I undertook to return to the House at the earliest possible opportunity to update hon. and right hon. Members on the programme to modernise defence, which the Ministry of Defence will be conducting in the months ahead.
Following agreement of the high-level findings of the national security capability review by the National Security Council, I have agreed with the Prime Minister and Chancellor that we should take forward its recommendation for a programme of further work to modernise defence to deliver better military capability and value for money in a sustainable and affordable way. This is essential if defence is to make its full contribution to national security.
The 2015 national security strategy and strategic defence and security review set out a clear ambition to ensure that the armed forces can tackle the threats that we face. It also proposed important new policy initiatives, including a stronger international approach, pursuit of innovation, modernised personnel policies and defence making a bigger contribution to our national prosperity, and we are making real strides to unlock greater efficiency and productivity.
Protecting the United Kingdom and our people remains our first priority and responsibility. As the threats we face become more complex and intertwined, we will need to work ever more closely with our NATO allies. We can also expect to remain actively involved with our partners in the Gulf in tackling shared threats to our security, and the Asia-Pacific region will become more important to us in the years ahead. The Ministry of Defence is making a major contribution to our prosperity as we procure the equipment our armed forces deserve and support defence exports, in which there have been recent successes, most notably the £6 billion Typhoon contract agreed with Qatar.
Significant events last year—the callous terrorist attacks in London and Manchester, and the major storms that ravaged British dependencies in the Caribbean—are reminders of our wider responsibilities. We need to contain threats that have their origin overseas and be prepared to react swiftly and effectively when crises arise. As we identified in 2015, this will require the joint force we are building to be versatile and agile. It will need to be capable of operating in all five domains: land, sea, air, space and cyber. It will need to be international by design, routinely exercising and operating with allies and partners. It will need to be credible and capable of operating against state and non-state threats—normally not alone but with NATO allies and other partners, but we must also be able to act on our own if and when required. It must be able to contribute to our national security at home, working with the police and other national security organisations.
While the major elements of our plans for Joint Force 2025 remain the right ones, in order to secure competitive advantage over our potential adversaries we need to ensure that we can move quickly to strengthen further our capabilities in priority areas and reduce the resources we devote elsewhere.
The Government commissioned the national security capability review to ensure that we have the policy and plans to implement our national security strategy, so that our investment in national security capabilities is as joined-up, effective and efficient as possible to address current national security challenges. A report will be published later in the spring.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in her recent Lord Mayor’s banquet speech, the threats, risks and challenges have become more complex and intertwined and have developed in areas and ways that we broadly expected, but at a much greater pace than was foreseen. The defence budget is £36 billion this year—the fifth largest defence budget in the world—and it will increase by £1 billion each year so that it will be almost £40 billion by 2021. The UK remains one of the few countries to exceed NATO’s 2% spending target, and this Government have committed to continue to increase the defence budget by at least 0.5% above inflation every year. However, we must do more to ensure that we use our resources effectively and deliver the efficiencies that the Department has committed to, so that they can be reinvested in the capabilities we require for our armed forces.
It is for these reasons that I have agreed with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to launch the modernising defence programme so that we can strengthen and modernise the armed forces to meet the threats that the NSCR identified. Modernising defence will allow us to deliver better military capability and value for money in a sustainable and affordable way, and it will allow us to ensure that defence capabilities complement other national security capabilities in the most effective way. I am determined to realise this goal through a modernised, more productive and more effective joint force that can deter threats more effectively and ensure that we can deliver what is required of defence today and succeed in any future conflicts. Turning this approach into reality will be my key goal for the modernising defence programme.
This programme will involve four strands of work. The first three will optimise how the MOD is organised and is operating, identify further efficiencies and ways to be more productive, including through an aggressive programme of business modernisation, and improve our performance on the commercial and industrial issues. The fourth strand will look at the capabilities that defence requires to contribute to our three national security objectives today and in the future, but also, most importantly, to understand the ever-changing threats that this country faces. I am determined to use the modernising defence programme to ensure that defence can make its full contribution to our national security on a sustainable basis.
