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Integrated Review: Update

Volume 827: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made with the update to the 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

My Lords, Defence is supporting the refresh of the integrated review. We must ensure that the UK remains ready to deter adversaries in the new era of strategic competition. Taking lessons learned from the past year, we will continue to modernise, build resilience and promote prosperity both domestically and across our global partner network. Any specific policy changes will be determined once the update to the integrated review is concluded. We expect this work to be completed ahead of the Treasury’s Spring Statement.

My Lords, at the weekend a senior US general said that the British Army was no longer a top-tier fighting force. Yesterday the Defence Secretary said:

“I am happy to say that we have hollowed out and underfunded” —[Official Report, Commons, 30/1/23; col. 18.]

in reference to troop and spending cuts. Does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State? Is that really a summary of the Government’s policy? Will the update of the integrated review see an end to this policy, or will it continue?

The 2021 integrated review and defence Command Paper highlighted that we must focus on capabilities rather than troop numbers per se. Through Future Soldier, the Army will have a whole focus of over 100,000, comprising 73,000 regular service personnel and 30,100 Army Reserve. However, the noble Lord made an important point about hollowness. Over time and under successive Governments, there has been underinvestment in our land capability requirements. We have recognised that and set out a plan. Future Soldier is part of that. We have published an equipment plan of £242 billion over 10 years, and the Army’s proportion of that is £41 billion, covering, for example, Challenger 3, Boxer and Ajax.

I remind the noble Lord that this Government were responsible for a record-breaking finance settlement for defence—the biggest since the Cold War—and it should be acknowledged that we have made a serious attempt to try to redress the hollowing-out process over many years.

My Lords, whatever the fresh defence Command Paper has to say, it will be of value only if the Government strike an appropriate balance between ambition and resource. The Minister keeps referring to the largest spending increase on defence since the Cold War. Since virtually all spending reviews since the Cold War have meant a reduction in defence expenditure, that is not a very high bar to clear. Will the forthcoming spending review support the defence Command Paper or undermine it?

The noble and gallant Lord may consider that it is not a very high bar, but it is higher than any of the other bars that have been set, and the facts speak for themselves. He will be aware that the challenge for defence is that we have to balance the operational and remote resource demands of today with the overarching vision to modernise to meet the demands of tomorrow. In the MoD, we are confident that we can reconcile these conflicting tensions.

My Lords, will my noble friend go back to the department and tell our right honourable friends the Secretary of State and the Minister for the Armed Forces that it is very welcome that they have expressed the views they have in the last couple of days, realising what a sad state the Army is in. I hate agreeing with the Labour side, but we do know that a great deal more money needs to be spent on defence.

My noble friend will have heard me say to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that neither I nor my ministerial colleagues deny that a challenge has confronted our land capability—a challenge spread over many years and created under successive Governments. We are cognisant of that and are doing what we can within the MoD to address it.

My Lords, following a theme that has been echoing around the Chamber, will the Minister say what assessment the MoD and His Majesty’s Government have made of the fact that the IMF is predicting a recession in the United Kingdom? Given the nature of inflation and the unpredictability of the exchange rate, what impact is there likely to be on defence capabilities? In the light of all those things, is it not time to move beyond percentages of GDP as targets for defence expenditure and towards a real focus on actual capability and what the UK can deliver?

The noble Baroness will be aware that a percentage of GDP is the model that has been adopted increasingly by other states in consequence of the approach that the United Kingdom has taken to defence expenditure. In relation to current expenditure, the noble Baroness is right that we face challenges of inflation and fluctuating currency, but we have been able to make greater use of index-linked fixed price contracts, and we use pricing mechanisms where inflation risk sits with suppliers. Indeed, that has prevented higher prices being passed on. We also have forward purchasing of fuels, utilities and foreign exchange—all of which mitigates the corrosive impact of inflationary pressures.

My Lords, no matter how it is dressed up, it is quite clear, because even the Government have admitted it—the Secretary of State has admitted it—that we have underfunded our Armed Forces and they are hollowed out. Will we ensure that all three services have an increase in spend? For example, although there is a lot of talk about the Army, when one looks at undersea cables and the huge growth in the Russian submarine force, there is no doubt that there is a maritime threat as well. All three services must be looked at, and there is an absolute need to invest now.

I hold the noble Lord in very high regard, but I do not hold the purse strings of government. However, he sends a consistent message, and I am sure that it is resonating beyond this Chamber.

My Lords, the integrated review quite rightly makes the point that international agreements are key, and we are a member of the Five Eyes. As we make a greater tilt to the Far East, can the Minister assure us that there is some consideration of increasing the Five Eyes to include Japan?

I say to my noble friend that I obviously cannot be specific. Five Eyes is a very important collaboration, and it is relevant to our activity in the Indo-Pacific area. My noble friend makes an interesting suggestion. We already have a good bilateral defence and diplomatic relationship with Japan, but I listen with interest to what he says.

My Lords, there is a legitimate focus on land capabilities, but I return to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord West. We are a maritime power, and it has been our ambition to be a world-leading one. We should not overlook the threat in the Baltic and North Atlantic, which contribute to the security not just of the UK but of northern Europe.

I reassure the noble Baroness by referring her to the ambitious shipbuilding programme for the Royal Navy. We are watching with interest the emerging development of the Type 26 on the Clyde and the Type 31 at Rosyth. Of course, the fleet solid support ships were recently announced; they will involve Harland & Wolff and will be built principally in Belfast. But the noble Baroness is quite correct: we are a maritime nation, we realise that and I think she will agree that there has been a very healthy investment in our maritime capability.

My Lords, are the Government not embarrassed that they have had to admit to our closest ally, the United States, that the British Army can no longer put a fully equipped armoured division in the field? If they are not embarrassed, they should be.

The noble Lord will understand that, in this day and age, we cannot look at one aspect of capability on its own—that is not how we deal with and address threats now. The key to how we operate is, first, co-operation with allies; it is also agility in how we respond and making sure that we have the technology and equipment to respond. Although there is no denying—and I have not attempted to deny—that we have seen a hollowing out of our land capability over some decades, it would be quite wrong to give the impression that MoD in the UK does not have a very solid capability: we do. It is important, particularly having regard to the instability in other parts of the world, that we do not talk down our Armed Forces, not least for the morale of the men and women who serve so bravely in them.

My Lords, since publication two years ago, surely there has been a major global change—namely, the illegal invasion of Ukraine. Is not one of the lessons of those two years that we should concentrate more on European defence and give up the illusion of a greater tilt to the Indo-Pacific?

We do concentrate on Euro-Atlantic security, and the swiftness with which we responded—indeed, led the response—to the illegal invasion of Ukraine is tangible evidence of that. But I agree with the noble Lord: the threats that we face nowadays are multifaceted, and it is important that we devise a capability that can respond to the character of that new threat. The noble Lord will be aware that we are dealing not just with traditional land, sea and air domains; we now deal with space, cyber and electro- magnetic domains. It is a complicated world in which we live.