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Defence Command Paper Refresh

Volume 831: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2023


The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 18 July.

“With permission, I would like to make a Statement on the publication of our refreshed Defence Command Paper. It is just over two years since we published the original Command Paper in March 2021. In those two years, our security has been challenged in so many ways. This is the Ministry of Defence’s response to a more contested and volatile world.

In the last four years that I have been Defence Secretary, I have been consistent about the reform I have sought to implement. I want Defence to be threat-led—understanding and acting on the threats facing our nation as our sole mission; not protecting force structures, cap badges or much-loved equipment but ensuring that we are focused on challenging threats.

I want the Ministry of Defence to be a campaigning department, adopting a more proactive posture, and our forces more forward and present in the world, with a return to campaigning assertively and constantly, pushing back those threats and our adversaries. I want Defence to be sustainable in every sense. For too long, Defence was hollowed out by both Labour and Conservative Governments, leaving our forces overstretched and underequipped. We must match our ambitions to our resources, our equipment plans to our budget, and take care of our people to sustain them in their duties. We must never forget the travesty of the Snatch Land Rovers in Afghanistan.

The 2021 Defence Command Paper was true to those principles and, with some tough choices, presented an honest plan for what we can and will achieve: a credible force, capable of protecting the nation, ready to meet the threats of today but investing heavily to modernise for those of the future; a force in which every major platform would be renewed by 2035, from armoured vehicles to Dreadnought submarines, frigates to satellites.

We did not plan on issuing a new Command Paper just two years on. Many of the conclusions of that Command Paper remain right: Russia was and is the greatest threat to European security, and China’s rapid military modernisation and growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and beyond do pose an increasing challenge to us all. However, I have always said that, as the situation changes, we must change with it. Since the first DCP was released, the world has shifted once more, from a competitive age to a contested and volatile world. The technology advances we predicted materialised. The threats and challenges we feared have manifested.

There is no more immediate threat than Russia. Its full-scale invasion of Ukraine was not simply an assault on a proud and sovereign nation but an attack on all our values, European security and the open international order on which stability and prosperity have depended for over three quarters of a century. Right now, the people of Ukraine are suffering the tragic consequences of President Putin’s illegal, unprovoked invasion. His naked aggression and imperial ambitions have played out in a tragedy of epic human suffering. The brave citizen soldiers of the armed forces of Ukraine are protecting their own nation and people, quite heroically taking on the once mighty Russian forces. The whole House recognises that they fight not just for their freedom but for ours. They are not just liberating their homeland but defending the rules-based system.

As Defence Secretary it is important to import the lessons learned from the conflict to our own forces. While I wish such lessons were generated in a different war, the conflict has become an incubator of new ways of war. They are proving the way for warfare in the 2020s—whole of nation, internationally partnered, innovative, digitised, operating with a tempo, precision and range requirement, and a recognition that there is a trade-off between assurance levels and operational impact.

I am proud, too, of the role the UK is playing in supporting Ukraine, whether providing equipment, training or political support, or galvanising European and international allies and industrial partners to do likewise. But the return of war to the continent of Europe, alongside growing threats elsewhere in the world, has meant that we must sharpen our approach. The integrated review refresh published in March outlined how we would do that. It would shape the global strategic environment, increase our focus on deterrence and defence, address vulnerabilities that leave our nation exposed and invest in the UK’s unique strengths.

Defence is central to all those efforts. That is why, after three decades in which all parties have continued drawing the post-Cold War peace dividend, this Prime Minister reversed that trend and provided Defence with an additional £24 billion over four years. He and the Chancellor have gone further since, in response to the war in Ukraine. Next year we will spend over £50 billion on defence for the first time in our history. That is nearly £12 billion a year more cash investment than when I became Defence Secretary in 2019—a real-terms increase of more than 10%. This Government have committed to increasing spending yet further over the longer term to 2.5% of GDP, as we improve the fiscal position and grow our economy.

Our defence plans, and the Armed Forces to deliver them, must be robust and credible—not fantasy force designs, unfunded gimmicks or top trump numbers. As Russia has so effectively proven, there is no point having parade ground armies and massed ranks of men and machines if they cannot be integrated as a single, full-spectrum force, sustained in the field under all the demands of modern war-fighting. That takes professional forces, well-equipped and rapidly adaptable, supported by critical enablers and vast stockpiles of munitions. That is why in this document, honourable Members will not find shiny new announcements, comms-led policies driving unsustainable force designs or any major new platforms for military enthusiasts to put up on their charts on their bedroom wall. We stand by the Command Paper we published in 2021 but we must get there faster, doing defence differently and getting ourselves on to a campaign footing to protect the nation and help it prosper.

