our resilience send to a potential opponent? My overarching point is that our military capability is carefully measured by our opponents, as observed by the noble Lord, Lord West. They will pay particular attention to our resilience and whether or not we are serious about defence.
My Lords, I start by offering my own mixture of welcome and congratulations to our two maiden speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Hintze, of Dunster, is a new friend; I knew his speech would be a mixture of the humility, warmth and remarkable worldly wisdom that define him as a man. Such qualities make him a most welcome addition to this place. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, of Grantham, I know too well: he stalked me through the latter years of my military career. However, he went on to better things, as the chairman of the NATO Military Committee, and few in this Chamber will match his knowledge of international defence and security issues. As both their maiden speeches testify, we have gained enormously by their addition to our number.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, and welcome this debate on the resilience of the UK’s Armed Forces. In many respects it is overdue, and it is probably the unfolding reality of conventional warfare at scale, in Ukraine, which has stirred greater concern in this House and more widely among informed commentators.
I will start with what might seem a somewhat offensive observation. It is very unlikely that we will get a wholly clear or candid statement on the resilience of our Armed Forces from a government Minister or even a chief of defence. That is not because they are habitual liars but because of three very obvious and, to be fair, largely defensible reasons. We do not want to parade the totality of our national military shortcomings to our enemies, nor internally always to our own Armed Forces, nor more widely to the British people.
When I was Chief of the Defence Staff, I know that, on occasions, I was either not allowed to speak or else had to publicly defend decisions on resources and capability using politically cleared scripts with which I was not always entirely comfortable. I was prepared to do this for a number of reasons. The first was the fact that, after all, it is not the responsibility of the Chief of the Defence Staff to determine the Government’s spending priorities. Moreover, it is not the responsibility of the Chief of the Defence Staff to determine what level of defence and security risk the Government are ultimately prepared to tolerate. Both of these things are for the Government of the day alone to determine, and they are definitely not enviable judgments to have to make.
However, it is the responsibility of the CDS, supported by the chiefs of staff, to maximise the benefit in military capability terms of a given level of resources, to deploy those resources in support of government policy, and to confirm to government, in as accurate a manner as possible, the degree to which that military capability reduces the defence and security risks to the nation. To me, the key responsibility of the CDS, in this aspect of his role, is to be loyally but brutally honest to the Government about his judgments on resources, capability choices and national risk. Therefore, the least—I hope the best—we can hope for as a result of today’s debate is the reassurance that the Government are being honest with themselves.
I make my contribution from the standpoint of an ex-CDS who believes that, in the specific context of war-fighting resilience, the situation today must—absolutely must—be even more concerning than it was in 2016 when I stood down. Drawing on my own personal experience as CDS, my first attempt, if you like, at moderated public honesty was in December 2013 at the annual Christmas CDS lecture to RUSI. In my address I first, I think, raised the spectre of the hollow force: a force I defined as increasingly built around exquisite platforms and around the capabilities that represented the iconic totems of a global power—capabilities perhaps more focused on supporting international prestige and a domestic industrial base than on rigorously based assessments of genuine national threats. In truth, it was a force that risked consuming so much of the defence budget on exquisite platforms that it was affordable only at the expense of manpower numbers, high-quality training and the stockpiles of war-fighting consumables that resilience on high-intensity operations require.
It would not be appropriate to publicly expose the detail of my private expressions of honesty to government. However, I will say that I wrote, formally, an annual letter to the Prime Minister, agreed with my fellow chiefs, offering a professional view on the state of our military capability. It was written in the clearest Yorkshire that I could muster. I can recall my final such letter to the Prime Minister, in summer 2016. I reflected one principal concern: that the strategic imbalance of investment between equipment, manpower, training, material support and infrastructure had effectively created the hollow force. The issue now was not the risk of the hollow force but whether the Government were happy to live with the reality.
Much has happened since I stood down in 2016 to suggest to me that the risk must now be intolerable. A number of external factors have occurred, many of them largely outside government control, which make the risk difficult to ameliorate quickly or cheaply. I offer three such factors, not to be exhaustive but purely as examples.
The first is that threats which were latent in 2010 and patent in 2015 are now realities, and the military outcome of the war in Ukraine will largely depend on a brutal test of national resilience. We are a part of that resilience, if only by proxy, and it seems, if the words of the current CGS are to be believed, that our contributions to date have already undermined and prejudiced our national liability to NATO.
The second example I offer is that, in pursuit of efficiency, we have created a defence industrial base in the UK which largely runs on supermarket lines: a competitive marketplace with just-in-time delivery, partly based on the guarantee of international supply. We no longer have the sovereign manufacturing base capable of sustaining war-fighting scales of consumption.
A third example would be my fear that we have done serious damage to our manpower resilience. We seem now, both institutionally and societally, unable to successfully recruit and retain. We have, by choice, reduced our military manpower strength; and, perhaps most remarkably of all, given the lessons from Ukraine and Covid, we have again neglected our Reserve Forces and have no plan in motion to address their purpose or vibrancy—although we have plenty of unacknowledged studies. I pause here to declare a personal interest, recorded in the register, as the president of the Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association.
As I said at the outset, it is perhaps not fair to expect a wholly candid or clear public statement on the resilience of our Armed Forces. Many, if not most, countries involve themselves in either internal deceptions or external evasions about the true state of their military capability. President Putin is perhaps just the latest to be horribly surprised. But more widely, we need to face a disturbing reality. Simply put, what we ask of defence and our Armed Forces is based on a wholly unachievable set of mutually conflicting ambitions, given the current levels of funding. We simply cannot, at one and the same time, face the threat of land warfare in Europe, commit to a strategic tilt to south-east Asia, sustain a nuclear deterrent, undertake a maritime renaissance, be the default government response to strikes and domestic emergencies, contribute to the nation’s prosperity agenda, help it to become a tech superpower and perform remarkable acts of state ceremonial, all while supporting a defence industrial base that looks first to its shareholders, and achieve all this with fewer people, not much more money and through a misplaced reliance on the enduring alchemy of efficiency.
I, among others, wait with bated breath for the outcome of the revisitation of the integrated review. I hope that the Minister will at least confirm that honesty and realism will be the review’s defining characteristics, and that the regeneration of resilience in all its dimensions will result.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Robathan on securing this debate. It has been punctuated by two excellent maiden speeches, from the noble Lord, Lord Hintze, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach; we welcome them and look forward to their contributions in the days ahead.
All the speakers who have so far contributed have significant military experience and background, as we have just heard. I do not have that background but I do not believe that matters pertinent to the armed services of this country are confined to those who have served. I therefore think it important that those of us who have not served contribute to the debate and express an opinion. I take an interest through the relevant APPGs and have done so since I came into this House. At the end of the day, decisions relevant to the armed services are political. Parliament and the Government must make those decisions. So resilience is as much a political decision as it is a military one.
