As a young officer, 30 years ago almost to the day, I was summoned to the drill square to have read aloud key decisions from the Government’s defence review at the time, “Options for Change”. We did not know it then, but the world was set for massive change. The fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of China, the global impact of the internet and the emergence of al-Qaeda were some way off, which meant that no one was really prepared for what happened.
I was part of an Army that, on paper, fielded three armoured divisions in Germany but, in reality, could muster much less. It was, in truth, a hollow force. While I know that some colleagues would rather play Top Trumps with our force numbers, there is no point boasting about numbers of regiments while sending them to war in Snatch Land Rovers or simply counting the number of tanks when our adversaries are developing new ways to defeat them. That is why we have put at the heart of the Defence Command Paper the mission to seek out and understand future threats and to invest in the capabilities needed so that we can defeat them.
In defence, it is too tempting to use the shield of sentimentality to protect previously battle-winning but now outdated capabilities. Such sentimentality, when coupled with over-ambition and under-resourcing, leads to even harder consequences down the line. It risks the lives of our people, who are truly our finest asset. It would, of course, similarly endanger our people if we simply wielded a sword of cuts, slicing away the battle-proven on the promise of novelty, without regard for what is left behind. Old capabilities are not necessarily redundant, just as new technologies are not always relevant.
We must employ both sword and shield, because those of us in government charged with defending the country have a duty to protect new domains, as well as continuing investment in the traditional ones, but always adapting to the threat. History shows us time and again that failing to do so risks irrelevance and defeat. As the threat changes, we must change with it, remaining clear-eyed about what capabilities we retire, why we are doing so and how they will be replaced.
The Prime Minister’s vision for the UK in 2030 sees a stronger and more secure, prosperous and resilient Union, better equipped for a more competitive age, as a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation with a global perspective. To become so requires Britain’s soft and hard power to be better integrated. In this more competitive age, a global Britain has no choice but to step up, ready to take on the challenges and shape the opportunities of the years ahead alongside our allies and friends. Let us be clear: the benefits and institutions of multilateralism, to which we have all become so accustomed, are an extension of, not an alternative to, our shared leadership and our hard power. UK diplomacy should work hand in hand with the UK armed forces abroad, and we will invest in our defence diplomacy network in order to strengthen the influence we can bring to bear. At this point I wish to pay tribute to all our civil servants in the Department, and further afield in defence, whose professionalism and dedication is every bit as vital to UK security as all the other component parts of the defence enterprise. In the past, we have been too tempted to fund equipment at the expense of our service personnel’s lived experience. That is why we will spend £1.5 billion on improving single living accommodation over the next four years, and £1.4 billion on wraparound childcare over the next decade.
The Government’s commitment to spending £188 billion on defence over the coming four years—an increase of £24 billion, or 14%—is an investment in the Prime Minister’s vision of security and prosperity in 2030. Previous reviews have been over-ambitious and underfunded, leaving forces that were overstretched and underequipped. This increased funding offers defence an exciting opportunity to turn our current forces into credible ones, modernising for the threats of the 2020s and beyond, and contributing to national prosperity in the process. It marks a shift from mass mobilisation to information-age speed, readiness and relevance for confronting the threats of the future. These principles will guide our doctrine and our force development.
The integrated operating concept, published last year, recognises that changes in the information and political environments now impact not just the context, but the conduct, of military operations. The notion of war and peace as binary states has given way to a continuum of conflict, requiring us to prepare our forces for more persistent global engagement and constant campaigning, moving seamlessly from operating to warfighting if that is required. The armed forces, working with the rest of Government, must think and act differently. They will no longer be held as a force of last resort, but become a more present and active force around the world. Our forces will still be able to warfight as their primary function, but they will also have a role to play before and after what we traditionally consider as war, whether that is supporting humanitarian projects, conflict prevention and stabilisation, or United Nations peacekeeping.
However, technological proliferation and the use of proxies and adversaries operating below the threshold of open conflict mean that the United Kingdom must also play a role in countering such aggressive acts. As such, the steps to sustaining UK leadership in defence must start with ensuring we are a credible and truly threat-orientated organisation, and we must do so in conjunction with our allies and friends. Today’s reforms will ensure that we continue to meet our NATO commitments on land and enhance our contributions at sea. As the second biggest spender in NATO, and a major contributor across all five domains, we have a responsibility to support the alliance’s own transformation for this more competitive age. Today, I am setting out in this defence Command Paper the threats we are facing; our operating concept for countering them; and the investments in our forces that are required to deliver the nation’s defences. Those threats demand that we make the following investments in, and adjustments to, the services.
We have been a maritime nation for many centuries, and it is vital that we have a navy that is both global and powerful. The Royal Navy, because of our investment in the Type 26, Type 31 and Type 32, will by the start of the next decade have over 20 frigates and destroyers. We will also commission a new multi-role ocean surveillance ship, which will protect the integrity of the UK’s maritime zones and undersea critical national infrastructure. We will deploy new automated minehunting systems, which will replace the Sandown and Hunt classes as they retire through the decade. The interim surface-to-surface guided weapon will replace the Typhoon missile, and we will upgrade the air defence weapon system on our Type 45s to better protect them from new threats.[Official Report, 25 March 2021, Vol. 691, c. 5MC.] We will invest further to implement the availability of our submarine fleet and start development of the next generation of subsea systems for the 2040s. The Royal Marines will be developed from being an amphibious infantry, held at readiness, to a forward-based, highly capable, maritime-for-future commando force, further enabled by the conversion of a Bay class landing ship to enable littoral strike.
Our land forces have been for too long deprived of investment. That is why, over the next four years, we will spend £23 billion on their modernisation. The British Army will reorganise in seven brigade combat teams—two heavy, one deep strike, one air manoeuvre and two light, plus a combat aviation brigade. In addition, a newly formed security force assistance brigade will provide the skills and capabilities to build the capacity of partner nations. In recognition of the growing demand for enhanced assistance and our commitment to delivering resilience to those partners, we will establish an Army special operations brigade, built around the four battalions of the new ranger regiments. This new regiment will be seeded from 1 Royal Scots, 2 Prince of Wales Royal Rifles, 2nd Battalion Duke of Lancaster and 4th Battalion The Rifles.[Official Report, 25 March 2021, Vol. 691, c. 6MC.]
Our adversaries set a premium on rapid deployability, so we will enhance the existing 16 Air Assault Brigade with an additional infantry unit, supported by upgraded Apache attack helicopters. Together, they will create a global response force for both crisis response and warfighting. The third division will remain the heart of our warfighting capability, leading in NATO with two modernised heavy brigades. In order to ensure that we are more lethal and better protected, it will be built around a modern armoured nucleus of 148 upgraded Challenger 3 tanks and Ajax armoured reconnaissance vehicles, with the accelerated introduction of Boxer armoured personnel carriers.
As I have repeatedly said, recent conflicts in Libya, Syria and the Caucasus have shown the vulnerability of armour, so we will increase both manning and investments in electronic warfare regiments, air defence and uncrewed aerial surveillance systems, all complemented by offensive cyber-capabilities.
The Army’s increased deployability and technological advantage will mean that greater effect can be delivered by fewer people. I have therefore taken the decision to reduce the size of the Army from today’s current strength of 76,500 trained personnel to 72,500 by 2025. The Army has not been at its established strength of 82,000 since the middle of last decade. These changes will not require redundancies. We wish to build on the work already done on utilising our reserves to make sure the whole force is better integrated and more productive.
There will be no loss of cap badges and, as I said earlier, the new structures will require fewer units. Therefore, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment will be amalgamated with the 1st Battalion to form a new Boxer-mounted battalion. To administer the new infantry, we will reorganise the regiments to sit in four infantry divisions. Each will comprise a more balanced number of battalions and give the men and women serving in them a wider range of choices and opportunities in pursuing their careers and specialties. To ensure a balanced allocation of recruits, we will introduce intelligent recruiting for the infantry, and each division of infantry will initially feed the four new-range battalions. The final details of these administrative divisions, along with the wider Army restructuring, will be announced before the summer. No major unit deletions will be further required.