I will speak to right hon. and hon. Members about this programme of work on a very regular basis, and I will keep the House updated as decisions are made. In the meantime, I would warmly welcome any contributions that right hon. and hon. Members would like to make. My Department and I will be consulting beyond the House as this programme of work gets under way in the weeks ahead.
Protecting our national security and the safety of the British people both at home and abroad remains the Government’s first priority. Let us make no mistake—the world is becoming a more dangerous place. We cannot afford to shy away from this reality, nor can we take our security for granted. But even more than that, in a post-Brexit world Britain must continue to champion the global good. It must continue to reach out to seize global opportunities and deal with global threats. Our history teaches us that we cannot have prosperity without security. To protect that prosperity we must have armed forces primed and ready to tackle the challenges to come.
I am sure that I speak for Members across the House in paying tribute to the dedication of our armed forces.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for advance sight of it. However, I respectfully say, Mr Speaker, that the way in which this statement has been arranged by the Government has been shambolic from start to finish, and utterly discourteous to right hon. and hon. Members, some of whom may be elsewhere today because of explicit and repeated assurances by the Government that the statement would come on Monday. I am sure you have noted, Mr Speaker, that Members first heard news of this announcement when it was briefed to journalists on Tuesday afternoon, without so much as a written statement in this place. Then we had the complete farce of yesterday when the Government indicated that they would make a statement, then it was off, then it was on, and finally it was off again, with a full update promised on Monday. Clearly, the new facility to combat fake news is badly needed. [Hon. Members: “It was yesterday.”] I am talking about 7 o’clock yesterday. I does not fill me with much confidence about the conduct of this review that its origins have been so mired in chaos.
We do welcome the decision to separate out the modernising defence programme from the national security capability review, but the decision to hold a separate defence review must not simply be an excuse to kick the difficult decisions facing the defence budget into the long grass. This week we heard grave warnings from the Chief of the General Staff about the threats that this country faces. There has been growing concern that the Government’s savage cuts to our nation’s defences have left us ill equipped to respond to those threats.
The measure of this review will be in the detail. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to give us some specific answers today. Turning to the most important question, will the review be fiscally neutral? We know that much of the concern about the NSCR was that it was being carried out within the same funding envelope as the spending review. But if this review identifies that additional spending is necessary for the security of our nation, will the Government step up to the plate? Surely the Secretary of State must agree that it would be pointless to have a review that finds we need additional equipment or increased personnel only for the Government to ignore that recommendation. We cannot do security on the cheap, and it is high time that the Government recognised that. Yet the statement makes reference to “further efficiencies” being carried out as part of this review, raising the spectre of yet further cuts.
Crucially, how does this review fit into the work being done by the National Security Adviser? Are any recommendations he may have made on defence as part of the NSCR to be carried over into this review, or is it a case of starting from scratch? When it comes to threat assessments, will the modernising defence programme and the NSCR have a common view of the most significant threats?
Will the planned numbers or targets for our armed forces change, and if they do, will there be changes to planned structures and ongoing restructuring? Similarly, does the Defence Secretary foresee this review having an impact on the better defence estate strategy and future basing arrangements? Might it include the cancellation or downscaling of procurement plans, and if so, how will industry be involved in the process? Finally, what is the planned timetable for this review, and when will it be published? It is vital that our serving personnel are not kept in limbo about their future, but can be assured about when they will get answers.
This review represents an important opportunity for a step change in the Government’s approach to defence policy. We all hope that the Defence Secretary will use this chance to deliver real investment in our nation’s defences and the resources that our armed forces so badly need.
I take on board the hon. Lady’s comments about the organisation of future statements, and I commit to improve on that.
I thank the hon. Lady for welcoming the review that we have brought about. She mentioned the Chief of the General Staff’s comments. I think it is very important that the people who lead our armed forces can have a voice and speak about the threats this country faces. We spent 20 years feeling that the threats this country faced may have disappeared, and we got used to not facing peer enemies. That is not the world we live in today, and it would be irresponsible not to talk about such threats. The British people must understand the challenges that our nation is facing and what the armed forces are dealing with every day.