Personnel and equipment are of course vital, but above all is the political determination on how they are used. We must not see this debate exclusively through the prism of Ukraine, because there are wider issues at stake. We are in the mess we are in in Ukraine in large measure due to particular international decisions that were not taken in the recent Syrian conflict. The red lines drawn by the United States were rubbed out and Assad and his henchmen were allowed to use poison weapons in that conflict. We have allowed Russia to move in, get warm-water port and pulverise large parts of Ukraine, while we have sent out the message that the West in general is a pushover. A dictator and a tyrant will see that. Of course, Putin got away with it in Georgia, and we have seen what happens.
There is even a parallel with the Falklands. It was the same thing, in so far as a dictatorship saw a weakness and said, “That country won’t go to the far side of the world to defend something”. We did, however, and that sent a strong signal. Now, we are having to do the same thing on our own doorstep. I never thought that I would see battle tanks on the plains of Europe in my lifetime—I never believed that would be possible—but it is happening as we speak. The mistakes we are repeating go back to what happened in the 1930s when dictators saw weakness. Hitler could have been stopped but he was not because we were not ready. We did not have the capability; neither did our French colleagues. As a country, we continue to make the same mistake again and again.
We all know—certainly, those of us who are in politics know—that public expenditure, including on welfare, housing and all the social and other benefits we want our people to receive, is vital. With defence, however, we say, “Well, we used that in World War II. That’s over now; we’ve sorted that out”. We are losing the critical mass necessary to sustain an integrated defence capability that goes from the grass roots of recruits, right through to the industrial military complex, and to our capability and the question whether we actually have the political will to use it. It strikes me that we have repeated all these mistakes. There have been many reviews, which I am sure have punctuated the careers of all the previous speakers in the debate. They have seen this happen and know what is coming at the end of the sausage machine: “Let there be less, not more”.
Importantly, while we must pay attention to cyber, drones and all the other modern warfare techniques, surely, ultimately, there is a necessity for volume. The Russians take the view that mass has its own capability and effect. Russia has a particular technique: grinding. Putin could not care less about 100,000 casualties. He will keep throwing people in there for as long as he can. Although he may have been disappointed at the reaction so far from NATO and the western allies and the heroic resistance of the people of Ukraine, I suspect that, in his deliberations, he says, “Well, we got that wrong. However, I’ll keep grinding these people down. What will the position be in 12 months’ time? How many more reserves of ammunition, vehicles and equipment will we have available then?” He will play the long game. We all know that.
So, although I have no doubt that my noble friend the Minister will give a spirited and coherent response, I must say this to her: the fact is that we are underprotecting ourselves. We are not paying the premium: we have got a cheapie, and there are so many caveats that it simply will not work. The noble Lord, Lord West, who has been beating the drum in this House on our naval capabilities for as long as I have been in it, has pointed out that we simply do not have sufficient surface vessels. As far as the Army is concerned, we must modernise. We have a huge problem with the estate on which our soldiers, sailors and airmen live. We have not resolved all those issues. I do not believe for one minute the figures on our reserve capabilities, from talking anecdotally to people back home. On paper, people are there, but they have not put in the hours of training and some of the vehicles they are training on are prehistoric. Let us bear in mind that we may have these headline figures, but they are not real.
In order to maintain a coherent manufacturing capability right the way through, we must learn from our mistakes. I do not see any evidence that we are learning. The same things are happening again to the procurement process; we just do not seem to be capable of getting that right. Then, we are still changing specs in the middle of contracts. How is it that one of the biggest defence contractors in the world cannot make a vehicle that does not shake its occupants to pieces? It is altogether out of order.
I hope and pray that the Government will look at this. We all know how tight expenditure is but, if we do not address these issues, our successors will pay in blood and treasure a price far greater than anything we contribute now.
My Lords, on 28 November, just under two months ago, I sat opposite Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet. Let me quote from his speech:
“As Edmund Burke argued, circumstances and context are everything. And today the pace of geopolitical change is intensifying. Our adversaries and competitors plan for the long term. After years of pushing at the boundaries, Russia is challenging the fundamental principles of the UN Charter. China is conspicuously competing for global influence using all the levers of state power. In the face of these challenges, short-termism or wishful thinking will not suffice.”
We have heard many brilliant speeches. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, said that size matters. What is the reality? The noble Lord, Lord Empey, has just talked about this. The number of recruits enlisted in the UK’s Armed Forces has dropped by 30% as Russia carries on attacking Ukraine. There was a 17% rise in experienced personnel signing off in the year ending September 2022. Our excellent Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Patrick Sanders, has warned that the country is weaker after donating so much equipment to Ukraine.
The reality is that the Army is shrinking to its smallest size since the Napoleonic wars. By 2025, it will be down to 73,000 troops. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, for initiating this debate. In the debate we had in 2019 to celebrate the anniversary of NATO, which was well before the Ukraine war, I remember saying very categorically that we need to increase expenditure on defence to 3% of GDP. Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng, in their irrational exuberance, lasted for just a few days, but they were right on one thing: they wanted to increase defence expenditure to 3% of GDP. My noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup said that the Treasury needs a more innovative approach and that critical mass matters. My late father, Lieutenant General Bilimoria, commanded a corps of 110,000 troops on the Pakistan border in Punjab and Rajasthan. The Central Command, of which he was commander-in-chief, had 350,000 troops.
NATO matters. When I was president of the CBI, the Ukraine war started and the following week I was invited by the EU ambassador to be the guest speaker at his weekly meeting of all 27 EU ambassadors. I said directly to the ambassadors of Sweden and Finland: “Are you now going to join NATO?” and they said, “We are ready to join in five minutes.” Thankfully, they are now joining. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, who has phenomenal experience as a former Secretary-General of NATO, implemented Article 5. The reality is that NATO will stand together. People say, “What if Putin attacks Latvia or Lithuania?” We will stand and Article 5, I guarantee, will be implemented.
As the president of CBI, one of my proudest moments was straight after the war started. I reached out to Vadym Prystaiko, the Ukrainian ambassador, who has become a good friend, and asked how British business could help. In his office, we held a virtual meeting with leaders of British industry. Since the week after the war started, we have sent millions of ration packs to the troops in Ukraine. We sent medical kits that they did not have, we sent food parcels for people who are starving in the food basket of the world, and now, thankfully, the USA and the UK, above everyone else, although now everyone else is joining in, are sending the tanks in. Will the Minister say whether we should be sending more? Should we be sending missiles with a range of more than 200 miles? Should we be sending aircraft? I get asked that question all the time.