Today’s Royal Air Force is now deploying world-leading capabilities: P-8, Rivet Joint, A400M and the latest Typhoons. The F-35, the world’s most capable combat aircraft, is now being deployed to frontline squadrons. In recognition of its battle-winning capabilities, we will commit to growing the fleet to 48 aircraft. The E-3D Sentry, two generations behind its contemporaries, will be replaced by a more capable fleet of three E-7 Wedgetails in 2023. These will be based at RAF Lossiemouth, transforming the United Kingdom’s early warning and control capabilities, as well as contributing to NATO. As the transport fleet improves availability, we will retire the C-130J Hercules in 2023, after 24 years’ service. Twenty-two A400Ms, alongside the C-17s, will provide a more capable and flexible transport fleet.
Our counter-terrorism operations are currently supported by nine Reaper drones, which will be replaced by Protectors in 2024. These new platforms will provide the enhanced strategic ISR—intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance —and strike capabilities that are so vital for all our forces.
All forces evolve, and the increasingly competitive and complex air environment means that we must set the foundations now for our sixth generation of fighter. The Typhoon has been a tremendous success for the British aerospace industry and we will seek to repeat that with £2 billion of investment in the future combat air system over the next four years, alongside further development of the LANCA unmanned combat air vehicle system. We will continue to seek further international collaboration. All services recognise the importance of unmanned aerial systems, which is why we will also develop combat drone swarm technologies. To ensure that our current platforms have the necessary protection and lethality, we will also upgrade the Typhoon radar and introduce Spear Cap 3 deep strike capabilities.
The lessons of current conflict demonstrate that however capable individual forces may be, they are vulnerable without integration. UK strategic command will therefore invest £1.5 billion over the next decade to build and sustain a digital backbone to share and exploit vast amounts of data through the cloud and secure networks. To ensure that our workforce are able to exploit new domains and enhance productivity, the command will invest in synthetics and simulation, providing a step change in our training.
The National Cyber Force will lie at the heart of Defence and GCHQ’s offensive cyber-capability and will be based in the north-west of England. The need to keep ourselves informed of the threat and ahead of our rivals means that defence intelligence will be at the heart of our enterprise. We will exploit a wider network of advanced surveillance platforms, all classifications of data and enhanced analysis using artificial intelligence.
Strategic command will partner the RAF to deliver a step change in our space capabilities. From next year, we will start delivering a UK-built intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellite constellation. Space is just one area in which the Ministry of Defence will prioritise more than £6.6 billion-worth of research, development and experimentation over the next four years. Those investments in our future battle-winning capabilities will be guided by the science and technology strategy of 2020 and a new defence and security industrial strategy to be published tomorrow.
Our special forces are world leading. We are committed to investing in their cutting-edge capabilities to ensure that they retain their excellence in counter-terrorism, while becoming increasingly capable of also countering hostile state activity.
To conclude, if this Defence Command Paper is anything, it is an honest assessment of what we can do and what we will do. We will ensure that defence is threat-focused, modernised and financially sustainable, ready to confront future challenges, seize new opportunities for global Britain and lay the foundations of a more secure and prosperous United Kingdom. We will, for the first time in decades, match genuine money to credible ambitions; we will retire platforms to make way for new systems and approaches; and we will invest in that most precious commodity of all—the people of our armed forces.
To serve my country as a soldier was one of the greatest privileges of my life: serving to lead, contributing to keeping this country safe, upholding our values, and defending those who could not defend themselves. Putting oneself in harm’s way in the service of our country is something that, fortunately, few of us are ever required to do, but we all have a duty to ensure that those who do so on our behalf are as well prepared and equipped as possible. Therefore, the success of this Defence Command Paper should be judged not on the sophistication of its words, but on the implementation of its reforms and, ultimately, on the delivery of its capabilities into the hands of the men and women of the armed forces. It is they who keep us safe and will continue to do so in the years ahead. It is to them, their families and all those across defence that we owe it to make this policy into reality. The work to do so has only just begun.
I thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of his statement and an advance copy of the White Paper a little earlier, although I believe, Mr Speaker, that the House will share my dismay that so much of the content of the White Paper has been given in advance to the media over the past week, despite your warning to the House and to the Defence Secretary last Monday. Our forces deserve better, as do the public and Parliament.
This defence review could not be more important. Last year we were promised
“the most radical reassessment of”
“place in the world since the end of the Cold War”;
we need just that. The integrated review last week confirmed that
“State threats to the UK, and to our allies, are growing and diversifying”.
In the defence review, the Secretary of State was right to set out that grey zone warfare, terrorism, climate change and organised crime mean that the threats to our national security and international stability are becoming less conventional, less predictable and more continuous.
We need this reassessment, because the last two Conservative defence reviews have weakened the foundations of our armed forces—they cut our full-time armed forces by 45,000, cut the defence budget by £8 billion, and cut critical defence capabilities and upgrades, largely to deal with budget pressures. The Prime Minister promised an end to this era of retreat, and the Defence Secretary pledged that this defence review would be different, yet I fear that it is set to repeat many of the same mistakes. The strength of our armed forces is being cut again; crucial military capabilities are cut again; and there are plans to complete a full overhaul of the Army in 10 years’ time—again. How do the Government square this circle? The threats to Britain are increasing, and our forces will be forward deployed further from home, yet this is a plan for fewer troops, fewer ships and fewer planes over the next few years.
Our armed forces are rightly respected worldwide for their professionalism and all-round excellence, but size matters. Our full-time forces are already nearly 10,000 below the strength that Ministers said in 2015 was needed to meet the threats Britain faces. The Defence Secretary goes further today, confirming that the Army alone will have its established strength cut by 10,000 to just 72,500 over the next four years. How can he argue that these deeper cuts will not limit our forces’ capacity to simultaneously deploy overseas, support allies, maintain strong national defences, and reinforce domestic resilience, as they have done in helping our country through the recent covid crisis? What does he say to the ex-Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, who recently said that further cuts to the Army would mean the UK was no longer taken seriously as a military power, and that this would damage our relationship with the US and our position in NATO? What does the Defence Secretary say to each and every voter who heard the Prime Minister say this at the launch of the Conservatives’ 2019 election campaign:
“We will not be cutting our armed forces in any form. We will be maintaining the size of our armed forces”?
We welcome the plans announced today for cyber, for space, for defence science, for artificial intelligence and for the next generation of fighter jets, but these new technologies may take years to come on stream, so this is a plan for cuts now with a promise of jam tomorrow.
Let me ask the Defence Secretary a series of questions. When will the war fighting division promised in 2015 finally be battle-ready? When will we have enough British F35 jets to fly from our aircraft carriers? Will there be any short-term cuts in anti-submarine warfare capabilities? How will the new Ranger regiment be recruited? Where will it be based, and when will it be fully operational? Will the plans for the combat service support battalions mean any reduction in the number of Army medics? Finally, on funding for single living accommodation, I was not going to raise this, but the Secretary of State said today that, as the Ministry of Defence has told the National Audit Office, the plan is for £1.5 billion over 10 years. However, page 36 of the White Paper says £1.3 billion. Is that a cut, or is it an error?
The finances for the last defence review were a fiction. The MOD’s budget was balanced in 2012, but the NAO has now judged the defence equipment plan “unaffordable” for four years in a row, and it reports a black hole of up to £17 billion. We welcome the Prime Minister’s extra £16.5 billion, but there is a risk that we will be throwing good money after bad. How much of this extra money will be swallowed by the black hole in the current programmes and not used to fund the new ones that the Secretary of State has announced today?
