With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the details and implementation of the Army’s future capabilities, structures and basing.
In March I came to the House to announce the outcome of the Defence Command Paper, part of our integrated review. I said that we must adapt to new threats, resist sentimentality, and match our ambitions to our resources if we are to field armed forces that remain relevant and credible for the challenges of the future. I also said that we owed it to our service personnel to ensure that we now turn that policy into reality and that the work to do so had only just begun.
The Army was tasked with undertaking the most significant modernisation in a generation and, after an intense period of planning—for which I am especially grateful to the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, Brigadier Clark and the rest of the team—I can now announce to Parliament the details of its plans, entitled “Future Soldier”.
Let me begin by paying tribute to those soldiers, the brave men and women of the British Army. To me, they are the finest in the world. Yesterday, we witnessed soldiers, alongside colleagues from other services, parade outside Parliament. It was an opportunity to pay tribute to their extraordinary endeavours during Operation Pitting, helping to evacuate some 15,000 people in a matter of weeks, and to thank them for their service and sacrifice throughout the decades-long Afghan campaign. It was also a reminder that the Army that departed Afghanistan was a very different one from that of 2001. But the Army of the future must adapt even more radically if it is to adapt to the threats of the future. Let us be clear: those are proliferating threats, from increasing humanitarian crises, to ever more capable and determined violent extremism and the use of proxy forces, to the ever present spectre of great power competition.
To keep pace with the changing character of warfare, our Army must be forward-looking, adaptable and embracing of new ways of working as much as new weapons and technologies. Not only must it have the best force structure to counter an ever growing range of threats to the UK, our people and interests, but it must achieve our ambitions on schedule and in budget. Thanks to the Prime Minister’s record settlement for defence announced at last year’s spending review, we have been given the time and resources to undertake the generational modernisation that defence needs.
Far from being deprived of investment as some claim, we are injecting £41.3 billion into Army equipment and support this decade. That is £8.6 billion more than had been planned prior to the integrated review. We are using those funds to create a modern, innovative and digitised Army. Our future Army will be leaner but more productive, prioritising speed and readiness over mass mobilisation, but still over 100,000 strong, integrating regulars and reserves, as well as all the civil servants and partners from the private sector. As the Chief of the General Staff has said, it must be an Army that places a premium
“not just on mass, but on critical mass; relevant, networked, deployable”.
The Army will now be reorganised to operate on a continuous basis, fielding all the relevant capabilities for this era of constant competition, and persistently engaged around the globe, supporting our partners and deterring our adversaries. Crucially, it will also be an Army that is designed for genuine warfighting credibility, as an expeditionary fighting force that will be both deployable and lethal when called on to fight and win. Since the publication of the defence Command Paper, my officials have worked hard to finalise a reform programme to deliver our priorities at home and abroad. Our future soldiers will find that tomorrow’s Army has six distinct elements.
First, it will be globally engaged, with more personnel deployed for more of the time, employed in a new network of regional hubs based on existing training locations in places such as Oman and Kenya.
Secondly, it will be a key contributor to NATO warfighting, capable of fielding a division throughout the decade, as we transition to the new capabilities for a fully modernised warfighting division by 2030.
Thirdly, it will be enhanced by state-of-the-art equipment, including upgraded tanks and digitally-networked armoured vehicles, as well as long-range precision strike, cyber and electromagnetic capabilities.
Fourthly, it will exploit innovation and experimentation to get ahead of the evolving threats. Not only will the Army share the £6.6 billion of defence’s increased research and development investment, but next year both the new British Army battle lab and a dedicated unit, the Army trials and experimentation group, will be established to stay at the cutting edge.
Fifthly, it will have integration at its heart, bringing together regulars, reserves and civil servants to form a more productive force with warfighting and resilience at its heart and cross-Government working in its DNA.
Sixthly and finally, it will be an Army that benefits the whole of our Union, with an increased proportion of the Army based in each of the devolved nations and expenditure contributing to prosperity throughout the United Kingdom under our upcoming land industrial strategy.
I am pleased to report that we have already made substantial progress. When it comes to global engagement, we have formed the new Army special operations brigade, in which the new ranger regiments will sit; established the security force assistance brigade; and set up a NATO holding area in Sennelager, Germany. In terms of warfighting, we have reinforced NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, established new brigade combat teams and reinforced the Army’s global response force.