To quote again from the Prime Minister’s Lord Mayor’s Banquet speech:
“By protecting Ukraine, we protect ourselves. With the fall of Kabul, the pandemic, the economic strife, some said the West was weak. In fact, our response in Ukraine has shown the depth of our collective resolve. Sweden and Finland are joining NATO.”
How far are we prepared to go? How scared are we about retaliation from Russia? If we want to help Ukraine win this war, it is in reality our war for freedom and democracy.
The noble Lord, Lord Hintze, said that he is an honorary captain in the Royal Navy. I am proud to be an honorary group captain in 601 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. This was a very famous squadron that performed very well and with great valour in World War II in the Battle of Britain and in Malta and North Africa, and it has now been revived. The way in which we look after veterans in this country is not good enough. The Americans are so much better. People wear their uniforms with pride. Members of the public respect that uniform. In India, my 86 year-old mother can go into a canteen or a military hospital for the rest of her life. Veterans are looked after. I suggest that we do more. Does the Minister agree?
I am very proud to chair the Memorial Gates Trust, which established the memorial gates on Constitution Hill, which were inaugurated by Her Majesty the Queen 20 years ago. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, had a huge role to play. The gates are there to commemorate and remember the five million volunteers from south Asia, Africa and the Caribbean who served in the First and Second World Wars. In the roof of the pavilion next to the gates are the names of all those who were awarded the Victoria Cross or the George Cross, including three from my father’s battalion, the 2/5th Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force), who were awarded the Victoria Cross.
Earlier this month, I was in Jodhpur with His Highness Gaj Singh, the Maharaja of Jodhpur, to celebrate his 70th birthday. At the celebrations, I met Brigadier Jodha, whose grandfather led the charge in the Battle of Haifa at the end of the First World War in 1918. I was privileged to speak at an event here in the House of Lords to celebrate and commemorate the centenary. It was the Jodhpur Lancers, the Hyderabad Lancers and the Mysore Lancers against the Turks in one of the last cavalry charges against machine-guns, and they won. This is the bravery. This is the reputation that this country has always had.
It was Field-Marshal Manekshaw, the former Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army, who said:
“If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha.”
That is their bravery. We are lucky: we still have thousands of Gurkhas, and I want reassurance from the Government that we will never cut our Gurkhas. The noble Lord, Lord Hintze, said that today is Australia Day. Today is also India’s Republic Day, and I will be back at the Guildhall today to celebrate that. Going back to 1961, Her Majesty the Queen was the chief guest at the Republic Day parade. My father, then Captain Bilimoria, was the senior ADC on duty on the podium with the President of India and the Queen.
Fast forward to a few years ago and the then Prince of Wales, now King Charles III, visited the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun. The links that we now have are absolutely phenomenal but, as the noble Lord, Lord Hintze, said very clearly, soft power without hard power is no power. We have this amazing relationship with India; our trade at the moment with India is £29 billion, but India is only the 12th-largest trading partner of the UK. It needs to be much more.
I said in a debate a week ago here in this House:
“The Indian express has left the station. It is now the fastest train in the world—the fastest-growing major economy in the world.”—[Official Report, 19/1/23; col. 2013.]
In 25 years it has a target to reach a GDP of $32 trillion, to become the second-largest economy in the world. Are we going to be the best partners of India in the years ahead? I say that we should, and we will be even closer partners if we have closer defence ties with India beyond staff college and the Royal College of Defence Studies, the National Defence College and Wellington staff college—of which my father was commandant. We need closer ties. As we speak, a British Navy ship is visiting the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, for joint exercises and much more.
I would go so far as to say—and I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s response—that I think that the UK should join Quad. Quad is the USA, India, Japan, and Australia: if the UK joins, we square the whole world round and it would be a really powerful force. I think we should bring back the Indian Army liaison officer role from the Indian Army within the British Army.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, spoke about morale. I think that esprit de corps is something that is greatly under threat if we have a morale problem. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, in his excellent maiden speech, spoke about innovation and research and development. Well, the reality is that we spend 1.7% of GDP on research and development innovation, and America spends 3.2%. We need to drastically increase our investment in R&D innovation.
So I conclude with this: we have, as a country, one of the strongest elements of soft power in the world. We have the highest-quality Armed Forces in the world, so we do have that hard power. But, as the Duke of Wellington’s motto says, fortune favours the bold. We need to be bolder: we need to invest in our Armed Forces, to respect our Armed Forces, and to treasure our Armed Forces. They serve us; they serve our nation. It is our duty to never ever take our superb Armed Forces for granted, and to always be grateful to them.
My Lords, it is a privilege to take part in a debate where there are not one, but two, maiden speeches. The distinguished service of my noble and gallant friend Lord Peach, not least as chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, speaks for itself and he will clearly contribute with great authority during our debates, not least as we contemplate the welcome accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, as referred to just a moment ago by my noble friend Lord Bilimoria. But we should also carefully note what my noble and gallant friend said about the Arctic, the high north, the Caucasus and the western Balkans.
I am especially pleased to be speaking in the same debate as the noble Lord, Lord Hintze, a long-standing and good friend. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, has a commitment away from the House today, but she would want me to recall the remarkable response of the noble Lord, Lord Hintze, when she was desperately trying to evacuate women judges from Afghanistan. Flights had to be arranged at great expense and the noble Lord, Lord Hintze, did not hesitate—in a “Schindler’s List” moment—in finding the lion’s share, making a spontaneous, generous and very substantial contribution to enabling women with a Taliban price on their heads to get out of Afghanistan. Some 500 people were evacuated; 103 were women lawyers and judges, all of whom, with their children and husbands, were on Taliban kill lists. I have met some of those women judges and know that the noble Lord’s intervention, and that of the author JK Rowling, undoubtedly saved many lives. His voice is one which deserves to be listened to with respect and admiration across your Lordships’ House, and I know that it will be.
Afghanistan is a good place to start in speaking to the welcome Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Robathan. Two years ago, the International Relations and Defence Select Committee, on which I have served, produced a report on Afghanistan. It warned of the consequences of an over-hasty, chaotic and shambolic withdrawal, putting at risk the gains that had been made, especially for women and not least in the protection of minorities, such as the Hazara, who now face genocidal attacks. I draw attention to two reports, one published only yesterday, by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hazaras.
The House should reflect on the effects of that chaotic withdrawal on our courageous service personnel and the sacrifices that they had made, but also on the message that it sent to would-be dictators and authoritarians around the world. It was significant, and should have come as no surprise, that one of the first photo opportunities organised by the Taliban was in Beijing, where, far from protesting about the genocide against Uighur Muslims—I draw attention to my own non-financial interests in that regard—they were busy making deals with the leadership of the CCP. Like the new alliance between Russia and Iran, it is instructive how dictatorship attracts dictatorship: like attracts like. I invite noble Lords to note as well how dictatorships offer one another endless supplies of drones, weapons and munitions.