Ministers talk about the rise in capital funding but not the real cut in revenue funding over the next four years. That cut in day-to-day spending is the Achilles heel of defence plans. The Secretary of State should never have agreed it. Will he today spell out the consequences of that real-terms cut in revenue funding for forces recruitment, training, pay and family support?
The MOD’s bad habits run deep. Only three of its 30 major projects, together worth a staggering £162 billion, have a clear green light, and are on time and on budget. It is clear to me that Parliament needs a system of special measures for the MOD. The Secretary of State’s new Office of Net Assessment and Challenge will deal with policy but not money or delivery, so will he commission a special capability review of the MOD, conducted by a top team of internal and external experts, backed by the NAO and reporting to this House?
On nuclear, Labour’s commitment to the renewal of our deterrent is non-negotiable, alongside our multilateral commitment to nuclear disarmament and greater arms control. The Secretary of State made no mention in his statement of reversing 30 years of proud non-proliferation policy in the UK under successive Governments, and the White Paper does not come close to explaining, let alone justifying, this change. Parliament, the public and our allies are owed a much fuller account of this decision from Ministers.
The White Paper also has little to say on the lessons from covid. Pandemic was indeed identified as a tier 1 threat in 2015 and 2018, but no preparation was done, and when the virus hit, less than 1% of our personal protective equipment was sourced in the UK. Full-spectrum society resilience requires training, planning and exercising that must be led by the Government and involve private industry, local agencies and the public. Some countries are ahead of us with such civil-military strategies for the grey zone. Why does the White Paper have nothing to catch Britain up?
Finally, on the principal threats, China is certainly a great and growing power challenge that the US, backed by democratic countries such as Britain, must meet. However, the White Paper rightly confirms that Russia remains Britain’s greatest state threat. Our highest priority must therefore be Europe, the north Atlantic and the High North—our NATO area. While the Prime Minister talks up Britain’s Indo-Pacific focus, how does the Defence Secretary reassure NATO that we are not neglecting the leading role that our alliance countries, including the US, continue to require of Britain?
We want to see this defence review succeed, but there is a growing gulf between the Government’s ambitions and their actions—a gulf that we will challenge hard in the months ahead, and that the Secretary of State has much more to do to close.
Oh dear. I get the impression that no matter what I brought to the House today, that speech would have been trucked out. This is not the defence review that usually takes place in an environment of cuts. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) is wrong: there is not a cut to the resource departmental expenditure limit over the four years. It is flat, or if not, there is a tiny increase in RDEL. That slightly undermines the desperate attempt to make £24 billion-plus look like some form of cut. He asked what impact that will have. First of all, he obviously got the Command Paper delivered electronically, but there should be an insert in the printed ones that shows that the figure is actually £1.5 billion, not £1.3 billion. The impact of that RDEL is obviously wraparound childcare for £1.4 billion over 10 years. That is a plus, in case anyone missed it from the tone of his speech.
When it comes to the MOD budget, I have been very honest in this House. I would admit the role that former Conservative Governments have taken in defence reviews, but I have never once heard the right hon. Gentleman own up at all, or admit that the Government he served in produced what the 2010 NAO audit report showed was £38 billion of overspend; it was £3 billion in the last year. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who is shouting, was himself a Minister in the MOD. I have never heard Labour Members say, “Under our Government, we delivered lots of regiments, but we delivered our soldiers into Snatch Land Rovers.” I have never heard them say with a sense of apology or humility that they took soldiers into war ill-equipped, ill-trained and often unable to make the peace. That is really important, because behind all this are the men and women of our armed forces.
We are trying to strike the balance between our ambition, the funding and looking after those people. In defence, we are all ambitious to do more around the world, but if I let my enthusiasm get away with me, I would end up hollowing out the equipment the men and women of the armed forces have, and that is no legacy to leave those people. That is why, in this blueprint for a future force, we are almost setting out two parts of our forces: forces for war fighting, and forces to prevent conflict or help rebuild countries afterwards. We know we can win the conflict, because we usually do it with allies, and we can deploy our armoured divisions or brigades—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) is wrong. In Telic I, it was not a division but two armoured brigades—16 Air Assault and 3 Commando Brigades—that deployed.
If my right hon. Friend wants to see what happened to a Russian armoured division, he should look what happened in Syria last year, in the weeks when 172 tanks were wiped out by Turkish unmanned aerial vehicles. I wonder what comfort that would have been to the 3,000 Syrian soldiers—fighting for the wrong regime, however—who no doubt thought that somehow their mass gave them protection. [Interruption.] They were Russian.
In the China-Russia war I think it was, a British officer went to observe and saw the machine gun being used for the first time, and his report back said, “They’re not British. We don’t need the machine gun,” and the rest was history. Therein lies the fault and the fallacy of defence reform. If we wrap ourselves in sentimentality, what we get is a betrayal of the men and women who go to fight.
On other points that the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne raised, we will go beyond the 48 F-35 fighters, and we will continue to purchase them until we have decided whether we have the right numbers to continue. We are on track to deliver the squadrons required as planned and to man our aircraft carriers. There will be no reduction in combat medics as a result of these reorganisations. He and I both know the importance of the role they have played in covid. Indeed, they are a key enabler that will be useful not only for ourselves, but when it comes to conflict prevention and winning the peace.
On the nuclear deterrent, we do not believe that the changes to the number of warheads in any way breach the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and that advice is backed up by the Attorney General. Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman is correct about his party’s new-found love of the nuclear deterrent since his previous leader, or indeed since the shadow Foreign Secretary voted against renewing it, he will of course agree with me that a nuclear deterrent should be credible; otherwise, it would just be a massive waste of money.
I knew that was what the hon. Member from the Scottish nationalist party was going to say; it was predictable. I remember the former leader of the Labour party suggesting to the good people of Barrow that they would be allowed to continue to make submarines, and could maybe use them for tourism purposes. Maybe that is the true version of the Labour party’s manifesto on defence.
I would take on board many of the criticisms and charges by the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne if he came to this House with a mea culpa about his own Government’s role in producing defence reviews over time that were both over-ambitious and underfunded; if he accepted that when we over-sentimentalise our armed forces or avoid taking the tough decisions, the people who suffer in the end are the men and women of the armed forces; and, if he came here and acknowledged that the men and women of the armed forces who I served with who perished, some of them in Snatch Land Rovers, did so because in the end we overstretched, underfunded and failed to recognise that the best thing is to be honest, with a well-funded armed forces that we do not overstretch and with which we are not over-ambitious.
With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, may I just pay tribute to PC Keith Palmer, who was killed on this day four years ago? There is much to welcome in this Command Paper today, and the Defence Secretary is to be congratulated on advancing our force structure and investments in cyber, special forces and autonomous platforms, but they come at a huge price to our conventional defence posture, with dramatic cuts to our troop numbers, tanks, armoured fighting vehicles and more than 100 RAF aircraft, including fast jets and heavy lift—cuts that, if tested by a parliamentary vote, I do not believe would pass. Why? Because the Government’s own integrated review paper spells out in very clear language how dangerous this next decade will be—more so than in the cold war, when defence spending was 4%-plus of GDP.
Today, we face multiple complex threats to our security and our prosperity, yet our defence spend remains at a peacetime level of just 2.2%. With international rivalry increasing and western influence on the retreat, we must wake up to how dangerous the next decade will be. Is it not the time to increase the defence budget to 3%, so that these dangerous cuts to our conventional hard power can be avoided?
Asking any Defence Secretary in history if he would like to support an increase in his budget is usually going to get only one response. The reality is that I am dealing with a budget that is incredibly generous compared with my colleagues in other Departments in the middle of this pandemic. Indeed, many people object to the increase in the defence budget. It is a defence budget big enough to allow me to fix the issues of the past and to invest in modernisation.