Over the next five years, implementation will continue apace. At the end of this year, our new ranger regiment will reach initial operating capability. By mid-2022 our new deep recce strike brigade combat team will be established, and by Autumn next year two battalions of the Mercian Regiment will merge to form a new Boxer-mounted battalion in one of our armoured combat teams. The recapitalisation of major equipment is already under way. I am determined to do everything within our means to accelerate the introduction of Challenger 3 tanks, with an ambition for their delivery to units starting from 2025 onwards. Likewise, we are transitioning to Boxer armoured personnel carriers from the retiring Warrior, with units starting to receive their first vehicles from 2023.
We are resolving development issues with the troubled but, none the less, technically capable Ajax armoured reconnaissance vehicle. We are also upgrading the battle-proven Apache attack helicopters while investing in everything from long-range precision strike, ground-based air defence, uncrewed aerial systems, electronic warfare and tactical cyber. These cutting-edge capabilities will be wielded by the newly restructured brigade combat teams—self-sufficient tactical formations with their own combat support and logistics. They will include 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team and a new aviation brigade combat team, which together will form our global response force, providing defence’s rapid response for crises overseas.
Let me now turn to our plans to streamline the Army force structures. For too long, historical infantry structures have inhibited our Army’s transformation. We cannot afford to be slaves to sentiment when the threat has moved on. Today I can therefore confirm a major reorganisation under four new administrative divisions of infantry: the Queen’s Division, the Union Division, the Light Division, and the Guards and Parachute Division. These divisions are designed to reflect historic ties, while balancing the numbers of battalions and unit roles, offering greater flexibility and opportunity to soldiers of all ranks.
As announced in March, these plans do not involve the deletion of any cap badges, further major unit changes or any military redundancies. Although we are significantly reducing the total number of Army personnel, we are not compromising our presence in and contribution to the devolved nations. The numbers will reduce slightly everywhere except Wales, but we are increasing the proportion of the Army based in each nation and investing millions in the defence industry and estate.
Northern Ireland will keep the same number of battalions, but host a greater proportion of the Army’s workforce and gain an additional reserve company of the Royal Irish. Scotland will be home to more battalions—going from six to seven units—and a greater proportion of the Army than today. We will be retaining Glencorse barracks and will grow in Kinloss and Leuchars, thanks to £355 million of investment in the Army estate.
Wales will see the return of the Welsh cavalry—the Queen’s Dragoon Guards—to Caerwent barracks and a new reserve company of 3rd Battalion, the Royal Welsh to be established in north Wales. The retention of the Brecon barracks and the growth of Wrexham are just part of a £320 million investment in the Army estate in Wales.
I know that colleagues will be enthusiastic to learn the basing implications for their own constituencies. The full breakdown of the Army’s new structure can be found on the Government website or by clicking on the link in the “Dear colleague” letter that will be distributed.
Our future Army will be as agile in the new domains of cyber and space as it is on the ground. It will contribute the most personnel of all the services to those enhanced information-age functions, such as the National Cyber Force and Defence Intelligence, which are so critical to our new integrated force. In practical terms, this amounts to an additional 500 regular personnel, taking the number from 72,500 to 73,000. Together with the more than 10,000 Army personnel who work in other parts of defence, we will now, as I said, have a figure of 73,000.
As I said back in March, the size and capabilities of our Army must be dictated by the threat. What we can show on paper or even muster on parade matters little if we cannot rely on those numbers when it counts, or deliver the relevant capabilities required. Unlike the purely financial or numerically driven reviews of the past, we have taken a positive, pragmatic approach, matching our size to the current security environment and the Government’s current ambition.
Every single unit will be affected in some way by this change, and transformation on this scale requires radical change at the top of the Army. By 2025, the Army’s headquarters will be reduced by 40% regular personnel, and reserves integration will be made more productive across the force. Notably, the covid pandemic underlined the need for resilience structures that can cope with crises on the home front, so a new reserve brigade based in York will ensure that we can provide forces at the point of need. Simultaneously, we will be strengthening our Army’s institutional foundation across the United Kingdom by establishing regional points of command.
Our Army has always been defined by its people and their adaptive, resilient, determined and diverse qualities, so this review puts investment in human capital first. The more we use our people, the more we must make sure they are properly supported. That is why we will be modernising individuals’ careers and family assistance, all of which will be consolidated in an Army people plan published early next year. Finally, in this more competitive age, we will ensure that equipping our people with the ability to understand, compete, and fight across all domains is firmly at the forefront of defence policy making.