The increasing global threat we face from the CCP is one of the themes explored in the most recent report of the International Relations and Defence Select Committee. It is the culmination of 22 evidence sessions between April and November last year, 39 witnesses including the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, and visits to HM naval base Clyde and to the UK military in Bahrain and Qatar.
That report, UK Defence Policy: From Aspiration to Reality?, referred to by my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup in his terrific speech earlier, and its criticism that neither the 2021 integrated review or defence Command Paper provided a sufficiently rigorous sense of priorities, is worthy of a full-scale parliamentary debate. That should be here in the Chamber, and ideally taken together with the Government’s proposed revision of both the IR and DCP. I hope that the Minister, who always treats the House with such respect, will undertake to make that request through the usual channels.
Although we should of course resist the temptation to draw premature, hasty or ill-considered conclusions while the outcome of the war in Ukraine remains uncertain, it is legitimate to raise questions about our long-term commitment to the defence of this realm. Indeed, some of the questions we have heard during the debate today are based on the Defence Secretary’s own concerns, raised this week in advance of the Budget. The phrase “hollowing out” has been used again and again during the debate. It comes from him: he talks about the hollowing out of the military after decades of what he describes as underfunding and our inability to field a war-fighting division of just 10,000 troops. The Minister should enlarge on that. Is it right, as has been reported, that, despite a budget of £46 billion—the second highest in NATO—the hollowing out also means we are unable to field a carrier battle group with sufficient combat aircraft, or early warning radar aircraft, to protect our airspace?
The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, in a previous incarnation said that we must “get real” about the need to invest in the Armed Forces and recognise that the first duty of a Government is always to keep their people safe. He pledged support for an increase to 3% of GDP. What is the Government’s formal position on that? We look forward to hearing from the Minister when she comes to reply. France, Germany, Japan and the US have set out their plans to significantly increase spending. When does the Minister anticipate that what the Treasury has described as a “long dialogue” that is “nowhere near a conclusion” will be finalised? What is her assessment of the consequences for procurement of a weakened pound and high inflation?
Hopefully, Mr. Wallace says that
“we have started to upgrade our Challenger tanks, get Ajax armoured vehicles back on track and purchase upgraded Apache helicopters.”
I hope the Minister will also enlarge on this. I have regularly raised questions about the Ajax programme. It has been delayed for 10 years and cost taxpayers some £5 billion so far. Hundreds of soldiers had to be treated for exposure to high noise after working on trials. The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has described Ajax as “a litany of failures” and “flawed from the outset”, and said that these failures had put national security at risk. Can the Minister spell out how it has been put “back on track”, when it will be available to use, and how the Ajax experience is now influencing procurement policy, not least in the light of the criticisms of the report of the National Audit Office last year?
In the context of Type 32 frigates, multirole support ships and the shortfall in purchasing MLRS rocket launchers, how have criticisms been addressed? I draw the Minister’s attention to our Select Committee’s comments about greater parliamentary oversight of the planned increase in our nuclear deterrent’s warhead numbers, the budgetary impact, and the consequences.
The House should also note the Select Committee’s observation that
“one of the key lessons for the Government is the need to build greater resilience into the UK’s own stocks, supply chains, and industrial capacity.”
As we have heard again and again, not least from the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, just-in-time responses to these challenges simply will not do. The committee insists that we
“need to sustain a major hard-power contribution to NATO’s collective defence”,
and that that
“must remain a key driver of UK miliary posture.”
The inadequacy of weapon and ammunition stocks, and addressing our lack of industrial capacity, again referred to by my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup, should be one of the Government’s highest priorities. Although the UK’s response in Ukraine has been admirable throughout, what are we to make of the remarks of General Sir Patrick Sanders that giving 14 Challenger tanks to Ukraine would leave the UK “temporarily weaker” and put us at risk of failing to meet our NATO obligations? I would like the Minister to spell out how long “temporary” means. Are we satisfied that we will meet our NATO commitments? What we are doing to address the replenishment of resources that are being exhausted as the UK does its duty in standing with Ukraine in its existential fight?
Germany’s change of heart on Leopard tanks and the US decision on Abrams tanks are welcome. Presumably, though, it will take some time to ready the tanks and to train Ukrainian soldiers to use them. Can we be reassured that this is now in motion?
Finally, can the Minister assure us that the tilt to the Indo-Pacific will prioritise diplomatic, economic and political responses to the growing threat from China, rather than place further pressure on military resources? Will the Government please describe China as the threat it most certainly is to Taiwan rather than use the phrase “systemic competitor”, which is used in the integrated review?
Does the Minister agree that, in dealing with the CCP, we must first tackle the enemy within? I refer to the 42 universities that the Times reported only this week have links with Chinese institutions connected to espionage, nuclear weapons, hacking and the repression of Uighurs. Will the Minister urgently clarify what her department is doing to challenge, for example, the joint research between the University of Surrey and Beijing on artificial intelligence and face recognition software used by the CCP to identify Uighur Muslims and pro-democracy activists?
It disturbs me when, on grounds of national security, our most important Five Eyes allies ban CCP involvement in telecommunications, surveillance cameras and nuclear power stations, but the UK follows the money, diminishes its resilience and increases its dependency. Our trade deficit with China is now £40 billion. Recall how German dependence on Russia for energy has compromised its ability to defend democracy and sovereignty. We must not make the same mistake.
The UK remains an important partner in a variety of alliances, including most notably NATO, Five Eyes and AUKUS. In meeting today’s dangers and challenges, we must deepen and strengthen those alliances and our capabilities. The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, is to be congratulated and thanked for giving us the opportunity to address some of these important questions in your Lordships’ House today.
My Lords, I was expecting not to need to declare any interests this afternoon. Unlike most noble Lords who have participated, but like the noble Lord, Lord Empey, I have not served in the military. I have been part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme and am now a trustee of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust, which serves to enhance understanding of the military among MPs and Peers who perhaps need a better understanding of His Majesty’s Armed Forces, precisely for the reason that the security of the state is the first duty of government.
My noble friend Lord Alton has made me think that perhaps I need to declare an interest—and almost an apology—because one of the 44 universities named as having an interest in China is my University of Cambridge. I have no direct links with China and I do not believe my department does. I certainly have no role in espionage or anything else.
A likely tale.
I will move on, having declared the interest of being at Cambridge University.
Like all noble Lords right across the House, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, for bringing this important debate. As we so often say, Members of your Lordships’ House from all Benches support our Armed Forces and wish to give them as much support as possible and to ensure that our decision-making and our funding for HM Armed Forces ensures that this country is safe and that our Armed Forces personnel are given all the support and finances needed to enable them to do their jobs and to enhance recruitment, retention and resilience.