As I said standing here when DCP 21 was announced, we owe it to the men and women of our Armed Forces to make policy reality. The work was just beginning. In this refresh, we have focused on how to drive the lessons of Ukraine into our core business and on how to recover the war-fighting resilience needed to generate credible conventional deterrence. The great advantage of having served in Defence for some time is that my ministerial team and I have now taken a proper look under the bonnet. Consequently, we are clear that our strategic advantage derives from four key sources which require urgent prioritisation.

First and foremost are our first-class people. Our men and women are not just brave and committed but talented and incredibly skilled. They are our real battle-winning capability. It is our duty to ensure they are as well supported, prepared and equipped as possible, so we are going to invest in them. Last year, I commissioned Richard Haythornthwaite to conduct the first review of workforce incentivisation for almost 30 years. It is such good work that we are incorporating the response into our Command Paper, and today I am unveiling a new employment model and skills framework for our Armed Forces. It will offer our people a spectrum of service that allows far greater career flexibility, making it easier for military personnel to zig-zag between different roles, whether regular or reserve, or between the civil service and industry.

We are transforming our forces’ overall employment offer by adopting a total reward approach to provide a much more compelling and competitive incentivisation package. Since all our Armed Forces personnel deserve the best-quality accommodation, we are injecting a further £400 million to improve our service accommodation in the next two years. Many of us over Christmas will have been frustrated by the poor support our service personnel and their families received from those tasked with looking after their accommodation. It is for that reason that I have withheld their profit and used the money to freeze for one year only the rent increases our personnel were due to pay. Taken together alongside such initiatives as wraparound childcare, they are intended to enrich careers and enhance the ability of our most talented people to keep protecting the British people, and to ensure they are rewarded and fulfilled while they do so.

Our second priority is further strengthening our scientific and technological base. We are already world leaders in specific areas, but to continue outmatching our adversaries we must stay ahead of the curve in digital, data and emerging scientific fields. In 2021, we said we would invest £6.6 billion in advanced research and development. In fact, we are now investing significantly more to stay ahead in the technologies proving themselves vital on the battlefields of Ukraine, such as AI, quantum and robotics. We are enabling a culture of innovation across Defence, pulling through those R&D breakthroughs to the front line. Following in Ukraine’s footsteps, we are increasingly sourcing the £100 solutions that can stop £100 million threats in their tracks, winning both the kinetic and economic exchanges of modern warfare.

Of course, our ability to do that depends on the quality of our relationship with the industry, which is our third priority. I am pushing the Ministry of Defence to form a closer alliance with our industrial partners. A genuine partnership to sustain our defence will mean doing things differently. Ukraine reminds us that time waits for no one. It is no good holding out for the 100% solution that is obsolete by the time it is launched. Often, 80% is good enough, especially if it means swiftly putting kit into the hands of our service personnel. Capabilities can be rapidly upgraded, spirally developed, for the relentless cycles of battlefield adaptation to win the innovation battle. Instead of sticking to acquisition programmes that drag on for decades, we are setting maximum delivery periods of five years for hardware and three years for digital programmes.

Our fourth priority is productivity and campaigning. To face this increasingly contested and volatile world, we need to make major changes to the machinery of the department and its methods. We are emphasising an ethos focused ruthlessly on the delivery of real-world effect, increasing the bang for buck in everything we do. This approach reaches into every part of the Defence enterprise, from the front line to the back office, and involves a major redesign of the department. We must shift our whole organisational culture away from the previous peacetime mentality to one where we live and operate as we would fight, focusing more on outputs than inputs and achieving a better balance between risk and reward. That means empowering people to live and operate alongside partners, and sometimes to be enabled by them when in lower threat environments. That means ensuring our equipment, whether Type 31, Challenger 3, or Typhoons, has the infrastructure and supplies needed to sustain operations more of the time and to deliver real-world effect wherever and whenever it is needed. And it means working with the relevant regulatory authorities—for example, the Military Aviation Authority—to accelerate the experimentation, testing and innovating of new technologies, while remaining within legal bounds.