The hon. Lady asked whether the review aims to be fiscally neutral. No, it does not. It will look at how we can get the armed forces we need to deal with the threats that we face. The Government are absolutely committed to delivering the very best armed forces, and many Government Members and Opposition Members are equally committed to that. I very much hope that they will continue to support the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces in the work we are doing to get the very best armed forces for future generations.
The hon. Lady asked when the review will be published. My aim is to publish it in the summer, and my hope is to do so before the House rises for the summer recess. I very much emphasise that we want to hear people’s views. The armed forces will always need to change and evolve. She asked a question about what I said about efficiencies. I think every organisation in the Government should be looking at how it can do things better and more efficiently, so I do not apologise for saying that the Ministry of Defence can do things better. I want it to do better and to drive efficiencies so that the money can be put into the frontline for our armed forces.
Let us not be hesitant about coming forward with ideas. If the hon. Lady has some ideas about how she thinks this could be done better, she will always find me very keen and willing to listen to them. I once again thank her for welcoming the review, and I look forward to working with her and with all Members of the House in trying to make sure that this review very much works for our armed forces.
May I welcome my right hon. Friend to his place? I have sat in this place for 25 years—as you know only too well, Mr Speaker—and, sadly, I know that every Government bring forward another statement about modernising the armed forces, but invariably end up spending less money on the armed forces, while leaving them under the same pressures.
May I urge my right hon. Friend, in the conduct of his office, to please learn from previous mistakes? For example, when we went into the Bosnia area we had a “just-in-time” equipment policy based on supermarkets. That was very modern, but it ended up with tanks up on the side of the road with no equipment because we could not get it to them “just in time”. War is an expensive and wasteful business. Will he please ensure that we do not repeat the nonsense of people saying, “You can modernise,” when actually they mean, “You cut”?
History teaches us many lessons, and we will try to learn as many of them as possible. My right hon. Friend has a lot of personal experience of the armed forces, and I welcome his contribution and thoughts on the review. We want the best armed forces possible. This is not an operation to take money off the armed forces; it is about ensuring that we get the armed forces and the support that we need, and recognising that they do the most amazing job for our country. That is what we hope to achieve as part of this review.
I thank the Defence Secretary for advance sight of his statement, but the public must understand the farce that we went through yesterday to get to this point. This statement was on, it was off; it was maybe on, then it was definitely off. It was to happen next week, then we learned that it was happening today—better late than never, I suppose. We must also stop reading about these reviews in The Times, and he must endeavour to come to the House more often, rather than allowing leaks to newspapers. [Interruption.] I realise he is here now, but hon. Members know exactly what I am referring to.
Let me ask a couple of questions about the statement. Will the right hon. Gentleman expand on this week’s announcement about the new disinformation unit. Again, we had to read about that in the newspapers and he did not mention it today. If this review is not to be fiscally neutral, will he confirm that that is a departure from what Sir Mark Sedwill told the Defence Committee in a letter in which he said that it would be fiscally neutral? If it is not fiscally neutral, can members of the armed forces expect a pay rise when the review concludes? How will the review deal with Russian activity in and over the north Atlantic? Given what the right hon. Gentleman said about wishing to engage with Members, will he agree to meet me to discuss that issue? When he comes to report on this review in the summer, will he commit to handling it a lot better than he handled things yesterday?