I understand my right hon. Friend’s concerns, and my answer to him would be about ambition. How ambitious and how global do we wish to be? I do not believe that our security is at threat from this document. I think it provides a very good foundation for our homeland security. What comes next is how much we help our friends around the world and what ambition we have for them. I can give him and the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) the assurance that our defence priority No. 1 is our commitment to membership of NATO, because that coalition and that part of the world—western Europe and the Atlantic—is key to our own security. That comes first, as does, for those on the Government Benches, our nuclear deterrent as our guarantor for security from aggressive states. That is maybe where my right hon. Friend and I will disagree, and we will no doubt explore that, and the extent to which our ambitions are matched, during the Defence Committee meetings.
Where we are today, we can match our ambitions with this defence paper but, as I have always said in this House, if the threat changes, we should always be prepared to change with it. I cannot say what will happen in 2035. I cannot say what will happen even further out from there, and that is why I think that at the heart of this paper is something on which my hon. Friend and I do strongly agree, which is that our approach should, for once, be threat-driven. That should drive what we buy. That should drive how we equip our people. That should drive what we do. We are determined to do it, and as Defence Secretary, it is my job to provide the rest of Government—the Prime Minister and the National Security Council—with the range of options and range of tools to allow them to follow those ambitions.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of the paper and his statement, and I apologise to him for the difficulties we had in trying to get each other on the phone earlier. As the Select Committee Chair, the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) has said, on behalf of SNP Members, I acknowledge the anniversary of the death of PC Keith Palmer and, indeed, the right hon. Gentleman’s own bravery on that day.
Turning to the paper, I think it does seek to ask some of the right questions. Within the broader context of the integrated review and what the Minister will no doubt reveal to us tomorrow, I can see where the Government are trying to go. The problem we have is that it comes to some of the wrong conclusions, not least—and let me be unequivocal on this—in terms of the increase in the nuclear stockpile. We think that that is an expensive folly that should be cancelled with immediate effect.
However, in terms of the changing nature of threats that the document and the Secretary of the State have outlined, there are some things that are worth exploring and that this House should have debated long ago. We welcome, for example, the investment in space research, not least because my own city of Glasgow produces more satellites than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. But the reliance on technology, which I accept is a new feature of defence and security, and particularly on autonomous weapons, does raise some serious concerns. While the Government have paraded all this flashy, expensive new tech—I understand that hon. Members, and not just those on the Government Benches, get very razzle-dazzled with this stuff—what are we going to see in terms of the proper oversight of its use? We cannot have a situation where killer robots are sent into battlefields with no proper oversight of weapons deployed on our behalf and in our name.
That takes me on to the wider issue of international norms, not just on lethal autonomous weapons, but in terms of data and AI. What are the Government doing not just nationally but to work with partners internationally to develop international norms on this stuff? I accept that Russia and China will always pose a challenge in trying to develop international norms, but I want to hear more about what the Government are doing to do so, especially within NATO.
Turning to the armed forces, it has rightly been mentioned—and I suspect we will hear it again during this statement—that the Secretary of State will have some convincing to do here in Parliament that he will be able to retire the old, bring in the new and not have such a big gap in the middle. On numbers, what will be the impact of the reduction in numbers on the Scottish footprint in 2025? During the past few Defence Question Times I have raised with the Secretary of State the fact that the 12,500 promise made to Scots seven years ago has never been met, so we can now assume that those numbers will be even further from the promise made by his own party ahead of the 2014 referendum. That will be not just a breach of that promise, but a breach of his own manifesto commitment. I accept that the Secretary of State is trying to clear up a lot of what his predecessors have done—indeed, I partly commend him on being honest with the House on that today—but he does have some convincing to do, not just here but back in communities that he knows well.
When will we see something on terms and conditions for the armed forces? We want to see a pay increase for members of the armed forces. We know that four in 10 serving personnel do not believe their pay properly reflects their work. That is work that all of us in here admire; indeed, I have seen it in Castlemilk in my own constituency during the covid pandemic, where we have the vaccination and testing centre. When will the Secretary of State bring forward a real and proper pay rise and give them the money they deserve? Surely that is something all of us in the House could agree with.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns both about reliance on technology and the human in the loop issue. Britain has been one of the leaders in trying to raise those discussions in places like the United Nations, to ensure that there is a standard that is acceptable—a moral standard, making sure that there is a human in the loop at nearly all times. That is important for reassurance.
On AI and data, Britain leads within NATO on cyber. It pushed NATO to examine cyber, but not in being a cyber nation—Estonia is probably one of the greatest cyber nations, although there is a data issue that I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s party would disagree with about relying on data that much. But fundamentally it is incredibly important, and Britain’s work alongside some of its allies in NATO has pushed NATO to look at both hybrid threats and cyber and to start making sure that it reforms and modernises to address that.
I understand the concerns about troops and personnel in Scotland. There are over 28,000 people currently in Scotland who rely directly on defence: that is the civil servants, the regulars, the reserves and in industry. When we send the E-7 Wedgetails up to Lossiemouth there will be an increase of a few hundred people to work in that part of the world, which is to be welcomed. Decisions exactly on where the Rangers will be and how it will develop will come soon. What I will say to the hon. Gentleman is that it is a tribute to Scottish infantry and Scottish heritage that 1 Scots will become the seed of the Rangers. For anyone who knows Scottish military history, the Lovat Scouts and brave souls like that have set the fierce reputation of Scottish soldiers around the world. I hope that that will be recognised as they go forward.
On pay and allowances, I have started a process of reviewing allowances. On the allowances I have already signed off, I chose to protect the lowest paid at the expense of the highest paid. I am not a socialist. I would not be surprised if the hon. Gentleman might be —[Interruption.] Or he might not. However, I felt that the lowest paid should be protected, as well as overseas allowances and individuals with children. Of course, if the hon. Gentleman’s Government in Scotland would like to pledge to give our troops in Scotland the same £500 bonus they have given NHS staff, we would be absolutely delighted. Perhaps the extra tax that the SNP—[Interruption.] I’ll tell you what, Madam Deputy Speaker, maybe the hon. Gentleman has an opportunity here. I will do a deal with him. If he will cover for one year the extra money we pay to mitigate the tax burden that falls on Scottish soldiers, we shall pass that on to them. Would he like to do that now? He has the chance. [Interruption.] I think the Scottish National party are busy spending all that money on lawyers.
I welcome the clarity of my right hon. Friend’s statement today and I look forward to the publication tomorrow of the defence and security industrial strategy alongside it, which will provide, I hope, a degree of coherence that will be very welcome to all those involved in supporting our armed forces. In light of the necessary decision to proceed with upgrading the warhead for the strategic deterrent, can my right hon. Friend explain to the House the rationale for increasing the number of warheads during the transition from one system to the next? Will the cost in developing the strategic deterrent absorb any of the welcome £6.6 billion R&D programme that has been announced?
My right hon. Friend laid the foundations for linking prosperity in a much more deliberate and thoughtful manner into defence and defence procurement. I hope he will see that reflected in the strategy tomorrow. It is of course welcome that the review brings more prosperity—the investment in Boxers to be made in places like Telford; Ajax in Merthyr Tydfil, a Challenger upgrade and the commitment to a next generation of aerospace. As a Lancashire MP, the prosperity that Typhoon has given us all in my part of the world is incredibly important.
On the rationale of the deterrent, it cannot be taken from a one-sided view. We have to look at our adversary, Russia, and see the investments it has made, as well as its plans to both break the intermediate nuclear treaty, which was broken in 2018, and to invest in new weapon systems and missile defence. If we are going to keep it as credible, then we need to make sure that we do that.
On the R&D budget, I am not aware—I will write to my right hon. Friend with a correction if necessary—that the £6.6 billion is anything to do with the nuclear warhead programme or anything else. For clarity, the United Kingdom does not buy warheads from other countries. Under the nuclear proliferation treaty, warheads have to be developed within that very country itself.