I want to emphasise one final aspect of the Command Paper refresh, namely the development of a global campaigning approach. We started with a review of our head office, where we broke out campaign delivery from policy formation and established integrated campaign teams. They have adversary focuses, not geographic, and will drive our enduring campaigns in the same way operational commanders lead our forces on deployed operations. The indivisibility of operational theatres in today’s world means Defence must be constantly ready to respond globally to safeguard our interests and those of our allies. Sometimes it will be to evacuate our citizens in moments of crisis, such as in Sudan; other times it will be to deter an adversary or reassure a friend. As we have shown through our support for Ukraine, the UK Government have the political will, but that matters only if it is matched by our military agility. Today, we are establishing a defence global response force. Ready, integrated and lethal, it will better cohere existing forces from across land, sea, air, space and cyber, to get there first in response to unpredictable events around the world.

Crucially, today’s paper also recognises that it is in the interconnected world and that the UK is unlikely to act alone. Partnerships are critical to our security and prosperity. In future, we will be allied by design and national by exception. Our support for NATO will remain iron-clad, but we will continue to prioritise our core relationships. We will invest in deepening relationships with our new partners. It is why we have invested to expand our global defence network, improving communications and co-ordinating defence attachés within our intelligence functions. None of that is headline-grabbing stuff, but it is the fine details that make the difference to our national security.

To conclude, the paper is the result of having several years in the department to understand where it needs most attention. That continuity in office is improving and I am incredibly grateful to the long-serving Minister for Armed Forces, my right honourable friend the Member for Wells, James Heappey, whose experience in uniform and public office provided the basis for this paper. We are grateful to the hundreds of individuals and groups who contributed to the first challenge phase of its drafting, from academics to serving personnel and industry representatives, not to mention the many Members of this House. Most of what we learned from them is encapsulated in the document.

This is likely to be one of my last appearances at the Dispatch Box. It has been the greatest privilege to serve as Secretary of State for Defence for the last four years. I thank my team, civil servants, special advisers and Members for their support and their challenge. All of us here have the common interest of defending this fine country, its values and its freedoms. Of all the many functions of government, Defence is the most important and is more important than ever, as the next 10 years will be more unstable and insecure. The men and women of our Armed Forces are second to none, and Britain’s place in the world is anchored in their professionalism and sacrifice. I believe we will increasingly call on them in the years ahead. We must ensure that they are ready to answer that call. I wish them and whomever replaces me well. I commend the Statement to the House.”

My Lords, I am always grateful to the Minister for her co-operation and help when it comes to these Statements. There may be some differences, but our overall objective is the same, particularly at this moment with our support for Ukraine in its war with Russia. Could the Minister initiate talks through the usual channels about a longer debate involving more of your Lordships’ House, perhaps in the autumn, when time allows? A longer debate on all these matters would be helpful for us. Could she consider that?

In the light of the work we have done between us, I particularly ask the Minister to relay our thanks to the Defence Secretary in view of his announcement that he is to step down. At this time, it is particularly important to note his leadership with respect to Ukraine and in building a coalition of support in NATO and beyond for that effort. I know that maintaining public support has been very important to him. He has been a Defence Secretary of integrity who has done all he can to strengthen our defence and that of our allies, including our nuclear deterrent and its modernisation. I would be grateful if the Minister could pass that on; I am sure it is a view held by many in this House.

On public support, can the Minister say what we are doing to continue our support for the Ukrainian people? Maintenance of their morale is crucial, and we can only admire their effort and resolve in the face of Russian aggression. In that vein, continued support in this country is also important. Can the Minister reiterate the measures the Government are taking to explain why we are involved in the conflict in Ukraine, and why it is so important for us all?

On the future, can the Minister assure us that an incoming Defence Secretary will not initiate a defence refresh 2 or indeed 3? It is crucial that the current Defence Command Paper is seen as a longer-term plan. To that end, with a general election approaching, what discussions are the Government planning to have with my right honourable friend in the other place, John Healey MP? It is important for our defence that this is an ongoing plan, with consensus built across Whitehall.

The defence plan contains a lot of strategic vision, including the demand to be a campaigning department and to tackle skills shortages, but it fails in some respects to outline in detail what changes to various other plans should be made. That is very important, since the Command Paper says, in a crucial phrase, that we have shifted

“from a competitive age to a contested and volatile world”—

mentioning Russia and China, of course, but other threats too, including those posed by terrorism and fragile regions. What does that mean for the current shape of our Armed Forces as envisaged two years ago, with the change being made in the Defence Command Paper?

The Defence Secretary says that we must

“match our ambitions with our resources”.

To do that, what ambitions have been left out? The defence paper also says we must match our equipment plans to our budget. Does that leave a shortfall? If so, in what?