The hon. Gentleman seems to think that the British public are really interested in the tabling of statements. I think they are interested in the fact that the Government are acting to ensure that our armed forces have the resources and everything they need. The review does not aim to be fiscally neutral—that is why we brought it out of the national security and capability review, which is a separate review mechanism. Sir Mark is doing an amazing job on the NSCR, which he outlined would be fiscally neutral, and this review has led on from that. I would be more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss his wider issues and concerns about the north Atlantic.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that he will have the support of the whole House if he manages to secure additional funding for the pressures this year and next, and then puts the defence budget on a more sustainable footing that allows our armed forces to tackle the increased threats that they face, without demoralising rumours of “deep cuts”? The words used here are interesting and important, but what really matters in the end is money—more money.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all that he has done for our armed forces. Without his work and campaigning, we would not today have a rising budget, with £4 billion of extra resources committed to our armed forces by the Government. I will take on board his comments. His article in The Daily Telegraph today sets absolutely the right tone and approach for how to take things forward. I hope I have the opportunity to sit down with him to discuss how we get the balance right and ensure that we achieve everything that he has set out and built on for our armed forces over the past four years. We must look at getting additional resources for our armed forces so that they have the capability to protect and truly defend Britain’s global interests, both near and far.
My reaction to this much heralded, hokey-cokey statement is, is that it? Although the voice was Williamson’s, the hands were clearly Hammond’s. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether the programme is still fiscally neutral? Why does it not say that increases in security expenditure will not be at the expense of defence? Why does it rehash the same old tired call for so-called and unspecified “efficiencies”? Why will he not just confirm that the winner is in fact the Treasury and its view that there are no votes in defence? In spite of his warm words, will not the real losers be our superb troops, our excellent defence industry, and the defence and security of our nation?
I apologise if the right hon. Gentleman did not hear me. There is not the constraint of the programme being fiscally neutral; we are looking at what we can do and how we can deliver it to the best of our ability. I am very grateful to both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister for all they have done to work towards the position where we can put forward this programme and have the opportunity to look at the needs of our defence industry and establishment.
I have every sympathy with the Secretary of State: over the last two days when this was going to be announced, it was the old Army motto “knickers on, knickers off”, which many of us are familiar with.
A number of colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), have pointed to the crucial matter of money. Twenty years ago, the Labour Government carried out an enormous strategic defence review, which on the whole was well received, but it was never funded. Has the Secretary of State any confidence at all that his recommendations will actually be funded by the Treasury?
Yes; I very much hope that the recommendations of the programme will be listened to closely by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. Its whole aim is to give the armed forces the opportunity clearly to set out our case for the resources that we need going forward.
The last 48 hours may have been somewhat chaotic, but I am more concerned about the last two months. There has been rumour after rumour and speculation undermining not only our global reputation, but the confidence of our serving personnel about their future.
There have been rumours about the Parachute Regiment merging with the Royal Marines and the end of amphibiosity—all this has been nonsense. Will the Secretary of State give us assurances that we will stop seeing such rumours on the front pages of the newspapers and be informed about what is happening? More importantly, what is happening with the review and where is the threat assessment coming from? What will the terms of reference be and when will we see them?
There has been an awful lot of speculation over the past few months and virtually all of it has been proved to be completely untrue. I will continue to keep the House updated on progress, as I promised to in my statement. I will do everything I can to make sure that the armed forces, as well as the House, are listened to as we develop the programme going forward.
There is real logic in separating out the security and defence reviews that the Secretary of State has referred to, but going forward, things such as cyber, intel, asymmetric warfare and drones will touch on both security and defence. How will he distinguish Sir Mark Sedwill’s review from the one that he has announced and will lead?
We will be continuously working very closely with Sir Mark—given that a great deal of work has already been done on the NSCR, it would be crazy for us not to do that. What the review identified was that more work needed to be done on the Ministry of Defence budget. If the exercise were fiscally neutral, it would not have been possible to deliver in such a way. We will be working closely with the Cabinet Office to ensure that everything that we have done sits within the priorities of the National Security Council. As for cyber-attack, the Ministry of Defence itself leads on aspects of that. All the work across all those realms is done in conjunction with all the parts of our national security infrastructure—GCHQ, MI5 and MI6. It is essential that that continues going forward.
Given the Secretary of State’s desire to consult, I think that there would be merit in his coming along to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy so that we could dig into the detail of his announcement more thoroughly. Does he agree, however, that quantity has a quality all of its own, and that, given the threats that we know we face, any further reduction in armed forces personnel would be extremely unwise?