In preparation for today’s debate, I went back to Command Paper 411, Defence in a Competitive Age. It was written in a very different age. It is only two years old—March 2021—yet even then the situation in which the Secretary of State, Ben Wallace, was writing seemed to be one of relative peace. Russia and China were both listed as potential threats, as were Iran and North Korea, but we were not expecting war in Europe or the rather ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan —the successful Op Pitting but the humanitarian disaster we have been left with.
Almost two years after this defence paper, and in light of the further revisions of the integrated review, my first question to the Minister is: does she believe that His Majesty’s Treasury—and indeed the Prime Minister, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer—understands the importance of the defence budget? It might be laudable to commit 2% or 3% of GDP but, in the face of a shrinking economy, high inflation and a poor exchange rate to the dollar, are we really increasing our defence expenditure and ensuring our resilience?
These are questions that have been raised time and again. The noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, went back to Hansard to look at his own contributions and said that he has asked the same questions again and again. That is true of many questions that I have put to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, when he was Minister of State at Defence, and the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie. Are we actually putting enough financial resource into the Armed Forces?
I touched on Afghanistan. I was not aware of the involvement of the noble Lord, Lord Hintze, in helping women to get out of Afghanistan, although I was aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, had done a fantastic job of supporting those women, so I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for mentioning that. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Hintze, to his place. Following his excellent maiden speech, I very much look forward to his further contributions to your Lordships’ House. It is so good to hear from someone who has military experience, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, pointed out, so he is most welcome.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, has also made his maiden speech. It is conventional to talk about people making excellent maiden speeches and say what a wonderful contribution they are going to make, but the extraordinary thing about the noble and gallant Lord’s maiden speech today was that it almost was not a maiden speech; it fitted so perfectly into the flow of the debate that, if we had not had the word “maiden” on the speakers’ list, we would not have remembered that it was a maiden speech. It was clear, excellent and important, and we are delighted to have further expertise on defence in your Lordships’ House.
In his foreword to the Command Paper, the Secretary of State raised criticisms about previous defence reviews. He suggests that they were overly ambitious and underfunded. In the light of the debate that we have heard today, and of the commitments that the UK is seeking to make globally as part of global Britain, does the Minister believe that the current integrated review is not also in danger of being overly ambitious and underfunded? Do we have sufficient resilience?
The Secretary of State made a lot of important points but in the context of a world that was very different—with a different Prime Minister, with a different set of priorities, before the war in Ukraine, before the impact of that war on the British and global economies, and before the energy crisis. We are in a very different situation now. The notes that I made before I heard this debate have merely been reinforced by it, so my questions to the Minister reinforce those questions about the replenishment of equipment.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, quoted my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, when he said last week that the House deserves credible evidence on the replenishment of armaments and discussions with industry. We heard from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, about the chaos—he did not use the word “chaos” but I think it might be a useful one—of MoD procurement. Although this is repetition beyond repetition, could the Minister tell the House, without breaching any commercial confidentiality, what discussions are being held with the defence industrial base to ensure that the UK’s own domestic security is not being jeopardised by the support that we are giving to Ukraine? We stand united behind the Government in supporting Ukraine and giving it as much support as it needs, including tanks and artillery, but we also need to be reassured that, almost a year into the war in Ukraine, the Government have fully understood the significance of replenishment. We in your Lordships’ House have not yet been reassured that supplies are going to be adequate, and the statement by the Chief of the Defence Staff did not really leave anyone feeling very reassured. Could the Minister comment on that?
Finally, I will devote my last couple of minutes to our Armed Forces personnel. The Command Paper rightly points out that
“Our people, from all four corners of the UK, the Commonwealth and beyond, are our most important resource”.
That is absolutely right and it was reiterated by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, in his maiden speech, and by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, who also pointed out the situation of veterans.
My friend in the other place, the MP for Tiverton and Honiton, Richard Foord MP, has been looking into that situation and ascertained, from a Written Question to the Minister in the Commons, that up to 200,000 veterans are at risk of homelessness over this winter. What is the MoD doing to support veterans and does the Minister feel that the Armed Forces covenant, which was enshrined into the Armed Forces Act 2021, is doing enough? Would His Majesty’s Government be willing to look at whether empty forces accommodation could be made available, even on a temporary basis, for veterans at risk from homelessness? While I am at it, can the Minister tell the House what further work is being done to ensure appropriate accommodation for all our service personnel?
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, pointed out that there seemed to be a lack of briefings. When I was first in your Lordships’ House, I remember going to briefings in the MoD main building. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, would give us those briefings and there was often a map showing current deployments. That map had many points and it usually meant some support, which had often been offered by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. Yet there is always a danger that Prime Ministers offer to do things without necessarily thinking through the logistical consequences of their actions.
Our support for Ukraine is absolutely right but, beyond that, what efforts are His Majesty’s Government putting into ensuring that repeated deployments do not fundamentally undermine the resilience of our Armed Forces? For their families, their training and their own well-being, it is vital that we give sufficient support to our Armed Forces. If we do not do that, the danger is that the defence of the realm will be damaged.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, for securing it. Like many others, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hintze, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, on their maiden speeches.
The resilience of our Armed Forces is a topic to be considered seriously at all times but there are two significant overarching factors making it even more pertinent at present, which I would like to set out before looking at various areas in more detail. One is the uncertain European security situation stemming from Russia’s aggression; the other is the weakening of the foundations of our Armed Forces since 2010. When it comes to resilience, these two aspects tie perfectly together. According to the Government’s own UK Defence Doctrine, which outlines the broad philosophy and principles underpinning our military, the key aspect of resilience
“is the ability to change readily to meet new circumstances”.
We have new circumstances with Russia and Ukraine.
What we also have are policy and investment decisions, in the longer term and the immediate future, that reduce our ability to change to meet these new circumstances. That is, at its very core, a lack of resilience, and any way you look at it, maintaining resilience will always be more difficult with more than 40,000 fewer troops, 80% of the number of ships in the Royal Navy, and many fewer aircraft in the Royal Air Force. The most recent regular Armed Forces continuous attitude survey showed overall satisfaction with service life at only 45%. In 2009, it was 61%. Furthermore, the MoD has wasted at least £15 billion in taxpayers’ money since 2010 and £5 billion since 2019.
The foreword to the Defence Secretary’s Command Paper 411 states:
“If this Defence Command Paper is anything, it is an honest assessment of what we can do and what we will do.”
To be honest is to look at the damage that has already been done and is continuing. The Government are proceeding with a further cut of 10,000 troops and a £2.3 billion real-terms cut in day-to-day MoD spending, meaning less money for forces’ pay, equipment, recruitment, training and families. These decisions have weakened us at a time when we need to be strongest—for ourselves and our NATO allies, who have our unshakable commitment—in standing up to Russian aggression.