Many questions are left unanswered in the Command Paper. Why does the paper not halt the cut in troop numbers—which, as we have seen, has led to the smallest number of troops since Napoleon—following the second-in-command at NATO, a British officer, saying that the British Army was now too small? I remind noble Lords that the Army has been cut by 25,000 since 2010 to 76,000 and, despite the threat from Putin, will fall again to 73,000 by 2025.

The defence paper confirms cuts in tank numbers. Despite equipment promises elsewhere, how can we be sure that the MoD can deliver them, given that just on Sunday the Defence Committee published a report into military procurement that said the system was broken? Thousands of skilled Armed Forces jobs remain unfilled, and supply is now a real problem. Again, little is said about how to address these problems now, although plenty is said about the future.

We fully support NATO and defence across the world with our allies, but troop numbers are being cut, as are tank numbers; one of our aircraft carriers remains in dock; Ajax is still a promise rather than a reality; there are problems in the engines of many of our new destroyers; Hercules transport planes have been scrapped while we will wait for the A400M; we have inadequate stockpiles; and defence spending at 2.5% of GDP is still an aspiration rather than a full commitment.

Many real questions come out of the Defence Command Paper. Of course we support the Government, but these are challenges that they need to address. The Government must reassure us that, in our support for NATO, we have the Armed Forces that we need.

My Lords, as so often from these Benches, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. There is nothing in his comments or questions with which these Benches would disagree, so I will augment them.

First, I want to express disappointment that the Secretary of State is stepping down. His time as Secretary of State for Defence has been important, and his leadership on the Ukrainian situation has been particularly significant. We can only hope that when the next reshuffle comes, the Prime Minister is able to find someone to serve as Secretary of State who can lead our defence capabilities and take this defence refresh forward effectively, because we are at a difficult time. The fact that we have a refresh after only two years is significant. It is clear that what was said in 2021 was not sufficiently forward-looking; we were looking at the threats of today and not those of tomorrow.

While much is to be welcomed in this defence refresh, so much of it seems to rely on the lessons we have learned from Ukraine. Great: we need to learn the lessons of the last 15 months, but are we thinking forward sufficiently strategically? What is being put forward, and what was outlined in the Secretary of State’s Statement yesterday, seems to be modest in its ambitions in many ways. Saying that we will not be looking at new platforms is probably just as well, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has touched upon, defence procurement is an area where we have been remarkably weak. The defence platforms that have been procured—Ajax, the “Queen Elizabeth” class and various destroyers—have all come with problems.

What is being proposed in the defence refresh seems to be more limited in terms of procurement, talking about working closely with industry. Like the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I press the Minister on whether His Majesty’s Government have given any thought to their procurement procedures. It is fine to talk about working more closely with industry, but have they got their procedures right? What lessons have been learned in that regard?

It is noticeable that the new mantra being put forward is about partnership. When I have raised issues with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office over the years, I have stressed the need, post Brexit, for having closer bilateral relationships and stronger multilateral relationships. So it is good to hear that in a defence Statement, but it comes alongside this mantra of “allied by design, national by exception”. A cynic might suggest that is simply because alone the United Kingdom is too small to act in the way His Majesty’s Government have so often suggested they want it to act. The defence refresh talks about being more agile and having a role globally. Is that really feasible if we are sticking with the size of troops, whether regulars or reservists, outlined in 2021? Is it not time to think about troop numbers again? Do we have the size of forces that we need in this world of contestation rather than competition? Have His Majesty’s Government really thought this through adequately?

Finally, there is a suggestion that we need to think again about risk and how we view risk. Could the Minister explain what is really meant? Again, the Statement and the refresh document seem to be quite limited in explaining what His Majesty’s Government really mean about this.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their helpful remarks at the beginning of their questions. I thank them particularly for their tributes to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Ben Wallace. I am very appreciative of the sentiments that have been articulated, and I think they are echoed across Parliament and the wider public domain. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to him as a “Defence Secretary of integrity” and I could not possibly disagree with that.

Ben Wallace and I first met in 1999, when, as absolute rookies, we stepped through the doors of the newly revived Scottish Parliament. I remember thinking at that time that this was a decent, principled, very solid young man. My opinion over these many years has not changed one jot. It has been an honour to be one of his Ministers. It has been a pleasure to work with someone with such a passion for the department and such a commitment to changing things for the better. I can tell from the comments I have heard within the department that he has been regarded as a very good steward of defence. There is widespread admiration, and genuine regret that he has decided to step down. I will make sure that I convey the thanks of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, to him.