We have made a commitment in relation to the size of our armed forces. I think there is a strong argument that we need forces with not just the very best equipment but mass, if we are to be able to deploy.
On Monday, General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the General Staff, stated that the Russians could go to war far more quickly than we had previously thought. Will my right hon. Friend allow consideration, and some support, to leaving, say, a brigade in Germany, so that we would be closer to where the battles may well be?
We are very much looking at that option. We need to ensure that forces that are even further east can be properly resupplied and supported.
I think the whole House will congratulate the Secretary of State on taking the review out of the straitjacket, but is there a risk that the submarine programme—in particular, funding for Astute boat 7, which has not yet been priced—could be diverted by the review?
It is too early in the process for me to be able to comment on that, but I will look into the issue and come back to the hon. Gentleman. Obviously, the whole point of the programme is to look at things afresh. However, we have commented fairly regularly on the increasing threat that we face in the north Atlantic, which has been raised by Members. We must ensure that we have submarines that are able to operate in and defend the north Atlantic.
I thank my right hon. Friend for delivering good news to the House, and congratulate him on leveraging the somewhat unexpected and sudden nature of his appointment to the advantage of Her Majesty’s armed forces and the Ministry of Defence. Leveraging control over the defence review back to the Department for the first time since 2010 represents a return of sanity, because the current defence review is proving undeliverable, which shows what happens if policy is divorced from the Department that has to deliver it.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about this programme being led by the Ministry of Defence. Our armed forces should be leading the programme, because they have the greatest understanding of what is needed, and what support they will require to be most effective going forward.
We all welcome the impending completion of our splendid new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, but there is some indication that we have insufficient Royal Navy surface warships—frigates and destroyers—to provide a protective screen for those magnificent ships in conflict. How will what the Secretary of State has announced sort that one out?
My predecessor made it clear that we would invest in Type 26 and Type 31 frigates to ensure that that protective screen would surround those magnificent aircraft carriers, of which everyone in the United Kingdom is so proud.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and its upbeat tone. We have had a lot of discussion about threats from the north Atlantic and Russia; will he confirm that we will also look at the threats east of Suez, as, with Brexit, more of our trade will depend on that part of the world?
One of the key elements of this programme is looking at how we can use defence to increase the prosperity of the nation. We talk about global Britain and about international diplomacy, and our armed forces are virtually always the best diplomats, because when others see British forces—whether the British Army, the Royal Air Force or the Royal Navy—they perceive them as a real symbol of Britain’s reach and what we can achieve in the world, and we will certainly be looking far beyond Suez.
The Defence Secretary knows that nobody in the House today believes our defence forces are anything other than underfunded, but against that background and if he is to have the meaningful conversation with the nation indicated in his statement, will he give early consideration to publishing the terms of reference and the perception of the changing strategic threats that this nation of ours faces?
The NSCR will be looking at producing a document explaining how it sees the changed threats and how we should respond to them, and that will be in the public domain. We need to have a more active debate—we all encourage that—because the threats we are facing are developing very quickly. Just five years ago, Russia was not seen as a real threat to our national security. We have to start talking about it. If we do not talk about it, people do not understand those threats. I will certainly be encouraging that debate going forward.
Given the nature of the increasing tensions with Russia, which my right hon. Friend has alluded to, will he give me an assurance that the size and frequency of British rotational deployments to Poland will increase under this review?
Just before Christmas, I had the opportunity to visit our troops stationed in Poland. We are not currently looking at increasing the number of troops in Poland, but we are always talking very closely with our NATO partners; they are on a six-month rotation, which seems to suit matters currently, but we will keep that under review.
Is not the wild and petulant infantilism of the statements by our world leaders a great threat to the security of the world, and does not history tell us that the greatest accelerant to war is an expectation of war, which we are fuelling at the moment? Would it not be far better for us to look to the great work we could do now in peacekeeping on the border in Bangladesh, rather than be thinking of war making?