This is an Army that we can remain proud of, not just for its historical achievements or the “Top Trumps” comparisons of numbers of tanks and people in its ranks, but because it is an honest force that is credible and relevant, relentlessly adapting to confront the threats to the nation and meet the challenges of the future, changing the way it operates as much as the equipment with which it does it, and evolving culturally as much as structurally to place our future soldier in the best possible position to compete in all domains, both old and new, to shape our world for the better. Like their forebears, I am certain they will grasp these opportunities with both hands. It is certainly an Army that I would have liked to serve in. I am certain that this modernisation programme will allow them to do just that and ensure the Army remains both relevant and credible, in support of our Prime Minister’s vision for a global Britain that is a safer, stronger and more prosperous place. I commend this statement to the House.
This is a very important statement and that is why I have allowed it to run three minutes over, so Members also have the ability to run over because there is a lot to take in. I am sure that Fulwood barracks was missed out, but there we are—we will leave that for another time.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, although I am disappointed not to receive the breakdown of the new Army structure, as I know he intended, which he says is now on the website. The devil, as always, is in the detail and we will study that closely.
The Defence Secretary says that this statement builds on the defence Command Paper published in March. It does indeed answer points about Army structure, but it provides no answers to the bigger, more important questions about Army strategy and Army size. The Command Paper confirmed:
“Russia continues to pose the greatest nuclear, conventional military and subthreshold threat to European security.”
Yet it failed then to define a clear mission and role for the Army, especially in relation to that threat. This statement fails the same test. Given recent events, not least in Ukraine, surely the Army’s primary role must be to reinforce Europe against Russia and to be an effective war-fighting partner to NATO allies. This demands high-end war-fighting capabilities, not just light forces and cyber operations. A single war-fighting division was promised for 2025. This is the heart of our UK commitment to NATO deterrence and defence. The Chief of the Defence Staff has said that it is
“the standard whereby a credible army is judged”,
so why will this fully capable division, including a new strike brigade, now not be battle-ready until 2030?
The Defence Secretary has described the new Ajax armoured vehicle as the “nucleus” of our modernised war-fighting capability, yet his Minister has now admitted that there is “no realistic timescale” for getting Ajax into service. Why did the Defence Secretary scrap Warrior, scale back Challenger and double down on Ajax when the MOD knew that there were serious problems? What is the plan to provide the Army with kit it needs now if it has to contribute to a major conflict? The Secretary of State cannot say he has reduced the role of the Army; he cannot say the Army already has the high-tech kit it needs to replace boots on the ground; and he cannot say the threats to the UK have diminished—indeed, today he said they are proliferating—yet he is still cutting the Army’s established strength by 9,000 over the next three years, and that is on top of 16,000 soldiers cut since 2010.
The Prime Minister promised at his election manifesto launch in 2019, on behalf of all Conservative Members:
“We will not be cutting our armed forces in any form. We will be maintaining the size of our armed forces.”
The Prime Minister may take the pledges he makes to our armed forces and the public lightly, but we do not. By the time of the next election, Britain will have the smallest Army in 300 years. Size matters. The Defence Secretary’s deeper cuts now could limit our forces’ ability simultaneously to deploy overseas, support allies, maintain strong national defences, and reinforce our domestic resilience—just as they have in helping the country through the covid crisis. We are a leading NATO member and a United Nations P5 country that may again get called on to deploy and sustain forces away from the UK. We may not seek a major crisis but experience tells us that it may well come to us.
Why have MOD civilian staff increased by 2,200usb since 2015 while the number of full-time soldiers has been cut by 5,000? Why has the Defence Secretary recruited 962 MOD managers in the past year alone? Why has the black hole in the defence budget got £4 billion bigger since he became Defence Secretary? Why is he the only Cabinet Minister to agree real cuts to the revenue budget for his Department over the next three years? Despite what he claims, is not the truth that this plan for the British Army is dictated by costs, not threats?
The Army rightly says that the role of the infantry
“is at the core of the Army; from peacekeeping to combat operations, anywhere in the world—our Infanteers lead the way.”
Yet they will bear the brunt of the cuts in this new structure. What is the cut to infantry numbers? Will this involve a halt to recruitment or simply a slowing of the rate of recruitment? Will the new brigade combat teams have a mix of wheeled and tracked vehicles, and will this mean moving at the pace of the slowest? We welcome the new special operations brigade, but how will this increased number of special forces be fully recruited from the reduced ranks of the wider Army? We welcome the plan to maintain the British Army presence across the UK, but can the Defence Secretary confirm whether all existing planned base closures in England will still go ahead? Will the UK’s long-established training base in Canada close, and does this signal the end of training for tank warfare?
I fear that this plan leaves the British Army too small, too thinly stretched and too poorly equipped to deal with the threats that the UK and our allies now face, which are growing and diversifying.