I should make it clear that neither I nor my party can agree with the proposal to increase the number of nuclear warheads. We also have grave doubts about some of the spending decisions the Government are making within the context of the defence budget.
May I turn the Secretary of State’s attention to something that I think is close to both our hearts? What he has said about the cadet force is welcome; I seek to determine whether the cadet force will be supported in the most outlying parts of the UK, such as Wick and Thurso in my constituency. More broadly, I myself served in the Territorial Army; will the Secretary of State go a little further in outlining what is going to happen for our volunteer service personnel in the Territorial Army and others right across the UK?
The Reserve Forces 2030 review on the next iteration of reserves will report to Parliament very soon and will certainly show our desire to build on the direction of travel in respect of the reserves over the years and integrate them further into defence. That is incredibly important. The skills and force-multiplier effect that they bring are incredible. In previous decades there has been too much resistance within our Department to using them properly or involving them, especially in the Army. We need do more on that.
On the cadets, we have exceeded our target of providing opportunities for 130,000 cadets in state secondary schools across the United Kingdom. We are going to go further by investing in the cadet expansion programme to bring this fantastic opportunity to young people up and down the United Kingdom.
The Government are absolutely right in their vision of a global Britain that does not simply watch from the sidelines, so I welcome today’s commitment to a more persistent global engagement. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what this more active approach will mean for our gallant armed forces personnel?
It will mean more opportunities for them to do the job that they have trained for to help to deliver Britain’s influence around the world. They will be able to go forward and train abroad in countries such as Somalia and Kenya, provide reassurance and resilience and, indeed, hopefully prevent conflict. The prevention of conflict is a noble thing and is not something to be separated from the armed forces—they are not mutually exclusive, because sometimes the way in which we prevent major conflict is to intervene in support of allies and friends. We will give young men and women throughout the country plenty of opportunity around the world, and at the same time they will be able to train fully as soldiers and follow their specialities.
I recognise that the Secretary of State will come before the Defence Committee so look forward to more detailed consideration in due course. I welcome the recognition of the defence procurement footprint in Northern Ireland and the suggestion that, given the cyber-security and advanced engineering capacity in my constituency and throughout the Province, we are well placed for future investment. On the balancing of new technologies with old footprint, will the Secretary of State commit today to the sustained continuance of the Northern Ireland garrison, and in particular 2 Rifles at Thiepval barracks in Lisburn?
Last week’s integrated review made it clear that the threats that our country faces are changing rapidly and that our adversaries are increasingly operating in the grey zone, where they perceive the risks of repercussions to be far lower. Will the Secretary of State confirm that what he has announced today will give us the ability to respond to such threats in a far more meaningful way, because they threaten us and our allies?
One way in which our adversaries use sub-threshold activity is by corrupting or undermining a fragile state. By being able to deploy, either in support of partner host nations or by improving their training, we will help to build their resilience. At same time, we can sometimes supply or co-train in respect of key enabling, as we do in Kenya with the bomb disposal college. We work alongside the Kenyans to train people, and we now train countries from other parts of Africa together.
Our strategic threats are from China, which grows stronger each day from manufacturing trade, and Russia, which is threatened by China and relies on fossil fuel exports. Instead of focusing on cutting one in eight soldiers and stockpiling nuclear weapons, what discussions has the Secretary of State had across Government about using COP26 to put a carbon tax on trade, in order to check Chinese power and to help transition Russia from fossil fuels towards a wood economy for construction, to tackle climate change, so that holistically, we can protect the world without escalating the risk of war and destruction?
The hon. Gentleman actually raises an important point. At the beginning of the Command Paper is a chapter about the global trends and the direction. Climate change poses a security threat because it could deliver instability, poverty and problems in other parts of the world that would drive migrant flows and increase friction over precious resource. That is absolutely true.
The hon. Gentleman is also right to point out that one of the ways we are going to tackle our security threats is working together across the whole of Government to deal with them. The direction of travel on climate change will hopefully be set at COP26. Defence will play its part in both trying to solve its own emissions and making sure that it provides stability in some of the poorest countries, such as Sudan, where we recently had people, to make sure that the security threat sometimes delivered by climate change does not boil over and threaten regional stability.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to innovation, to the economy and to generating great high-skilled jobs right across the UK, such as those at Cook Defence Systems in Stanhope in County Durham, where we make the tracks for all Britain’s armoured vehicles. I would really like the Secretary of State to visit to see some of the innovative work being done there, as our tracked vehicles are maintained as part of the armed forces for the significant future.
The Government have frequently confirmed their commitment to the non-proliferation treaty, which they recognise plays
“an unparalleled role in curtailing the nuclear arms race and keeping the world safe.”—[Official Report, 1 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 10WS.]
But this Government are now feeding, not ameliorating, nuclear risk. Will the Secretary of State publish the detail of the Attorney General’s advice to explain why he is seeking to break yet another international agreement, undermining our legal position, and why, rather than cutting nuclear warheads, as is his obligation, he is increasing them by 44%?
Madam Deputy Speaker, you will know, having been in the House for many years, that Governments do not publish the Attorney General’s advice. We do not believe in any way that we are breaking the nuclear proliferation treaty, and what we really need to do is make sure that we maintain a credible deterrent.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his Defence Command Paper, which I broadly welcome, in particular the integrated review, which looks forward to the modern threats we face and embraces the capabilities we need to develop to meet those threats. When it comes to the nuclear deterrent, we must remember that this is a bipartisan policy that has been supported by both sides of the House until now and that we want to maintain that consensus. May I echo what has been said about the need for discussion and exploration of why we need to increase the cap on the number of warheads? I am convinced that we need to maintain a credible deterrent, and I am sure that the Government would not be doing this unless there were very strong arguments for doing it to maintain the credibility of the deterrent.
Obviously, detail around development, use and, indeed, deployment of nuclear warheads is a very sensitive subject. However, I will see what I can do to provide further briefing to Members and to specific Committees, if that is a better way to furnish more detail in a secure environment.
As the UK Government announce billions more for Trident, while my constituents have been forced to turn to food banks, another poll—this time by BMG Research —has found that the majority of Scots want independence. Does the Secretary of State really think that prioritising yet more weapons of mass destruction, on top of the billions already being spent on them, is doing the so-called Union any favours, when the salaries of NHS workers and service personnel are either stagnant or being cut?
I am not quite sure whether the hon. Lady now belongs to a party that does want to belong to NATO or does not. If it does want to belong to NATO, which I think is its current position this week, it is, of course, a nuclear alliance and therefore she is tacitly accepting the existence of the defence provided by nuclear weapons. So there is a sort of sleight of hand there. She should also know that, despite the polls, in the last actual vote on being a member of the United Kingdom, the people in Scotland who wanted to stay in the United Kingdom won and the quote was “not for another generation”.
On the threats from Russia and communist China, will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that conflict in the grey zone is the modern equivalent of the old cold war—in both cases, hostile moves were deliberately kept below the threshold for open warfare? So does he accept that those who warn against cold war containment policies should seriously reflect and reconsider their position?
I think my right hon. Friend is very right about a lot of these things. A number of activities take place below the threshold of “violence” or “overt”. They are unacceptable. They are carried out by China, Iran and other countries against this country and other countries. People cannot sweep that under the carpet and we must take action against it. Sometimes we take it in an overt space or through the Foreign Office calling out or attributing certain events, such as cyber and other things, but also that is why we are taking the capabilities to hand where we, too, can reject or repel such actions in the grey zone.
First, can I say to the Secretary of State that he should actually read the National Audit Office report of 2010 on the deficit in 2010, because it said it would be between £6 billion and £36 billion if you had flat cash—we did not have that because in 2010 and onwards the defence budget was cut by 16%? Can I ask about the F-35? The Command Paper commits the Government to the 48 jets we have already purchased but there are no commitments for any further—there is just an aspiration. The Defence Secretary knows that we need four aircraft to provide one operational. At the current rate there will be 12 aircraft available—six on each carrier, or 12 on one and none on the other. I do not think that will be a great threat to the people’s liberation army. But could he say when the numbers are going to be increased and at what cost, or is it the case that we will be able to deploy our carriers only if we do so with the US marine corps?