We are one of the most active nations in making sure we bring peace right across the globe. We have a great history and we should take great pride in everything we have achieved in the past, and I have no doubt we will achieve in the future. But we have to understand that people who are threatening Britain do not respect weakness; if we were to disarm, or get rid of our nuclear deterrent, or diminish or get rid of our conventional forces, that would make them no less likely to attack us. We have to have an effective deterrent, and that is not just a nuclear deterrent; it is a conventional deterrent as well.
Innovative defence technology firms, particularly in the small and medium-sized enterprises sector, can play an important role in making sure our armed forces have access to the best possible equipment. As my right hon. Friend’s review proceeds, will he ensure that SMEs’ role in procurement is seriously considered?
My hon. Friend has done a lot of work on the fourth industrial revolution, and we must ask how we can harness those new technologies to give our military the constant advantage going forward. The battlefield is changing incredibly rapidly, and if we can work with SMEs, we need to do more of that because some of the greatest and most innovative ideas come from those businesses. I appreciated the time my hon. Friend took to speak with me about some of the work being done in his constituency of Havant and look forward to working with him further to make some of those ideas a reality.
I welcome the review, which postpones possible defence cuts, but the longer the uncertainty goes on, the harder morale will be hit. Will the Secretary of State now reassure Plymouth serving personnel and their families that the Devonport base, HMS Albion, HMS Bulwark and the Royal Marines will not be cut in the further efficiencies that he has just announced?
We have outlined in the programme the fact that we need to do this quickly. We are conscious of the concerns that many people in the armed forces have expressed, which is why we are committed to ensuring that we report back before the summer recess.
The Secretary of State might not realise that, although Derby is as far from the sea as anyone can get, we have a very strong relationship with the submariner associations. The submariners are our unsung heroes: they are under the sea for months at a time. Will he ensure that they form an essential part of this review and that they are looked after? And do not forget that our submarines are powered by Rolls-Royce engines from Derby.
And very fine engines they are! We have had a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent for almost 50 years. The work of our submariner force inevitably goes unnoticed—that is the aim—but what they do to protect our country is truly magnificent. Without their commitment and dedication, the country would be a lot less safe.
This is the first chance I have had to welcome my former opposite number from the Whips Office to the Dispatch Box. May I ask him at what point Trident would become a burden on the defence budget, or indeed on the budget of the whole country? Surely, if it takes up a greater proportion of our defence spending, it will put pressure on conventional forces and put us in harm’s way, rather than keeping us safe.
I dearly miss my former honourable counterpart and the work that we did together as Chief Whips. The continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent is a vital part of our defence and we should never see it in isolation. People often talk about it without recognising that it is part of the whole spectrum of deterrence, involving the infantry, Royal Navy frigates and destroyers, Royal Air Force helicopters and fast jets and the British Army itself. The continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent is an integral part of all that, and if we got rid of it, we would make Britain less safe. We have to have it. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman welcomed it, because it brings an awful lot of wealth, prosperity and jobs to Scotland. On this side of the House, we are very proud of that.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. Does he agree that it is vital to have the flexibility to support our allies when required? I particularly want to highlight the flexibility of the Royal Marines—40 Commando is based in my constituency—not just to provide security but to help the community, for example, in times of floods and hurricanes.
I note my hon. Friend’s comments about the flexibility of the Royal Marines. She is right, but this applies not only to the Royal Marines but to the Parachute Regiment and to every part of the British Army, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. We saw how they stepped up at a moment’s notice in the Caribbean to deliver relief to tens of thousands of people, and we see them stepping up to the plate every year when tragedy hits different parts of the United Kingdom. We are very proud of that, and it is an essential part of what they do and will continue to do.
My constituents have raised with me the importance of sovereign capability—that is, retaining the ability to produce in this country the equipment that we need for our armed forces. What importance does the new Secretary of State put on that?
I put a great deal of importance on it. I want us, wherever we can, to purchase products that are manufactured here in Britain. We also have to look at manufacturing products that we can sell not just to the Ministry of Defence but right across the globe. The larger the product portfolio that we can sell to the Gulf, Europe and the United States, the better it will be for British industry.