A number of important points were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised—I will include the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, in my comments because she associated herself with the points he raised—the interesting issue of public support for the war in Ukraine. That is a very important matter. Generally speaking, people have been so shocked by the prospect, and now reality, of a third war in Europe when they thought that those days were behind us. I think the public understand that, in the very difficult age of hybrid and competitive threat in which we live, the defence capability within the United Kingdom is one of their best protectors. It is one of their gilt-edged insurance policies, which is trying to keep the nation safe and to exercise our influence in global affairs. I know that my ministerial colleagues have been active in disseminating that message. I have picked up some comment from those in the media that they too understand that. It is an important point and something we certainly need to keep looking at, because the one thing we should never take for granted is the safety and security of the country.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised the status of this Defence Command Paper refresh and asked whether a new Defence Secretary would have another one. I hope noble Lords will agree, having looked at the coherence and character of this refresh—I invite noble Lords to remember that this was not drawn up on the back of an envelope; it was distilled out of extensive initial consultation way beyond the MoD to stakeholders and academia. We genuinely wanted to find out from these informed sources how we should be shaping our Defence Command Paper refresh and making sure that it remained pinned to the integrated review refresh because the two have a synergy that must not be broken.

I think everyone recognised—again, I say this to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, who specifically raised it—that the 2021 paper was not sufficiently forward looking. What happened post 2021 is that the issues defined as the primary preoccupations of defence—the threat from Russia, the challenge posed by China, and the growing nature of threat and the hybrid form it can take and hence the unpredictability of how threat might manifest itself—did not, of course, take into account the conflict in Ukraine. Quite simply, that has galvanised thought.

The conflict in Ukraine has done two things. First, I think it has changed mindsets, not just on the part of the MoD, hence this refreshed Command Paper, but it has absolutely galvanised the defence industry, which had put a lot of its manufacturing production capability into deep freeze—thinking it was never going to be required. Secondly, it has galvanised attitudes across the world, not just within Europe and NATO. There has been a recognition that the unthinkable actually can happen. It is very foolish to imagine that you can allow yourself to remain unprepared for that.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that, if she looks at the current refreshed paper and back at the 2021 paper, she will find that the broad shapes and issues identified remain the same. But we have acknowledged in the MoD—and it is made clear in the refreshed paper—that we have to move at pace, with agility, flexibility and resilience that perhaps we did not anticipate three years ago.

The paper makes this very clear, both in its text and its graphics, because a picture tells a thousand stories. I was having a look through it and was very pleased to see some ladies in some of the images looking very fierce and doing all sorts of incredible things. If you look at this as a whole it is an extremely solid, well-structured and very coherent document. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and certainly the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that I do not see anyone wanting to change this any time soon. It has been built to last. It is specifically not about soundbite announcements. It is very deliberately structured to explain where we have got to, where we need to get to and how we think we do that.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, mentioned that there was no outline detail about the other plans. What is clear in here is that the whole sense of direction and the pace of change is accelerating. It is visible within this Defence Command Paper refresh how we are approaching that, whether we are embracing science and technology, whether we are embracing a new model for our people, whether we are embracing a new campaigning attitude and whether we are embracing putting MoD Main Building on to a campaigning footing, which we are doing. That is incredibly changing to the mindset that has prevailed in Main Building. This is not so much about the detail of what other plans may involve. The equipment plan stands; it is public. The orders placed for equipment and ships stand. We will need these things. They are all part of our holistic approach as we move forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, very specifically raised troop numbers and mentioned Napoleon. I think more instinctively of Wellington—but never mind, we are even-handed in this House. I do not remember Wellington walking around benefiting from unmanned aerial drones or clutching a mobile phone and being able to control operations from five miles behind the source of conflict. The point is that we have learned from Ukraine that the capacity of technology, which also has moved at an astonishing pace, has completely changed how we look at conflict and how we cohere what we have. You will see repeatedly throughout this document a reference to the “whole force”. This is a very important recognition that we now look at how we contribute across our whole capability. We have contributions coming from five domains. This is no longer about looking at one single service and saying, “We’ll need to do more with that” or “do more with this”. What we have to look at is what the capability requires to address the threat that we think is out there and how we most intelligently cohere that capability to produce the response to that threat.

On troop numbers, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is aware, we currently have 73,000 regulars and 1,000 reserves. However, something else is also clear in here, which I think is exciting. I often wondered, and have asked questions about, the silos in which our workforce existed. Those noble Lords who are familiar with the Armed Forces will know that we have three distinct single services, a civilian cohort and incredible skills across all of them. That is why it is important to remember, as we approach this new age, as outlined in the paper, that it is about looking at the whole force and then working out which parts of the capability we need. I say to the noble Lord that yes, I am satisfied that the balance of numbers that we have across our single services is appropriate. We are never complacent. We constantly look at recruitment. We think that our Armed Forces offer a very exciting career for anyone minded to join them and we are doing what we can to improve on that offer and to make sure that it is an attractive one and that people will be minded to join.