Dear oh dear! I think the official Opposition are probably inaccurate and probably out-of-date and indeed pose all sorts of questions where the premise is just completely false. For example, we do have an armoured division that is a going concern—it is called 3 Div. It is in place. It is there to do its job. It is fulfilling the NATO commitment. Yes, much of its equipment needs to be updated, modernised or changed, which is why we are today announcing an extra £8 billion of spending, but it is actually an armoured division. A number of the platforms that the right hon. Gentleman talks about are going to be tapered out as new equipment comes in, so the Warrior is likely to come out in around 2025 as our Boxers start to get delivered into the different regiments. They will taper out of service as the new equipment comes in. Where gaps could arise, such as in the helicopter fleet with Puma coming out of service, I have sought an interim procurement, the competition for which will start soon. I am therefore determined to ensure that there is a limited gap, if any. There will be some gaps in capabilities, but that is the consequence of taking a decision to modernise and deliver for our armed forces.
I turn to some of the right hon. Gentleman’s other questions. First, the RDEL, which he often talks about, is in fact a 0.2% increase. It obviously depends on whether the line is drawn at 2021, 2022 or 2024—
I have, but of course the Red Book changed in a different year from when our settlement started. The right hon. Gentleman will know that our settlement started a year before everyone else’s because I went in to bat for the Department recognising that a one-year settlement would have been too difficult.
Secondly, there is not a £4 billion black hole in our budget; in fact, it is on track. So that was not accurate, either. On whether the BCTs will be both wheeled and tracked, they will mix the two at certain stages. However, it is not just about tracks and wheels; it is also about speed. When I served in an armoured infantry regiment in Germany in 1991, the Warriors completely outraced the 432s, which were 1960s armoured vehicles. Indeed, I am so old that the tanks were Chieftains, and the Warriors had got ahead of the Chieftains. It does happen even in tracked, and the challenge in modern warfare is balance in bringing in the latest in a fashion that keeps pace with the integration required.
On the range of battalions, I welcome the Opposition’s acceptance that this is a good idea; I thought that they would. It is about being in the business of conflict prevention. One of the problems that we see is failed states and small conflicts being allowed to balloon into large-scale conflicts that displace people around the world. We should be there earlier with conflict prevention and help the resilience of many countries either that neighbour a failing state or where conflict could balloon out of control. Perhaps the best way for all of us to avoid both significant cost and stress and bloodshed is to be there properly and helping alongside aid agencies, the United Nations and others to ensure that conflict does not grow.
BATUS–the British Army training unit, Suffield—is not closing in its entirety; we will use it for different functions and purposes. It is a huge training area, and one of its challenges has been air, the demands on integration and getting a multi-domain operation running while using forces—a whole armoured battle group in effect—in the middle of Canada, when we could have greater effect by having them closer to home and more ready. Readiness and presence deters our adversaries. Sitting in Tidworth on a month’s notice to deploy does not put off an adversary such as Russia, which constantly exercises and changes the readiness profile of its forces to keep all of us guessing. That is one of our challenges. We are often worried by Russia’s actions and, after the recent Zapad exercise and the build-up of forces on the edge of Ukraine, it is right that NATO countries are deeply concerned by that activity.
I say to the Opposition that this is an increase in funding, in both capital and RDEL. It is a force designed to ensure that we get the right balance between people and equipment. If we play the numbers of people game, we will see, as we have seen over the decades, that the losers will be in equipment. We then get forces such as those when I served that are hollowed out and not able or ready enough to deliver the wanted effect. We should not forget that when the Iraq war happened in 2003 and a so-called armoured division was deployed, it was in fact one armoured brigade, 3 Commando Brigade and 16 Air Assault Brigade. It was not the armoured division in the field; it was pushed together in a whole group of different forces. That is because we need to be adaptable to the threat and the enemy so that, yes, when a conflict breaks out, we can deliver critical mass, but we also have to be in a position to join together with our allies, as we always have since the war. NATO is an alliance that we must plug in and out of to be part of a greater force to reach critical mass and, indeed, have concentration of forces.
There is much to unpick in this big announcement, but may I commend the Defence Secretary on this major evolution in our expeditionary posture and defence structure, given the financial constraints that he faces? There are multiple fires around the world where such forces could lead or join alliances as we do in Mali, such as in Yemen, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Lebanon as well as, indeed, closer to home in Poland and Ukraine. However, if there were a more proactive UK foreign policy and we were more ambitious in the spirit of global Britain and engaged in any serious enduring commitment, our shrinking armed forces would be severely tested, highly trained though they may be.