I have read the NAO report. In fact, I usually bring it to every parliamentary questions because the good thing about it is that it shows that in the final year of the Labour Government they spent £3 billion without any idea whatsoever where they were going to get it from—it says it quite clearly in the executive summary. This was the same Government who said the carriers would cost £3 billion and they cost £6 billion. That is a record not to be proud of. We do not recognise the 4:1 ratio the right hon. Gentleman talks about in respect of the F-35s. We will deliver the 48 F-35s to our forces by 2025 and, as it says in the paper, we will go beyond that number.
I welcome the announcement that my right hon. Friend intends to grow the UK fleet of frigates and destroyers so that Britannia will once again rule the waves. What impact does he expect this to have on the Royal Navy’s operational outputs and on the UK shipbuilding industry? Will those ships be built with good, strong Sheffield steel?
First and foremost, the key thing about our ships is to make sure that they are available to use. As the Secretary of State for Defence, I want them on the seas, able to project power and supporting our allies and friends. One of the problems in the past, which goes back to the issue of overambition and underfunding, was that we had lots on paper but if you went to Portsmouth you found a number of them—you still do—tied up in a sorry state. This Command Paper will ensure that the new ships, and indeed the existing Type 45s and some of the Type 23s, will be more available, more deployed and more ready to help Britain. The new ships are going to be made on the Clyde and in Rosyth, part of the United Kingdom where, together, collective defence provides jobs for thousands of people, and, where possible, we will use as many British parts and as much British equipment as we can.
As a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, I am under no illusion about the evolving nature of the security threats that we face, but could I ask the Secretary of State about the reduction in the number of members of the Army? At the Conservative party manifesto launch in 2019, the Prime Minister, in response to the journalist Tom Newton Dunn, said:
“We will not be cutting our armed forces in any form. We will be maintaining the size of our armed forces because we are increasing funding for them”.
After the announcement today, does the Secretary of State regret the Prime Minister promising this to the British people at the last general election?
No, I do not. If the hon. Lady wants to know one of the reasons that we have taken a slightly different position, it is Operation Spring Shield, which relates to the Turkish incursion into north-west Syria. As she is a member of the ISC, perhaps she should look at the impact of that type of change in tactics and use of technology on a conventional armoured force. It became blatantly clear that unless we modernised and updated our land forces in a proper way, they would be deeply vulnerable to those types of attacks. That is the responsibility I have to protect the men and women operating that equipment so that I can deploy them, and I will not take it lightly. If I have to have a few less people to make sure they are better protected, better equipped and better deployable, but also more lethal, that is a decision I would take, and I am sure that most Members in this House would.
There is much to welcome in this statement. My only concern relates to some of the cuts in our conventional forces, because quantity still has a quality all of its own. For example, no matter how potent a naval vessel might be, it cannot be in two places at once. May I turn my right hon. Friend’s attention to the importance of soft power in helping to avoid conflict in the first place? I know that this is something he agrees with. What plans are there in the integrated review and the Command Paper to increase resource investment in defence diplomacy as a means of increasing our soft power capabilities?
My hon. Friend and I completely agree on this matter. We are going to invest in and increase the number of defence attachés around the world. We are going to invest in better comms for them, and we have already started the process of improving their curriculum, so that they are better trained and more knowledgeable. I have also instructed the director of defence people to make a separate career stream for those people, so that they can start at junior level and follow it all the way through to become a professional in a certain part of the world, speaking the language, understanding the importance of inter-regional actions and therefore really adding value and being able to complement the UK’s diplomatic effort and potentially other efforts around the world to provide stability. In that way, we can hopefully get in early and not end up in a place where we have to go and fight a conflict when things have failed.
The Defence Secretary has justified the decision to cut troop numbers because of evolving threats, but there is a hole in that logic. If the threat has changed so much, so quickly, what is there to say it will not change again? Given the uncertainty, it seems unwise to cut the one thing that, above all else, gives us our edge: our people. I ask the Secretary of State to think again.
I know that the hon. Gentleman comes with good experience of the armed forces, and he will also know the real balance that I have to strike, both as a leader and now in this job as Secretary State for Defence. Yes, people are our most important asset, but protecting them is our most important duty, and we have to get that balance right. It is no good being over-ambitious in deploying them if we cannot support them. Yes, the threat can change—absolutely it can change. In 2035, I will not be in this job, but the person who is should be able to come to this House and increase the size of the armed forces, should that be required. They should be free to make that decision, and I would certainly support anyone who did that, if they demonstrated what the threat was. Threat goes up and threat evolves, and in the past we have been too slow to follow the threat because we have been following either more shallow arguments or promises that were never kept.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there has been a lot of uninformed hysteria in reaction to the announcement that we are increasing the cap on our number of warheads? If we are to have a nuclear deterrent, it must be credible. I appreciate the sensitivity of the subject, but with a number of warheads always having to be serviced, a cap of 180 is not credible. That is especially true if we see the debate in context: the French have around 300 warheads; the United States 3,800; and the Russians 6,800. More than half the nuclear weapons in the world are Russian at a time when Russia has shown its aggressive intent on other countries.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is nothing in what he has said that I disagree with. Let us put it in context. Of the declared nuclear powers, we have the lowest stockpile. We need to keep it credible. I fully respect people who do not want a nuclear deterrent or who are in favour of unilateral disarmament, but if people believe that a nuclear deterrent has helped to keep peace in this country and around Europe for 50 years, then we must make sure that it is credible. Not to do so is to make a laughing stock of the whole thing.
I am anxious to allow the Secretary of State a chance to expand on that. What exactly is the new threat, or the change to the strategic environment, that the Government consider requires a stockpile of 260 warheads, rather than 180, to offer that minimum credible deterrent that was presumably offered before? Furthermore, how can that 45% increase in the number of warheads be reconciled in any way with a sincere, meaningful commitment to arms control, disarmament and this country’s obligations to nuclear non-proliferation?
Disarmament is achieved when both sides are credible in what they offer up. To offer up something that is not credible would see us get taken to the cleaners, and the other people would just carry on, especially with the completely unbalanced numbers of warheads around the world.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and his team on these forward-thinking and rather smart proposals. Does he agree that the opposition parties need to understand the reality of modern warfare, which is a shift towards the grey zone and high tech? We could have thousands of tanks, but they would be of no use to us. The moment that we deploy on the battlefield, our enemy would destroy them. Perhaps the Secretary of State can arrange a briefing for the opposition parties on what happened to all those tanks in Syria, or what all those Armenian conscripts suffered from a modernised Azeri military, because they do not seem to understand.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I made available to Members of the House a briefing by the Chief of Defence Intelligence last week where he set out the range of emerging threats, all the way from Russian ballistic missile defence to the proliferation of technology into the hands of, often, non-state militias. That is one of the big challenges of today that our conventional forces need to grapple with. It is no longer tank on tank necessarily; it could be Syrian fighters using pick-ups but firing top- generation anti-tank missiles. That is the game changer. We must be able to deal with it. If we do deploy armour, we must be able to better protect it, or we must find other ways of dealing with it. It has been blatantly clear over the past 12 months—in Libya, in Syria, and in the Caucasus—that we are incredibly exposed on the battlefield if we can be found even by some of the most low-tech weapons systems.
The confirmation of a reduction in troop numbers will obviously be a huge concern to many service personnel, including those based at Leuchars in my constituency. I was working for Career Transition Partnership at its Scottish resettlement centre during the last round of redundancies linked to the strategic review, so may I ask the Secretary of State what engagement he has had with CTP over the impact of the changes announced today on resettlement services? Will he commit to ensure that all service leavers get full support on the resettlement journey?