I have tried to deal with all the points that have been raised. I hope that I have, but as usual I will look at Hansard and, if there is anything that I have missed, I shall write to the noble Lord and to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith.

My Lords, I add my tribute on the impending retirement of the Defence Secretary in the House of Commons. He is the longest-serving Conservative Defence Secretary and, especially in his role in connection with Ukraine, he has been outstanding. We will miss him. I am in many ways sorry that he did not get the job that he aspired to, which I once had the honour of holding. After all, he had the primary qualification that the Minister and I both have—he is Scottish. Sadly, that was not sufficiently appreciated among the other 31 countries and therefore, the Back Benches beckoned to him as well.

The Minister held up the document, and I could see that it has been well flagged by the department for her. It is called not “Refresh” but Defence’s Response to a more Contested and Volatile World. On page 63 it states:

“As set out in the IRR, the most urgent priority in the Euro-Atlantic is to support Ukraine to reassert its sovereignty and deny Russia any strategic benefit from its invasion. Our continued and unwavering support to Ukraine has shown the UK at its best”.

If that is the case and we are now involved in helping Ukraine in the existential battle it is undertaking with the Russian Federation, why is this Parliament debating and discussing this at the fag-end of the day, just before the Summer Recess? Will the Minister reflect on the fact that the last time we had a full-scale debate on the subject of a war in which we are participating was a year ago? Will she take the message back to her department and through it to the Prime Minister that Winston Churchill came to Parliament almost every week during the Second World War in order that the Parliament of the country was as involved in the conflict as Ministers of the Crown? I have made this point to her before, but it needs to go beyond her because I am sure she actually agrees with me. We really have to have proper debates about this matter; otherwise, documents such as this will lie on a shelf and will not help with the campaign or the fight any more than is happening at the moment.

I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks about my colleague and friend Ben Wallace. I will convey them to him and direct him to Hansard. I know he will be much comforted by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and I know he will not bear any resentment that the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, enjoyed what has eluded him. He is looking remarkably free and easy. He is looking positively liberated, so I think he is clearly anticipating with great pleasure whatever lies ahead.

I omitted to respond to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, raised at the beginning of his remarks about an opportunity to debate this in the autumn. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, has just articulated a very similar sentiment, which reminded me. When the noble Lord previously passionately expressed his disquiet and dissatisfaction with the amount of time devoted in this Chamber to debate on the Ukraine war, I did convey that, and I fully understand that this paper is a very significant component of our defence plans. Again, I will take this back direct to the Leader and the Chief Whip and say that there is clearly an appetite for more time to be set aside. Your Lordships will understand that in this House we do that through the usual channels. I would appreciate it if your Lordships would convey the same message through your avenues on your party Benches, because I think the Leader and the Chief Whip would find that helpful.

I am very clear about the significance of where we are now, with another war in Europe, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, indicated—an illegal conflict in Ukraine. The pivotal decisions that now lie in front of defence, our change of direction and how we will take forward this new model, genuinely require debate and discussion. I am very sympathetic to that, so I reassure both noble Lords that I hear what they are saying and I will repeat that as cogently as I can.

My Lords, the refresh paper makes ambitious and encouraging claims for improving many defence issues. I am told, indeed, that the paper says “We will” nearly 300 times. Let us hope that the many advances in defence outlined will remain fully funded, and that it does not suffer the underfunded fates of so many of its predecessors. Can the Minister confirm whether the improvements trailed rely on firm delivery of the aspirational future 2.5% defence budget? Bearing in mind the increases due to inflation, are these also factored into the envisaged future programme?

Of particular interest are the many steps intended to improve on procurement—surely a vital issue following the recent Defence Committee’s scathing report on procurement entitled It is Broke—and It’s Time to Fix It. Many of the steps outlined make good sense: speeding up the processes; bringing industry in sooner; ensuring that there is production continuity, for example by maintaining a continuous shipbuilding pipeline, or avoiding skills fade by maintaining production lines for longer. Occasionally, it seems to be attempting to ride two horses at once, procurement being

“Allied by Design and national by exception”—

except for the use of homegrown technologies to reduce the risks of vulnerabilities to global supply chains. Does the Minister have any additional figure for the greater support of industry envisaged in this developing programme?