It is not just His Majesty’s Opposition making these arguments. The Defence Committee in the other place published a report examining the integrated review, Command Paper 411 and the industrial strategy. Among other things, it highlighted how the Ukraine conflict undermines the MoD’s conclusion that mass is no longer important. The chair of that committee rightly highlighted that today’s threats are arguably more dangerous and unpredictable than those faced in the past, and described the MoD’s meeting all its integrated review obligations as “simply impossible” given the cuts to capability.
The Foreign Affairs Committee has quite directly called for an update
“in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
Our own International Relations and Defence Committee highlighted a significant number of challenges that all three branches of the Armed Forces are facing in making the Government’s defence ambitions a reality, not least how the Ukraine conflict has exposed the inadequacy of equipment supply.
I understand that these updates are coming, but unless they come with a quite unexpected change in approach from the Government, I suspect the same question will remain. The Defence Secretary perhaps gave us some room for optimism when he said last November that
“as the threat changes, so must the size of everything”.
None the less, I shall turn to a few specific elements of the Command Paper in more detail. Despite the broader picture hindering its efficiency, there are a number of interesting aspects, and I certainly cannot be as critical of its intent to modernise and adapt as I have of the implementation and factors surrounding that possibility.
The four objectives from the integrated review are the basis of the Command Paper and are admirable. Chapter 7’s focus on modernising our forces through science and technology, coupled with necessary R&D investments, provides a number of opportunities, not least the obvious strategic advantage in an increasingly digital landscape, which we are all aware extends deeply into security issues. Recognising the importance of maintaining traditional elements of the Armed Forces should never mean that we cower from adaptation. If we did, we would be just as guilty of lacking the flexibility to change to face new circumstances. It is welcome that the Government are taking that seriously. The promise of
“one of the most integrated, digital, and agile forces in the world”,
and the implications of cyberspace and space adding to the three more traditional elements of the Armed Forces, is welcome. However, I again emphasise that the traditional does not become less important just because of the presence of modern challenges.
In chapter 5, there is also a very welcome awareness of the importance of defence’s contribution to global Britain, and of properly contributing to NATO and beyond:
“In an era of global competition and security threats, we must be ready to bring military support to our allies and partners wherever that might be needed.”
Of course, we have seen this in action in the support and leadership we have offered Ukraine over the last year. Deterrence through collective security with our allies will always be one of the most effective ways of counteracting threats before they exist. When this is not enough, collective action, as we are now seeing in Ukraine, is the only way we can face the more unpredictable threats of the 21st century.
There is of course one collective that we have dropped out of recently. I hope that any forthcoming update to the integrated review and other documents comes with an intent to form a new UK-EU security pact, as the Opposition have committed to doing, which would complement our unshakeable commitment to NATO and seek new co-operation across foreign policy through regular EU-UK summits and structured dialogue, in order to tackle Europe’s shared threats in areas such as cyber, energy security and organised crime.
The conflict in Ukraine is also depleting our stockpiles, and Ministers have been moving too slowly to replace them. It took 287 days from the start of the invasion for the Defence Secretary to sign a new contract to replace the NLAWs for our forces and for Ukraine. We of course want to know whether the Government are responding to this in the shorter term by ramping up production of ammunition and equipment, and how many more contracts have been signed to replenish our supplies. In the longer term, given the ongoing concern about maintaining resilience, there is another question about what bearing these developments will have on the coming refresh of the integrated review.
Turning to a slightly more personal approach, my experience in the military consisted of being taught to fly by the RAF while at university and being promoted to an officer rank so low that it has now been abandoned. Subsequently, I served as a non-executive director of the Defence Logistics Organisation, the Defence Procurement Agency and the merged Defence Equipment and Support. I was taught by officers that, when you have finished all your planning and you get down to the actual fighting, you have to get three things right: kit, training and morale. I am afraid there are questions over all three areas, and I hope the new review will answer them. Kit has to be sufficient and appropriate, but there is a hidden danger: it has to be serviceable and you have to have the right reserves. Hollowing out is an insidious process that vastly underuses equipment and creates a lack of capability.
Training we hear less about, but, having been with the military, I believe that, when faced with making efficiencies—I deplore that term because it really means cuts—training has to come into its sights, and I am sure it does. If one could put military leaders under the appropriate pressure, I am sure they would say that training has suffered from the cost pressures.
Morale comes from all sorts of sources. It comes leadership—from above. Properly trained people with the right working equipment will have better morale. But we should also take account of other things. We must make sure that pay levels are sufficient to recruit and retain. We must make a real leap in accommodation, particularly married quarters. If you are going to get married people to go overseas and fight, they need not to be worried about what is happening at home. Finally, one has to have a positive approach to veterans, so that people who have devoted their lives to defending our country and serving our allies know that there is a future after they leave the Armed Forces.
I hope that the Minister, not necessarily in replying today but certainly when reviewing and rebooting the integrated review, will make sure that all the issues that have been drawn together today are considered, and particularly that we get ticks in those three important areas.
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Robathan for enabling this important, constructive and certainly timely debate. There are surely few places in our country, outside of MoD headquarters, that are likely to boast as much defence expertise and experience as is gathered here under one roof.
I thank all who have spoken, including former Defence Ministers and former heads of our armed forces; every contribution has added an extra dimension to our understanding of the grave issues we are facing. Among those contributions, we were privileged to hear the maiden speeches of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, of Grantham, and my noble friend Lord Hintze. I think your Lordships would agree that the calibre of their speeches whets our appetite for hearing much more from them, and sooner rather than later.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is inevitable that there will be those who argue that the Command Paper, Defence in a Competitive Age, released in 2021, is effectively obsolete following President Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine illegally. However, the main thrust of that document was correct, and it remains so today, because it identified Russia as our most acute threat. It noted that we are living in a more adversarial, multipolar and transactional international era. It committed the United Kingdom, despite tough economic times, to maintain its position as a leading NATO partner in Europe. Indeed, combined with the biggest increase in defence spending since the end of the Cold War, it set a tone that other nations would later follow in the wake of the Ukraine invasion.
It is also fair to say that the Command Paper did not anticipate, as no nation did, the sheer speed of change, nor did it predict how the impact of Russia’s invasion would send shockwaves around the world, impacting global energy and global food supplies and precipitating a severe financial crisis. Separately, we are also aware that China is watching events closely as it escalates tensions with Taiwan, while states such as North Korea and Iran continue to pose complex regional challenges. Violent extremism has not gone away; terrorists continue to stoke the fires of instability across Africa.
So in this age of constant competition, the open international order on which our values have come to depend is under threat as never before—all that while rising costs are putting a sustained squeeze on defence budgets. Resilience has rocketed to the top of our agenda, and, in the short term, our first priority must be to continue to help Ukraine win back its sovereignty—I reassure my noble friend Lord Robathan and the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, on that.