The Secretary of State knows that the Defence Committee has been briefed on the emerging threats and the change in technology on the battlefield over the past year or two. He seems to be arguing that, in order to modernise the armed forces, it is okay to reduce their numbers. I would argue that we can have an increase in our armed forces, the new technology and the modernisation that he has talked about. May I ask him a specific question? Our special forces, as we know, are world class. In the reduced Army, how will he maintain the calibre and quality of recruits to the special forces?
First and foremost, when it comes to numbers, carriers used to take 1,800 members to crew them; they now take 800. That is simply the direction of travel with automation and modern equipment. Tanks and armoured vehicles often have less crew than they used to. That is a fact, and it is how some of the equipment has developed. It is therefore logical to understand that sometimes we need fewer people to achieve the same lethality, or sometimes even fewer people to achieve even more lethality. A battalion of the first world war is very different from a battalion of today, and that is blatantly obvious to anyone who looks at defence capabilities.
When it comes to the recruitment of special forces, two things will help: the development of a Ranger battalion and the future commando force, where we will increase the spending, training and equipment available to them. The basic training being around the areas that we might have seen the special forces doing 10, 15 or 20 years ago will be a great grounding. We also see that the reserve special forces regiments are becoming a very good recruiter for the regulars.
The Defence Committee’s very unsentimental report on army procurement recently concluded:
“This report reveals a woeful story of bureaucratic procrastination, military indecision, financial mismanagement and general ineptitude, which have continually bedevilled attempts to properly re-equip the British Army over the last two decades.”
The Secretary of State’s statement did not mention the £400 million that has just been wasted by the cancellation of the Warrior upgrade. Taken with the TRACER—Tactical Reconnaissance Armoured Combat Equipment Requirement—programme and the FRES—Future Rapid Effects System—programme in the report, that is nearly three quarters of a billion pounds of British taxpayers’ money wasted by the Department for nothing. When will the Defence Secretary finally accept that procurement is the Achilles heel of the MOD? Although I do not agree with Labour that the whole Department should be put in special measures, Defence Equipment and Support undoubtedly should, because it is a basket case, and until we solve it, the rest of the review is a waste of time.
I read that report—of reports I have read in my time, I think I would give it one out of 10. [Interruption.] First of all, four members of that Committee accumulated over a decade in the Department that bought the armoured vehicles. There was no sense whatsoever about that irony in the criticism I just heard from my right hon. Friend—none at all. [Interruption.] Since I got into the Department, the first thing I did was commit to signing up Boxer, which had not been done. It had sat on the shelf for a bit. I made sure we developed Boxer, signed it up and got it delivered, and it is going to be made in the United Kingdom in a partnership between BAE and Rheinmetall. I took decisions—he may not like the decisions—about the Warrior upgrade programme. It had been, as he knows, wandering around for many, many years, including the years that he was in the Department. TRACER, if he remembers as far back as I do, was cancelled by the United States, of which we had been a partner in the mid-90s. FRES, if he remembers—I am sure he does, but it does not seem to appear in the report—was affected by the changes to the attacks on personnel by the proliferation of basic anti-armour capability into the hands of the likes of the Taliban. That is why FRES had to be up-armoured, changed in size and changed in scale—the threat changed. [Interruption.] He might not have liked the consequence, but would he rather—I was not in that Department, and I am sure this would be his defence when he was in the Department—have progressed with an inadequate vehicle, where soldiers got killed, or took the decision to potentially cancel it and move on? The Boxer—
May I bring a bit of peace to the Chamber by suggesting that what we all need is some stability in the Ministry of Defence? I think this is the sixth Secretary of State since 2010. I come from an Army background—my father and two brothers served in the British Army—and I represent Huddersfield, where David Brown and other major defence manufacturers are located, but it seems we want it all. We want the modern technology—I have always believed that we need an independent nuclear force —but, as I have consistently said to the Secretary of State’s predecessors since 2010, despite all the other things we want, at the end of the day, the Russians and the Chinese will look at us going down to 72,000 men and women in our armed services and think we have run up the white flag. What does he have to say about that?
First of all, the Russians will look at the fact that we have learned the lessons of Crimea and elsewhere and will be investing in deep fires, which were a place where we were deeply vulnerable. They have not been upgraded, which has allowed the Russians a strategic edge. They will look at the fact that we are starting to invest in ballistic missile defence capabilities and anti-missile capabilities, which we have been missing for many, many years, which is why our adversaries went there. They will look at the fact that we will invest in a multi-role surveillance vessel to protect our critical infrastructure, because the Russians worked out that we had not invested in that protection. They will see that we have seen what they are up to and we are going to do something about it. They will also see that the area where they seem to have got away with the most—the sub-threshold or grey zone, where they have inflicted cyber operations, corruption and all sorts of espionage on this country and her allies, and our citizens—is where we, too, are going to be, to compete back against them.
Although I am concerned about cuts to my own service and possible stretch, I recognise that this is an excellent bit of work, and I commend my right hon. Friend for the intellectual rigour that has gone into this modern and innovative paper. Given our increasing focus on expeditionary capabilities and our allies, notably in the Pacific, does he see any change to how we might operate east of Suez?
My hon. Friend makes a really important point about how we operate to make sure that we not only defend ourselves but project our influence. Being present is half the battle. Our adversaries know that, and for too long we have often remained here in the homeland and not necessarily been present. As a former Royal Logistic Corps officer, he will also recognise the key importance of enablers. The days when enablers were in the background and not given the audience or importance they deserve are over. Many countries around the world who might not want infantry or tanks to help them often want signallers, enablers or logistics. They are just as important in projecting Britain’s forces and power around the world and making sure that the brand of Britain stays true to its values and helps people around the world.
At a time when the Government say there is no money for a proper pay rise for NHS workers, they are going to give the military the biggest financial boost since the cold war and waste billions more increasing the number of UK nuclear weapons by 40%. Each UK nuclear warhead has an explosive power eight times that of the nuclear bomb barbarically dropped on Hiroshima at the end of the second world war, killing over 140,000 civilians. If we are going to spend billions more increasing the number of nuclear weapons, what is to stop others doing the same, in a new global arms race?
We are not going to spend billions increasing the number of nuclear weapons. In 2016, the House voted collectively for a nuclear deterrent—I am sure the hon. Member did not, and certainly the leader he used to follow did not either. That is what it believes, and I think the number of people who do not believe it are probably joining the hon. Member in the room where he asked the question.
I congratulate and thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. The review specifically refers to a more productive integration of the reserve forces. Will he give a bit more detail on that and confirm that the reserves have to remain a vital part of our whole force structure?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that they are really important; they are more important than they have ever been. Looking across the three services, some services embrace them well and some could do a lot more. I have already started the process of trying to remove barriers—for example, by ensuring that the attitude in the Department to using reserves is not as a last resort, but as an integral part of what we wish to do. RF30 will report soon. No doubt, my hon. Friend will interested in the results. In response to covid, there has been seamlessness between reserves and regulars across the services. We need to embrace that even more to ensure that the men and women who want to contribute to this country’s defence—no matter who they are—can do so and can bring those skills to bear.
I would like to hear a little more about how the reduction in troop numbers is going to be managed. Will the Secretary of State confirm that there will be no redundancies? In the past, a shortage of personnel has meant an increased workload for those who remain. How will he ensure that personnel are able to maintain a good work-life balance if they are having to carry out the work of more people?
First of all, there will not be any redundancies. This process can be managed over the next five years by reducing inflow on recruitment. Secondly, to ensure that people are not overburdened, we are going to apply intelligent recruiting, which will allow people greater choice when they arrive at the recruitment centres or at training to ensure that units that are undermanned are properly in receipt of enough people.