Reference is also made to increasing efforts to deliver an air and missile defence approach. Ukraine’s experience has rightly focused minds on this major gap in UK defence. What timescale is envisaged to bring this into operation?

My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his observations and questions. I think they go to the heart of all of this, which is money, which the noble and gallant Lord specifically inquired about. The Defence Secretary has been very clear that we will live within our means and our means at the moment is 2% of GDP. But I remind your Lordships that we will have a budget of over £50 billion this year. By any comparison with what is available to other departments, that is a very hefty allocation of funding. The Defence Secretary was clear in the other place that he would like to see 2.5%; the Prime Minister has committed to that when fiscal and economic circumstances allow. That would be a very useful target to bear in mind. So this is costed within the resource we know we have.

The noble and gallant Lord made an important point about procurement. We have brought in important improvements, and of course the paper itself outlines what our new alliance with industry will be and what acquisition reform will constitute. I will not rehearse all that, but I was very struck by something that the Secretary of State said in the other place yesterday. He said:

“In 2009-10, the average time delay on a project was 28%; it is now 15%. The average cost overrun was 15% on a project in 2009-10; it is now 4%”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/7/23; col. 792.]

We have been striving to bring in significant reforms. We have the defence equipment and support directorate; it is staffed with people who have both commercial and MoD experience. Noble Lords will see the proposal in the paper that we move on to five-year contract periods; I think that is a useful discipline. Obviously, some of the big contracts will be extraordinary and beyond that, but I think that is a useful working template.

The other important point that the Secretary of State made in the other place was that we have found out, particularly from the conflict in Ukraine, that whereas we used to want to look at, examine and procure the perfect, even if it took 10 years to get it, it makes far more sense now to look around and see whether there is something you can get off the shelf. You can buy it more cheaply, get it now and then adapt it. An interesting illustration of that is our ocean surveillance ship, RFA “Proteus”, which we bought off the shelf and have adapted ourselves. It will shortly be ready for operational activity. So I think some important lessons have been learned.

I also picked up something that I am going to commit to memory, which the Secretary of State said. He said, in defence procurement,

“never defer—either delete or deliver”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/7/23; col. 792]

I absolutely sympathise with that.

I think that what the noble and gallant Lord has been familiar with, and indeed was referring to, is some of these, frankly, disastrous procurement experiences where we have placed an order and changed our minds, and the industry partner has changed its mind. We have changed the spec and altered the price, and the whole thing has become like a fast-moving vehicle with no steering wheel and nobody trying to direct it. The reforms we have brought in, and particularly what is outlined in the paper, are going to be a very robust regulator of how we approach procurement in the future.

My Lords, I want to return to the issue of expenditure in due course, but before I do, I associate myself with the remarks made about the Secretary of State. He has performed his responsibilities in an outstanding fashion, with great commitment. Of course, it is perhaps helpful that in his particular case he was a serving officer in Her Majesty’s Army.

On expenditure, does the Minister agree that what the Government are seeking to do when it comes to expenditure is to create a virtue out of necessity? In putting that question to her, I have regard to the contents of page 3 of the document and, in particular, the paragraph on the left-hand side which begins:

“After three decades of drawing the post-Cold War ‘peace’”.

The Minister herself referred to part of the language thereafter. I want to unpack that language, if I may. It is clear that the 2.5% which is set out there depends on GDP. The estimated GDP for the United Kingdom economy this year is 0.3%. It does not seem to me to be a figure which would allow any movement towards 2.5%.

The other point that I want to make, and the Minister has already referred to it, relates to

“as the fiscal and economic circumstances allow”.

That is an entirely subjective test to be made at the whim, one might say, of the Government of the time. It is a test which, for example, could be blown away if the Government of the time were more enthused about expenditure on health or education, or something of that kind. Since we are talking about the Secretary of State, it is right to remember that there was a very public attempt by him to persuade the Prime Minister that more money in real terms should be made available for the defence budget. I am rather surprised by the expression—and the Minister may be able to help me with what exactly is meant by it—

“this ambitious trajectory also enables our modernisation for the challenges of the future”.

The trajectory is not only ambitious; it is entirely without foundation or substance.

We get some illustration of where this approach leads us if we look across the page at the paragraph that says:

“That does not just mean more ships, tanks and jets—indeed in this document there are deliberately no new commitments on platforms at all”.