Does the Defence Secretary agree that our world is becoming more dangerous and complex and that the scale of migrants fleeing failed states, with some attempting to cross the channel, is testament to that and will only increase? Therefore, as we wisely fine-tune our ability to fight, this is not the time to cut the defence budget or to reduce our tanks, our armoured fighting vehicles and our troop numbers as we are doing.
My right hon. Friend, like me, served in regiments that were hollowed out or did not quite do what it said on the tin because of either chronic underfunding or overambition without the funds to match. I totally understand his point and agree that the world is a more anxious, insecure place. Next year in particular will test many parts of the world and our resolve to stand up for what we believe in. However, how far we want to be ambitious and to commit to doing things, and how much determination and resolve there is to stick at the problem, is a matter for each Government of the day.
I understand my right hon. Friend’s point that we should be prepared to do more and to be more ambitious. I think he has called for 3% of GDP to be spent on defence. The reforms that we are putting forward and the Army of the future as designed matches the current ambition of the Government. If the decision is made to be more ambitious—that is of course for me and for other members of the Government—I will not be shy in asking for more funding and investment. Indeed, I have received an extra £2 billion to the budget since the comprehensive spending review to take on different pressures and in recognition that the threat defines what we can deliver. That is why we see an extra 500 soldiers. I have always said that it is not an arbitrary, “Here is the number,” and I have always resisted any attempt of the system to deliver that. It is ultimately about making sure that we match our ambition and appetite to our funding.
I have aimed for the reforms to be as honest as possible and to do what it says on the tin. It might not be enough for many Members of this House—it might be too much for others—but what I do not want is, as we have all seen, men and women in the armed forces to be overstretched and asked to do things with inadequate kit, because that is the worst way to treat them.
I thank the Secretary of State for Defence for earlier sight of his statement. The scale of military, hybrid, environmental and global threats that we face must be met with a willingness, capability and capacity needed to address them comprehensively. There is much to welcome in the future soldier initiative, although there are questions about how the Government will deliver on it given that, in the past, best practice in relevant areas has been sadly lacking. The Scottish National party therefore has a number of questions.
First, with the newly raised Ranger Regiment, what steps are the Government taking to ensure compatibility with allied frameworks as we develop the new future solider capabilities? How do we best integrate that with our NATO allies?
Secondly, we have just come through COP26, where huge commitments were made on the environment. How is future soldier adapting our Army to the environments and theatres that the Army will face, given the threat of instability and crises posed by future climate change across the world?
On procurement, a recent report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee found that,
“The Department continually fails to learn from its mistakes”,
and condemned the system as “broken”. Why do the Government not hold their hands up and admit that a total rehaul of procurement is required, particularly given the need for an agile and modernising Army built on innovation in terms of personnel and hardware? It is all very well for the Secretary of State to announce spending increases, but if that money is spent poorly, it is not in the best interests of the taxpayer or the serving personnel whom we want to support and ensure are as safe as they can be in different theatres.
Lastly, on Scotland, despite what the Secretary of State said in his statement, we still face base closures and a downturn in the presence of British forces in our country, which completely contravenes commitments given by many of his predecessors. As the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) suggested, the devil will be in the detail of this complex statement and we will need to look at it in great detail as the weeks unfold.
How will Scottish personnel be integrated in the future soldier initiative? How will the Secretary of State deal with the long-standing skills shortages, which are being compounded by issues in pay and conditions, which have an impact on the ability to recruit and retain soldiers across the armed forces? I look forward to his response.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions. On the Rangers, we envisage that a large proportion of their time will not necessarily be spent with NATO allies. They may be in Africa, the middle east or further afield. We have already started spending the money to equip them to be, if necessary, more independent. The reason that they are partly special is that they will often have to deploy without the usual huge amount of logistical support that a normal conventional unit gets, so they will have to be effectively a more selected cadre of people with better equipment to be able to be more independent and more 360 in their integration.
They may well be alongside an African country with a lesser communications capability. Part of what we are trying to do is to help those countries by sometimes being their enabler and giving them support in signals, helicopters, or intelligence and surveillance so that they can understand what is coming, and I think the Rangers will be able to do that. In anticipation of NATO’s requirements, we will be plugged into the NATO special operations forces to make sure that we are aligned where we can be.
On equipment, I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I have been clear that I feel that Ajax is a troubled programme and I have been incredibly open about the problems it faces. I will not hesitate to take difficult decisions. There are other programmes that I am deeply worried about, some of which are long programmes—too long—and some of which are on my watch or my predecessor’s watch. I am determined that the way forward is a transparent discussion and openness. The MOD has often been a victim of suspicion because it will not talk to anyone about anything. I am not that way inclined and I or my Minister for Defence Procurement, my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), will be quick to come to the House and explain all the issues faced by that and other programmes.