In the past few decades, war has only been a theoretical possibility, but now conflict is actually taking place on this continent. We should be crystal clear—the Lord, Lord Robertson, painted this in stark terms—that our safety and that our allies depend on Ukraine winning and Russia losing. Since the start of the conflict, the United Kingdom has been a leading supporter of Ukraine. We were the first European nation to supply it with lethal aid, providing £2.3 billion of military support and £20 million of humanitarian assistance in 2022. Already in 2023, we have committed to repeating that £2.3 billion of support, and we have underlined that we are in this for the long haul.
Recently, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence has announced that we will send Ukraine a squadron of Challenger 2 tanks with armoured recovery and repair vehicles, as well as AS-90 guns, more uncrewed aerial systems, more ammunition and another 600 Brimstone missiles. That package is designed to help Ukraine to go on to dominate the battlefield and to move from resisting to expelling Russian forces from Ukrainian soil. However, while the tanks and guns are coming directly from our stocks, a significant number of the other donations are being purchased on the open market or supportive partners. Indeed, we continue to play a leading role in hosting and participating in donor conferences to encourage other nations to keep supplying Ukraine with the support it needs. Last week’s Ramstein conference, for instance, was another opportunity to galvanise western support, with a number of significant pledges made. In particular, I laud and thank Germany for its recent decision to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and to authorise partner countries to send theirs in turn. That is a historic move, which we hope will have a decisive impact.
It is also vital to ensure that we act rapidly to replace the capabilities we lose; this point was raised by a considerable number of your Lordships. In December, the Defence Secretary announced a £229 million order for thousands more anti-tank weapons to replenish our stockpiles. Even as we give Challenger 2 tanks, we will be reviewing the number of Challenger 3 conversions following early lessons from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
We will also build on the Army’s modernisation programme under Operation Mobilise. The Army will accelerate its modernisation, the rebuilding of its stockpiles and the delivery of new tools, including Long Range Precision Fires and electronic warfare. Specifically on artillery, the Defence Secretary has announced the acceleration of our Mobile Fires Platform programme. It was earmarked for delivery in the 2030s. That will now happen earlier and, subject to commercial negotiation, an interim artillery capability is to be delivered.
Beside the short and medium term, we are giving thought to our longer term resilience. The mantra of the Defence Secretary throughout his tenure has been that as threats move, we must move to meet them. The aim at the heart of the Command Paper was to create leaner and more agile Armed Forces, which could be adapted to meet threats as they arise. Today we have a clearer picture of the more serious threats, as well as a renewed understanding of the vital importance of traditional war-fighting capability. That is why in the next couple of months we will refresh the integrated review and Command Paper.
One would have had to be dwelling in outer space during this debate not to hear the recurring theme, which I noted characterised every contribution. That, of course, is in relation to resource. I thought that it might be helpful just to provide a bit of backdrop. The Government recognise the vital importance of defence, as our record investment in 2020 and our unwavering support for Ukraine have shown. The 2022 Autumn Statement reconfirmed the Government’s commitment that defence spending will not fall below 2% of GDP, and the Government recognise that further investment in defence will be required to meet the threats that we face and will consider that as part of the integrated review refresh.
In the 2020 review, when the MoD secured a £24 billion uplift in cash terms to its budget over four years to increase defence spending, that was the biggest investment in the UK’s Armed Forces since the end of the Cold War. I have no doubt that a number of the distinguished contributors to this debate will reflect that, in their time of being in senior office, they might have wished that that facility had been offered to them. Our defence budget is currently the largest of any European ally. With that uplift of £24 billion in cash terms over four years, our participation in every NATO operation and mission and our declaration of the UK’s nuclear deterrent to the allies, the UK will remain NATO’s leading European ally.
I listened very carefully to noble Lords’ observations. The defence Command Paper is ordered by the Secretary of State for Defence; it recognises what we need to do, responding to the changing threat environment and how we propose to do it. I have heard the explicit and clear messages: from my noble friend Lord Robathan, that “hard power is necessary”; from my noble friend Lord Hintze, that “soft power without hard power is no power at all”; from the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, that we must “restore hard power”; and from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, that “size of capability does matter, and more resource is needed”. The noble and gallant Lord added, colourfully, that there are no parsnips. There may be no parsnips, but I think that there are other vegetables in the larder worth mentioning. He is aware of the very solid investment programme and of really exciting opportunities for our three Armed Forces.
I was interested in the relatively sparse reference made in the debate to the critical domains of cyber and space. One of the absolutely fundamental tasks that the MoD is undertaking is that we have the digital backbone and we are recognising the need to respond to and be part of this digital age. We are engaged with our Cyber Defence Academy, and we are taking the steps that we need to take to ensure that in these new and for many people unfamiliar domains we are in there with our allies and partners, understanding what they mean, recognising the threats that they may pose but also exploiting the opportunities that they offer.
I listened with particular interest to the ideas from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, for the Baltic and far north, and expanding the JEF. I am sure that that is a view that will resonate within the MoD.
The noble Lord, Lord West, repeated the plea for more resource, as did the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and my noble friend Lord Attlee. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, referred to a communication that he had previously issued in his “clearest Yorkshire”. Let me reassure him today that I hear his clearest Yorkshire message. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, reprised the theme, as did the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Alton. It was also reaffirmed by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. So I do not think that there is any doubt about the consistency, constancy and unanimity of the message coming from your Lordships. It is my job to ensure that it is relayed to where it matters, and I undertake to discharge that responsibility.
With reference to the integrated review and Command Paper, noble Lords will understand that I am not at liberty to pre-empt any potential announcements, but it would not be giving away any trade secrets to say that this will be an opportunity to create a credible and sustained force—a force ready for strategic state competition sooner, leveraging integration to make best use of our assets, and credible in our ability to deter our adversaries and respond to threats. It will also be about ensuring that we have the agile Armed Forces that we need for our brave men and women. I reiterate the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and others. Our personnel, our Armed Forces men and women, are our most precious asset; we know that and we do value it. We acknowledge that there have been challenges for them; we are cognisant of the challenges and are constantly trying to find ways of addressing them.
In relation to service family accommodation, your Lordships will recall an earlier statement on that—I think it was the day before we broke up for Christmas Recess. I think that I was able to reassure your Lordships that there has been seismic change in how we are offering helplines and immediate and swift support, and taking steps to relocate personnel if accommodation is not habitable.
We need to be sure that we can deploy at pace to a range of threats and seamlessly transition between operating and fighting. Critically, the review and the Command Paper will be about creating a truly global force, collaborating alongside allies and partners to better counter threats and lever our economic, diplomatic and military might to pack a greater combined punch.