The Minister has heard me—on a number of occasions—ask about the number of F35s that the United Kingdom is going to pursue, in order to ensure that those pilots who have been assigned to fly with that aircraft actually get the opportunity of flying one. I have heard it suggested that they should spend their time on simulators. Is that a serious suggestion? Respectfully, it seems to me that the Government’s ambitions are set out, but the substance by which they could be achieved seems to be a long way from the contents of at least page 3 of this document.

First, I thank the noble Lord for his kind comments about the Secretary of State. When we talk about budget, we deal with two things: reality, and what this Government believe is a reasonable and attainable objective. Let me deal with the reality. Defence has received an increase to its budget in the face of very difficult economic circumstances. That is recognition of the seriousness with which this Government take the current security environment and their responsibility to protect the nation and help it prosper.

The Prime Minister said—this is a Conservative Prime Minister speaking; I cannot speak for any other party—that we are committed to increased spending over the longer term to 2.5% of GDP as fiscal and economic circumstances allow. I accept, up to a point, the noble Lord’s proposition that that is subjective. It is subjective in the sense that the Government will have to interpret how the economy is performing and what the fiscal regime looks like. As the noble Lord is aware, we are trying to reduce the debt and bring inflation down, and I am confident that we can reach a position of economic stability in due course, but that reflects a Conservative Government’s pledge, and we want to hold good to it. That is partly because we believe in defence, and secondly because we think it is an attainable aspiration.

As I said in response to an earlier question, the equipment plan has been published. The noble Lord raised the training of F35 pilots. We have contracted out some training in order to seek help from Italy. That is happening but we maintain our operational obligations and we would never compromise the safety of our pilots or the professionalism of their status by doing anything that underperformed or threatened their training integrity. I am satisfied that the training regime is perfectly satisfactory; it is robust and is delivering the skills we need.

When you read this document, it is clear that it is vastly superior to the last one, published some two or three years ago. The thinking, ideas and viewpoints are extremely interesting. The sentence that captured my imagination is at the very beginning, in the ministerial foreword, and I shall read it out if I may.

“We must address increasingly complex and diverse threats, by maximising our own growing but ultimately finite resources, which necessitates ruthless”—

I repeat: “ruthless”—

“prioritisation and improved productivity”.

I spent many decades in defence and I have to say that I totally agree with the comments, particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, on how we deal in practice with productivity but particularly procurement. The noble Baroness was very polite. Our procurement in this country—in many departments, not just the Ministry of Defence—is shocking. It is a terrible thing to have to say that in practice, in everything I have been involved in—in the ministry and in other ministries —the way we do procurement and the quality of the people doing it is really letting us down in a major way.

The real problem is this. If we had a message tonight from No. 10 that at 4 pm tomorrow we will be at war, the speed of change would be extraordinary and everybody, from all parties, would pull together. The speed of change, in procurement and everything else, would go through the roof. I know the Minister is saying that the Government are doing this and that, but in two years’ time, if we have not demonstrated that we really can deliver, I am afraid that the rest of the world will ignore us on the basis that we are no longer a country to contend with.

I appreciate the significant experience in these commercial matters that my noble friend brings to these discussions. Interestingly, I had highlighted the passage he read because it attracted my attention when I was flagging the folder myself—I say to the noble Lord, Lord Robertson—not relying on one of my officials to do it, because I like to read as I go.

As I have admitted before in this Chamber, the history of procurement for the MoD has, at times, been a very unhappy one. The Secretary of State in the other place yesterday did not disguise that. He pointed out that procurement has been confronted and beset by difficulties, not over three years or 10 years but probably over 15 or 20 years or maybe even more. What we have seen in the MoD—and he referred to this—is that, on the basis of Public Accounts Committees, Defence Select Committees and observations from the National Audit Office, we have already taken significant steps to improve procurement. I referred to some of them earlier. I think this document—and my noble friend was very complimentary about it—spells out where we think we have to go in terms of efficiency of procurement, improved effectiveness of procurement and certainly increased productivity from defence. That is the course on which we are bound.

We are valued as one of the most important partners in NATO. I would say in relation to my noble friend’s last point that I think the United Kingdom is seen as a very serious, significant defence contributor. I know on my travels abroad the warmth and the interest that accompanies any visits we make to other countries. They want to know about us. They want to know what we are doing and how we are doing it, and they certainly want to be associated with us. They feel that we exercise influence, but underpinning that is a credible defence capability, not least our nuclear deterrent.

It has been a very interesting opportunity to hear views on this Defence Command Paper refresh. I am very grateful to everyone who has contributed questions and I end by saying that it has been a pleasure to support my right honourable friend Ben Wallace as Secretary of State and it remains an honour for me—at least for the moment—to be a Minister in the MoD.