I would say that complex systems are complex. The hon. Gentleman is a member of the SNP, which runs Scotland. Its experience with the Ferguson Marine yard is, I am afraid, a good example of difficult procurement choices and difficult management. The management of that yard by the SNP is not a track record any more glorious than that of Ajax.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. The SNP talks a good game, but when it runs a shipyard it runs it into the ground by the looks of things. We should remember that.
On Scottish units and basing, since March, it has not been a secret that the overall size of the Army is shrinking, but the proportion of the Army in Scotland is going up from 5.1% to 5.5% of regulars. The Army is just one part of the armed forces, however, and there will be a net increase of approximately 600 regular personnel in Scotland. They will be made up of more Navy personnel as we have moved HMS Dolphin from Portsmouth to the Clyde for the training of submariners and a training centre there, and more RAF personnel in Lossiemouth when I base the E-7 early warning radar planes there. That means that there is an overall increase. If we add that together with all the elements of the reserves and the extras, about 14,500 forces of regulars and reserves will be based in Scotland, which is a significant amount.
As a Scot and a member of a Scottish regiment, let me say that the saving of Glencorse is also pleasing and will be a good thing for Scotland, as is the expansion of RAF Leuchars as another military base. I was determined to ensure that we still have the Army in the highlands, so the Royal Engineers will remain at Kinloss, which is a large base so there is extra room should we seek to put any more forces there. We will also have two Scottish regiments based in Scotland plus the cavalry regiment, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, which is good for recruiting and for the economy in Scotland.
I also say to the hon. Gentleman that it might help our soldiers if the SNP did not tax them a bit higher than their English colleagues. They do not have a choice about where they are based; they are based where they are based.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman talked about courses and education. I hope that the Scottish Government sort out education in Scotland. As a Scot, let me say that education and financial stewardship were among Scotland’s proudest things, and both have failed on the SNP’s watch. The tragedy is that the children of our armed forces serving in Scotland face the consequences at those schools.
The British Army cannot fight without effective kit, but the Public Accounts Committee has declared the MOD’s procurement system “broken”, which it is, and has described the General Dynamics Ajax programme as a catastrophe. The next debacle is the Morpheus programme to replace Bowman, which also has General Dynamics effectively in the lead, and is horribly late and going round in circles as Bowman becomes increasingly obsolescent. Will the Secretary of State take personal grip of Ajax and Morpheus? What steps is he taking to ensure that his officials who brief him on those programmes tell him the truth?
I do not disagree with my right hon. Friend’s observations about the troubled programmes of Ajax and Morpheus. Not knowing that he was going to ask the question, I had a meeting on Morpheus yesterday with officials. My Minister for Defence Procurement is close to all those issues to the extent of examining emails to make sure that we get to the bottom of the whole range of problems on issues such as Ajax.
A health and safety report is due to report soon; it is going through the Maxwellisation process. We will get to the bottom of not only what is happening to the programme and why it potentially damaged our soldiers’ hearing in the trials, but why we did not act on any of those reports over the timescale of the programme. In addition, I will leave no stone unturned in relation to how we apportion blame. I will consider external judicial, or perhaps former judicial, personnel to look at those issues, because it is really important not only that we are open about the challenges of the programme but that we fundamentally learn the lessons and people carry the can for some of their decisions.
The Secretary of State is a military gentleman and served in the same regiment as my brother-in-law. Two of his colleagues on the Treasury Bench served Queen and country diligently and well, for which we thank them. When they joined the British Army, it was a viable career with opportunities. My question to the Secretary of State is simple: can he say, with his hand on his heart, that the reduction in the size of the British Army will not, sadly, discourage people from following the successful path that he and his colleagues followed?
I would have stayed in the Army if it had looked like this, but I was in an Army that I think was hollowed out. The equipment did not quite work and the greatest adventure anyone had was probably going to Northern Ireland every two years—that was about as far as it went. Hong Kong had closed and there was a lack of sense of purpose and a lack of a clearly identified adversary that we were setting ourselves against. That is really important.