I welcome this thoughtful defence Command Paper, particularly the new investment in space, cyber, autonomous vehicles, defence intelligence and defence science. But is it not the case that there is still a need for metal on the ground? I welcome the new investment in the Boxer vehicle programme and the Challenger 3 programme. Those programmes are very welcome throughout the west midlands, but will the Secretary of State tell the House what they will mean for Shropshire in particular? Finally, may I put in an early bid for the new special operations brigade to come and reside in Shropshire, near to Hereford—the SAS—and to the Welsh training mountains?
There is the first bid, from my hon. Friend’s constituency. My hon. Friend is a doughty fighter for his constituents. He has consistently asked me to ensure that upgrades to the Boxer and Challenger vehicles happen. I am delighted to say to him, first of all, that Boxer is coming, and I have asked for its delivery to be accelerated to ensure that the Army gets it. In addition, the Challenger will be upgraded, which is good news for his work and his constituency.
I see that units of Government press officers have been on manoeuvres this past week, but unfortunately they have been spinning on cuts to our Army. The regular Army will have shrunk from 113,000 to 72,000 under Conservative Governments since 2010, so why does the Secretary of State not accept that reducing the size of our forces makes our country less agile and less secure?
I do not think it does. When the hon. Gentleman’s party was in government, it did not reverse the reductions from the time that I was in the Army. As I have said throughout this afternoon, the key is getting the balance of giving our soldiers and sailors the right protections they need, ensuring that our ambition does not overstretch them, and ensuring that they have the right training and investment in themselves so that they not only stay, but have a fulfilled career.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s words from the Dispatch Box this afternoon, especially his commitment to more than 20 frigates and destroyers by the end of the next decade, but I was slightly concerned by the vague reference to the new automatic mine-hunting system, which will replace the Sandown and Hunt classes. My right hon. Friend knows that these two classes do far more than just hunt mines; they are a great deterrent and deliver a presence in supporting our allies around the world. Will he give us more detail on what this new automatic mine-hunting capability is, and on whether the Sandown and Hunt classes will be replaced like for like?
If my hon. Friend would like me to, I would be delighted to get him a briefing on the exact progress of that system. Automated mine-hunting can currently cover, in key points, far more area than a ship, and it is really important for some parts of the patrols and areas that we cover. I would be delighted to give him some more detail; I will get him a briefing.
Last week, the Prime Minister was unable to state how the Government’s commitment to international law fitted with breaching article 6 of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The Defence Secretary has since said that the raising of the cap on the nuclear warhead stockpile is to ensure the UK has a credible nuclear deterrent in response to Russia and others, and that we will still have one of the lowest stockpiles. Will he explain for exactly how long our deterrent has not been credible? How does this increase—below others—make it now credible?
I am afraid that I cannot, at the Dispatch Box, tell people about the credibility of our nuclear deterrent in detail, because to do so would undermine its security. However, I can assure the hon. Lady that we keep it under review, and as we announced last week, it is important to increase the warheads in stockpile—which still makes us the lowest of the declared nuclear powers—to make sure it remains credible.
The detail of the announcement, wide-ranging and important as it is, will be chewed over over the coming days, and there will be some good bits and some bad bits. However, I congratulate the Secretary of State on the honesty, the directness and the detail that is in this Command Paper, which is very refreshing indeed.
I welcome the concentration on climate change in the integrated review. The Secretary of State will know very well that the worrying rate of retreating ice in the Arctic presents commercial opportunities as well as threats, yet at the same time, the Russians have increased their submarine and above-surface capabilities in the Arctic very considerably in recent years. What does the Secretary of State intend to do with regard to safeguarding our commercial vehicles, which may well be making use of the northern sea route, in years to come?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the challenges and opportunities around the high north, and indeed the growing activities of the Russian navy’s northern fleet. That is why we think one of the best ways to secure that commercial traffic is to be more present: we recently sent ships into the Barents sea for the first time since the cold war, and will continue to do so. We will always work with our allies up there, whether that is Norway, the United States or even France, on some of these issues. That is why it is part of NATO’s home beat, and it is one of the reasons why it is important to make sure we have a fleet that is viable, but also available to always respond to the different threats as they emerge.
Our brave and highly trained military servicemen and servicewomen are, as the Defence Secretary himself stated a short while ago, our finest defence asset. However, while talking tough on defence, the Conservative Government have eroded their morale and strength by cutting over 45,000 personnel during this decade of decline, made worse still by today’s manifesto-breaking commitment to reduce the Army’s size to a mere 72,500, to the extent that our smaller Army is now a cause for serious concern for our global allies. Does the Secretary of State agree with the Chief of the Defence Staff that the ability to field a warfighting division is the standard by which the UK Army will be judged as credible by its allies?
First of all, yes, and we can. Secondly, if the hon. Gentleman really wants to know what is morale-sapping, it is something I experienced under his Government and, indeed, the Conservative Government: sitting in the back of something that is unprotected and vulnerable to the people who want to kill you.
I very much welcome this defence review: it is a proper look at the threats as they evolve and at what is moving forward, which is a welcome change from what has gone on in the past. However, we must also recognise that article 42 of the Lisbon treaty, on permanent structured co-operation, puts at real risk the NATO alliance, especially given—as we have seen in the past weeks—the unreliability of the EU and the commitments it makes. Our naval presence is going to be so important to our trade routes and protection of our data cables, so I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will have the capability after this review to react quickly and upgrade our naval capability if, sadly, we cannot rely on allies we thought we could rely on.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. NATO, first and foremost, is the guarantor of European security; no other organisation is, and we do not forget that. Of course, we sit around as NATO Defence Ministers and Foreign Ministers and discuss that with all those partners. There is a proper process of verifying and holding to account our commitments, which is why the national readiness initiative that, predominantly, the United States kicked off a few years ago was all about making sure we were ready and able. It is a constant process of being validated and making sure we can deliver what we are supposed to, and NATO publishes its annual reports and does indeed hold us to account. We are confident that we can do that, but also, as the second biggest spender in NATO and with a large group of forces—despite the narrative that is being put out by the Opposition—we are capable of doing concurrent operations and other types of operations if needed.
According to Admiral Mike Mullen, the ex-chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, 70,000-odd armed forces is about the same size as the entire US special forces. To quote him, he said that the UK forces will be getting “pretty small”. I know that our armed forces are very special, but perhaps the absence of the right hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) is explained by these announcements. His lesson—and, I am sure, that of the Secretary of State—was that we needed boots on the ground if we were ever to win the peace. That was surely the lesson of Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. How on earth will we achieve that in future?
The lesson of Sierra Leone and other places is actually that if we engage in conflict prevention early enough and build out the capacity of a country to resist insurgencies and subversion, we avoid having a war or conflict in the first place. The lesson of Iraq is that, yes, we can put lots of troops on the ground, but once the Iraqi army is defeated, if we do not have an alternative way to start building the state again, we have people sitting around in tanks and armoured vehicles after the conflict who are attacked on a daily basis and are the wrong people in the wrong place. I heard what the senior and respected United States admiral said today; he also said that if General Sir Nick Carter, the Chief of the Defence Staff, whom he knows well, is in support of this, then so is he.
I welcome the announcements today, especially on the formation of the Ranger regiment. I see the Secretary of State has set himself up for a win by recruiting it from 4 Rifles, which came from the legendary 2nd Battalion, the Royal Green Jackets—my own regiment. When does the Secretary of State think it will be fully formed and operational for deployment?
I think we have a volunteer here, Madam Deputy Speaker. If my hon. Friend is ready to deploy, I have somewhere I can send him next week. I have asked the Chief of the General Staff to make sure that the initial funding for starting and equipping is rolled out to at least one regiment. We obviously have to start to train them up. It is a new discipline and an addition to what they have already done, and that will take time to establish. Like my hon. Friend, I am keen to get on it as soon as possible, and then perhaps he can deploy as their honorary colonel or something.