As part of his review, will the Secretary of State make certain that, thanks to the innovation of British enterprises, we have the most modern weapons for our ships, tanks and planes?
Absolutely. This is where we have the opportunity to embrace new technology to make our armed forces more effective in what they do. If we stand still, our enemies will overtake us. In this country, we have some of the most innovative companies, some of which have never before sold to defence, and we have to make use of that innovation.
I had hoped to ask the Secretary of State for reassurance for the service personnel and the many thousands of people across Lancashire who work in the defence industry, but I am aware that many colleagues were expecting this statement to be made on Monday and they are not in the Chamber today. Will the Secretary of State’s door be open to colleagues who are not here today because of the hokey-cokey nature of this statement, and will he meet them?
I will always meet them. Jobs in Lancashire are close to my heart, and I was very proud to sign a deal with the Qataris for the largest Typhoon order in more than a decade. We need to be doing more of that. How can we sell more Typhoons, more Hawks and more equipment around the globe? I look forward to working with Members on both sides of the House to make sure that the British defence industry continues to thrive and prosper.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. What does he believe will be the outcome of the review on the vital issues of recruitment and retention?
I do not want to prejudge the programme just yet, but we need to give people the real confidence and belief that the armed forces are treasured and valued by everyone in this country. We need people to realise that if they join the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, they will have not just a great career but the best possible career that anyone could ever have. I hope that the programme will give them the confidence that a career in our armed forces is the best career that they can pursue.
It is great to see you back in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I believe that the Secretary of State is seized of the danger of continually augmenting our threat assessments and losing capacity, only to find that old threats are renewed. As he looks to modernise this country’s defence capability, may I urge him to look closely at Northern Ireland? Not only does my constituency have the UK’s largest dry dock, which is suitable for Queen Elizabeth class carriers, but the city is home to the latest ECIT and CSIT cyber-security centres. Northern Ireland has never been found wanting when it comes to personnel or procurement opportunities, and I urge him to look to us.
We owe a great debt to Northern Ireland. It contributes 7% of our armed forces—a percentage that is far greater than its population as a proportion of the UK’s—in the Regular Army and the reserves. I will have Northern Ireland at the forefront of my mind. I am not sure whether the Democratic Unionist party is suggesting that a third aircraft carrier should be built at Harland and Wolff. It is absolutely vital that we work together to make sure that a part of the United Kingdom that has continuously played such an important role in our national defence carries on doing so.
I welcome this statement. The cyber-threat that we face is novel and unprecedented, and I welcome its presence in the statement. It is not simply about state and non-state actors hacking our infrastructure and our businesses; it is about the spread of disinformation. Can my right hon. Friend say a little about what consideration the review will give to that new way of directly reaching our citizens?
The National Security Adviser is leading on much of this, and I do not want to pinch other aspects of the national security capability review. I would struggle to get away with outlining some of the things that we want to do without breaching national security. I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for evading his question.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and promise of a review. Recruitment to the services has fallen to such an extent that more personnel now leave than are recruited. Those who know, in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force, tell me that reopening Army recruitment offices on the high street would increase recruitment. Will he as a matter of urgency consider the reintroduction of high street recruitment centres to increase the numbers and then deliver the defence modernisation around the soldiers recruited?
We are looking at that option. We have seen an upturn in the number of people applying to join the British Army—up 15% this year—but we are happy to look at all ideas to make sure the right number of people are applying to join our armed services, so that they can operate effectively.
I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the Secretary of State a very happy Burns day. Tomorrow evening, I will be addressing a Burns supper in the wardroom of HMS Nelson. When I stand up, will I be able to confirm that the review will remain in the sole command of the Secretary of State and that, in conducting it, he and his staff will be fully aware of the critical importance of our senior service’s capabilities, especially its amphibious capabilities, about which there has been some concern of late?
I can give clear confirmation that the review will remain in the hands of the MOD. We are driving this review and programme of modernisation. The Prime Minister and everyone else think it right that the MOD do this. It is the first time we have done it this way since 2010, and I hope that as a part of it we will get the right answers.