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Armed Forces: Capabilities

Volume 671: debated on Monday 3 February 2020

10. What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the capabilities of the armed forces are adequate to meet future threats. (900545)

As announced in last year’s Queen’s Speech, the Prime Minister has committed to undertake the deepest review of Britain’s foreign policy, defence, security and development since the cold war. It will consider all aspects of our defence and security capabilities, including our approach to procurement and maintaining our technological edge against current and future threats.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer and for this Government’s ongoing commitment to our security. Now that we have left the EU, our ongoing relationship on security with the EU will inevitably change, so what steps is he taking to strengthen our role within NATO for the future?

The United Kingdom is a full member of NATO and completely committed to ensuring that that alliance has a long-term future. The announcements that we made at the NATO summit in December set NATO on the right path of expanding into areas of hybrid threat and cyber. I am confident that, with Britain and our partners working to ensure NATO’s success, NATO will have a long and fruitful future.

But military capability also depends on industrial defence capability, which depends on a steady workstream. As a number of Members have said, now that we have come out of the EU, why will the Secretary of State not back our shipbuilding industry, start the new contract and specify that support ships should be built in British yards by British firms? Here is the opportunity—why will he not do it?

The right hon. Member will have heard that we stopped the competition for the future solid support vessels. We will look at why that competition could not proceed but, like shipbuilders, I have a lot of faith in the British shipbuilding industry, which is why we have the Type 31 and the Type 26 and excellent aircraft carriers that were delivered on time and on budget, and we will continue to invest in the yards. It is also important to make sure that this SDSR and everything else are budgeted for. No SDSR that I can remember, going back to the early ’90s, has been properly funded to back up the ambitions.

Can I welcome the defence, security and foreign policy review—or the integrated review, as I understand it is to be called? It is a fantastic opportunity to upgrade our defence posture, given the threats that we face. Previous reviews have been hampered by limitations imposed by spending reviews, which, coincidentally, happened at the very same time. So could the Secretary of State spell out the context, the timeframe and the parliamentary engagement for the forthcoming review?

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role as Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence. Perhaps, given his time in the Department, he will enjoy being able to scrutinise some of his own decisions, and I look forward to his questioning me.

We will publish the details of the review in very quick time as we go forward. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that, if these reviews are to be worth anything, they have to be properly funded. That requires honesty from the Department, wider Government, and the Treasury, and for the ambitions for what we want our country to do and be around the world. If we match our appetites with stomachs, it will have a long-lasting legacy.

We have had as many defence reviews as you have had hot dinners, Mr Speaker, and I am beginning to think that I have got to the point where I have heard so many Defence Ministers tell us that it is going to be different this time. There have been repeated reviews, and as the Chair of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), said, too often there is a mismatch between the money and the plans. What, realistically, will the Secretary of State do that is different, because every delay in this costs money and every tough decision ducked does no service to our armed services or the security of our country?

The hon. Lady makes very genuine and good observations about these defence reviews. I was a soldier serving under defence reviews that never translated into either money or the funding. The first thing that we can do is be honest with the men and women of our armed forces about what we can afford and what we will give them, and at the same time be honest with the public about what our ambitions are globally, and make that honesty not hunkered in sentimentality but based on financial reality, making sure that the whole Government buy into that, and that we explain that fully across the House and to all Members, including the hon. Lady’s Committee.