Let me now deal with some of the specific points raised by noble Lords. My noble friend Lord Attlee raised the matter of deployable divisions. My understanding is that, as directed in the defence strategy and defence plan of 2022, we have two deployable divisions: 1st (United Kingdom) Division, which provides a wide range of capabilities at home and overseas; and 3rd (United Kingdom) Division, which is the Army’s primary armoured war-fighting division. War-fighting capability, let me reassure noble Lords, remains the cornerstone of deterrence and the bedrock of a world-class British Army. I just want to reassure my noble friend Lord Robathan and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, on that.
Noble Lords will also be aware of the Future Soldier programme, which set out an exciting future for the military and a recognition that we are not necessarily dealing with mass numbers of people, but working out how, by combining the skills of our people with the technological advances we now have, we can do things better with fewer people and do them more safely. Very often, we can use technology to deploy in operations where people previously were at risk; with the deployment of technology, that risk disappears.
The noble and gallant Lords, Lord Stirrup and Lord Craig of Radley, my noble friend Lord Robathan, the noble Lords, Lord West, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Robertson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, all raised the issue of replenishment. In relation to replenishing stocks, the Ministry of Defence continually manages and reviews its stocks of weapons and munitions and these considerations inform what we give in kind to the armed forces of Ukraine. There are regular strategic supplier conversations throughout the ministry and we regularly fully engage with industry, allies and partners to ensure that all equipment and munitions granted in kind are replaced as expeditiously as possible. We are absolutely clear that we will never go below the safe line that we require for the security of our own nation.
A number of noble Lords asked specifically what we have been ordering. I can confirm that a number of substantial contracts have already been placed to directly replace our stockpiles. These include the replacement of the Starstreak high-velocity missile and the lightweight multirole missile. The next generation of light anti-tank weapons, NLAWs, are currently being built, and several hundred missiles will be delivered to UK stockpiles from 2023 onwards. A contract for further NLAWs was signed on 7 December 2022.
A number of noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord Robathan, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the matter of accommodation. As I said earlier, we are very cognisant of this. We have made investment and have developed structures so that nobody in our Armed Forces suffering unacceptable conditions should be left without help or a source of advice. I cross-examined officials to be sure that that is a robust system and was assured that it is.
I have some figures on recruitment, but in the interest of time I am going to offer to write to those noble Lords who raised issues of recruitment and, under that, I shall deal with the issue of reserves that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised. There is perfectly positive and, I think, encouraging information in there.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, and my noble friend Lord Attlee asked for a debate in this House. I am very pleased to be able to confirm that that debate will happen on 9 February. It has probably not yet been tabled in the bulletin of parliamentary business, but noble Lords can look forward to the perhaps dubious pleasure of me opening it and my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon winding it up.
On dealing with propaganda and misinformation, an issue of concern and interest to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, we have used our own intelligence, in conjunction with the United States and the armed forces of Ukraine and Ukrainian intelligence sources, to start being a little more free handed about disclosing intelligence. We think that is the best way to neutralise the poison of lies and misinformation, and it has proved to be very effective. In a previous debate, I referred noble Lords to a recent survey that had been carried out in Russia. It indicated that public support for the war is dropping in Russia, and that is very welcome.
On defence resilience and industry, which concerned many noble Lords, not least the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, along with a number of others, we have made major changes within defence. If we work on from the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy, published in March 2021, as a step change in our approach to industry, we now think about defence industries as strategic capabilities in their own right. The noble and gallant Lord is quite correct: we cannot do this on a feast and famine basis. That was something we discovered with shipbuilding. In fact, the national shipbuilding strategy, refreshed recently, has been very much welcomed by the shipbuilding industry, because it is giving it predictability, visibility and a sense of what lies ahead in the future. The noble and gallant Lord is quite correct that that is what we want to achieve across our relationship with industry.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, raised issues about our Armed Forces people. I absolutely emphasise how important they are. He asked about veterans, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. I can confirm that we now have a Minister for Veterans, Mr Johnny Mercer; we have an Office for Veterans’ Affairs; and very recently, in the Armed Forces Act, we had explicit provisions for the first time in relation to the covenant, to introduce a new legal duty in relation to health, housing and education. When these services are sought, wherever they are being sought, by veterans throughout the United Kingdom, there will be better support, making sure they can get the services they need.
The question of whether we can do more for Ukraine was on the minds of many noble Lords. I reassure them that we work closely with the armed forces of Ukraine. We analyse with them what they think their needs are, and I have said before in this Chamber that we do not do that in a silo of our own: we consult with our allies and partners so that we ensure that our singular contributions achieve the best aggregate output in terms of impact and effect. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that the Indo-Pacific tilt is still a very important part of HM Government strategy. That is exercised through various conduits, including diplomatic and trade engagement, and of course defence is an essential part of that integrated offer to the region.
I am slightly over my time, but this has been such an important debate. I thank your Lordships for your indulgence and draw my remarks to a conclusion by saying that we are, in Defence, changing and adapting, we are learning from the lessons of Ukraine, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that we support Ukraine to secure victory, and ultimately build up a more robust resilience so we are ready for whatever strategic threat comes next. On the broader front of our defence capability in the present and the future, my right honourable friend the Secretary State for Defence has a reputation for honesty, tenacity, bluntness and leadership, and he will be a doughty advocate for Defence in his engagement with the Prime Minister and the Treasury. In that endeavour, he will certainly have an important weapon at his disposal: the contributions of your Lordships to this debate, a cogent augmentation of MoD arguments for which I thank your Lordships profoundly.
Before the Minister sits down, could I urge her, in this electronic age, to copy any letters to everybody who has participated in the debate?
I will be delighted to do that. As your Lordships will have realised, such was the breadth and scope of questions that I could not possibly address them all in this debate, but I will certainly look at Hansard and undertake to deal with as much as I can by correspondence, and that will be placed in the Library, probably in electronic form, for access by anyone who wants it.
My Lords, first, I thank everyone who participated in the debate, and pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Hintze, formerly of the Royal Australian Army, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, formerly of the Royal Air Force, for their excellent maiden speeches. I said at the beginning of the debate that I would not bang on for too long because I knew there was much more expertise than I have. We have heard it all, and it has been very good, so thank you very much.
I would say that experience is not everything, actually, and war is too important to be left to generals. However, I know my noble friend has heard that experience that shows what a dire state we are in, and she has responded well, so I thank her. We are not looking backwards to the Cold War; we are looking forwards. We need to build on the highly admired Armed Forces, on their history and tradition, and have a better force going forward. When the Minister talks about beimg leaner and more agile, I think we all know what leaner means: fewer—it is quite straightforward. It is all very well having more command papers and strategies. I am sure Mr Putin and other potential adversaries are very interested. We need action now; we need more money now, and we need those insurance premiums that have been put in the bin for many years—over the last three or four decades—to be paid and we need money to be paid now.