This Army will be more exciting, more rewarding and more enabling for young people to grow their skills. It will be more fluid with the integration of the reserves, which will allow reserves and regulars to be much more able to move from one to the other, depending on their personal circumstances. There is the investment in the different models for family accommodation and single living accommodation, and a determination to be out and about around the world. The one thing that soldiers do not want is to be stuck in a barracks in the UK doing not very much. They want to be out. I was in Oman only the other week seeing soldiers exercising with the Omanis, and they could not stop talking about how exciting and fun it was. I was in Poland last week watching the United Kingdom forces doing a live-firing exercise in Poland alongside Polish, United States and Croatian forces. That is what I want our Army to do.
When we are thinking about soldiers’ careers, we have to have a system that is much more enabling to them to move up and down the different functions of, for example, the infantry. By ensuring that we have these infantry divisions, young officers and young soldiers can, if there is not enough space in their own battalion to be a sergeant or a colour sergeant, move to promotions in such a function in a similar battalion in a similar division. A young officer who does not want to do armoured warfare, but wants to be with a security force assistance battalion abroad, they have such opportunities to move up and down. I think that will be exciting and flexible, and it will be an Army that will retain people because it will give them an exciting career and make sure that their families are properly looked after.
I declare my interest as an active reservist and a proud father of two serving officers. For 20 years, I have been fighting what has at times seemed like a rearguard action to keep Army officer selection in Westbury in my constituency. The location will be familiar to the Secretary of State and his two colleagues on the Government Front Bench who went through the process. Will he today commit to a future for the Army officer selection board at Leighton House in my constituency, and how will we invest in that site to ensure that the future officers implied by his description of the challenges going forward have the skills, attributes and characteristics equal to the tasks of the future, as they have been in the past?
My right hon. Friend has been a more than doughty campaigner on the regular commissions board. Let me put it this way: for many of us on these Benches, the Army would not be the Army without the RCB in Westbury. It is part of the rite of passage. I did not want to see it leave Westbury, and my right hon. Friend persuaded me against any move. He has done a brilliant job, and I am delighted that it is going to remain there. My hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement would be delighted to meet him about the investment opportunities, but who could miss the logistics command task about how to cross a fictional river and work out whether we could do it with three or four people?
The Northumberland Royal Fusiliers was first given the freedom of Newcastle in 1948, and the freedom parade of the 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers through the streets of Newcastle with bayonets fixed is a symbol of the ongoing links between the fusiliers and Newcastle. Will the Secretary of State set out how this reorganisation will maintain and enhance those strong and prosperous links, which are so important both for public confidence and for recruitment?
First, on what we will see in the hon. Member’s part of the world, we will see one addition. While there are bases that have been reprieved or saved and have gone up in numbers—Glencorse, for example, or indeed the new bases in Wales—the Topcliffe site will close, but the Newcastle site will double in size. We will continue to expand in the north-east and invest in our soldiers.
When it comes to culture, what we have done with the infantry is ensure that the four divisions of infantry are aligned with their similar cultures. We have not got rid of the cap badges. By making some of these bases effectively bigger, by putting in two units rather than one, and integrating our reserves at a much greater level in our frontline—such as our “teeth” arm units—people will be able to join the reserves of some of those famous regiments and find themselves, when they go into work, in a regular unit, or side by side with one. I think that will be a great opportunity.
I have been to what were then called Territorial Army units that were windy, empty, cold drill halls, with only about four people, and miles away from their parent unit. That was not a way to maintain people feeling used and useful; in fact, people would drift away, feeling quite isolated. There is work ongoing about making sure that we, in effect, reverse the atomisation of the reserves to ensure people are part of a bigger ongoing concern. I would be delighted to share any more details about the north-east with the hon. Member.
When Geoff Hoon announced an exponential increase in the roles for females in the armed forces, I welcomed it from the Opposition Benches, but praying in aid St Bernard of Clairvaux, I pointed out that there would be an administrative overhead to be paid. For that I was rewarded with an early-day motion concerning the disgraceful behaviour of the Member for New Forest West, but given the way things have turned out, my words were prophetic. I have another prophecy I would like to share with the Minister for the Armed Forces, if he will indulge me with a short meeting.
The Minister for the Armed Forces will be delighted to hear the prophecy offered. What I can say is that we should and we will do more not only to encourage, but to keep women in the armed forces. It has not been good enough, from the day of the announcement, to encourage it. We have not changed our culture enough, and we have not made sure we value them enough. On 29 November, we shall submit to the Defence Committee our response to the women in the armed forces report, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton), and I hope we will really start to motor and make the difference.
First, I thank the Secretary of State for his clear commitment to the job in hand, and I welcome the additional Royal Irish Regiment commitment he mentioned and the increased cadet reserve forces for Northern Ireland. On the ground in Northern Ireland, there will clearly be a greater footprint and extra people available. However, may I kindly comment on the overall reported 9,000 smaller size of the Army as a whole? Even with the additions he has referred to, there will be reduced numbers, and that is somewhat concerning. Even though our soldiers are still the best in the world—we certainly relate to that—will this not mean reduced capability, and surely we must have soldiers in cyber-space along with soldiers in ground space?
I understand the hon. Member’s point about the overall size. We will obviously be a more productive Army, but we are also going to use equipment that needs fewer people and crews to deliver. I am pleased that one of the Ranger battalions will be in Northern Ireland. I think that will be exciting for the men and women of that regiment, and it will also go to the esprit de corps of Northern Ireland or Ulster soldiers, who have not only contributed to the British armed forces for decades—for hundreds of years—but have always been of outstanding quality. We do recognise some of the issues about mass, but we think that critical mass is often more important in ensuring that we are out and about and present to make our adversaries think differently. Overall, I think Northern Ireland has a great future. We certainly know that the other Royal Irish Regiment battalion will be moving to Edinburgh, so they will be able to see each other—almost.
I commend the Secretary of State for being clearly on top of and in command of his brief. I welcome the plans for a fully deployable, fully modernised, full-scale warfighting division. That is planned for 2030, but major serious threats may not wait until then. In also welcoming the plans for the new Ranger Regiment, when will elements of that at battalion scale be deployable?
First, I know my hon. Friend is keen in the Parachute Regiment world, and I think there is an enhancement to the Air Assault Brigade, with an extra unit going in there, which is very important. It is also important to know, when we talk about the Rangers, that there is a difference between special forces and special operations. There is a difference between what we have with our excellent, amazing, elite soldiers of 16 Air Assault Brigade and what the Rangers will do. The Rangers will not deploy as a battalion, but in teams, and therefore make a difference in a different way. I do not want people to be confused: I do not want people in 16 Air Assault Brigade to think we have invented something that competes. It is not that at all; it is a different part of special operations. I know my hon. Friend will definitely understand that. First and foremost, the Rangers have to get up to the standard. I do not want it to run before it can walk. It will not deploy as a battalion—I do not expect it to—but, over the years, I suspect it will become more multi-armed or multi-disciplinary in that some countries will not want infantry, but may want signals or logistics support, so I think it will change. We are getting its first battalion up to capability by 2022—next year.
York is the UK’s oldest military city and we are very proud to have the home headquarters of 1st Division and 4th Division 2 Signal Regiment. We believe that long history should continue. However, with a decrease in the size of our armed forces, we are particularly concerned about the loss of soft power, which makes an amazing contribution to de-escalating risk around the world. Will the Secretary of State commit to investing more in that soft power and de-escalation, and will he look again at the opportunity York provides not just for the new resilient home reservists but for our regulars, who love to come to York? That does help with recruitment, too.
I understand. The hon. Lady will know that Imphal barracks is already designated to close at the end of the decade, but she should also be pleased that the new 19 reserve brigade will be based in her constituency.
On soft power, we are creating eight battalions-worth of regiments that are designed to help in that space of security force assistance, training and resilience. They will go right up to the harder end, if that is what countries need, with Rangers doing training and enabling but also potentially fighting, or operating alongside those countries’ forces, if they have to. That is a lot of capability, and we see examples of that from our forces all over the world: I have seen the Royal Engineers in Sudan helping to build in areas where only soldiers can build because of the resilience required. That will not stop, and it is partly what is at the heart of our defence Command Paper, recognising that post-conflict and pre-conflict activities are as important as actual war fighting capability. That is really important, because it is how we avoid wars happening in the first place.
Yesterday when I looked at the faces of young soldiers outside Parliament, I believe I saw a number of people who were haunted by their experiences. Will my right hon. Friend therefore make sure that in his people plan he develops our war fighting resilience by taking concrete steps to better equip members of our armed forces for what they will see on operations and better help them recover their mental health afterwards?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. What people want to do is changing, and so too is their own personal resilience; this is a different youth generation from mine, and we have to move as fast as we can to keep up with that. He is right that there will be people on tours such as Op Pitting who will face consequences in their mental health for decades to come; we have to be on top of that, and the Minister for Defence People and Veterans is setting about NHS improvement on mental health.
We also need to improve our training. I went up to Thetford last year and saw the troops planning for Mali, and indeed at that stage for Afghanistan. It was amazing to see how much better the training was even then compared with my day. We now use genuine citizens, or former citizens, of those countries to help train our troops in what the civilian population is like. In my day the local regiment turned up and pretended to be Iraqi or whatever, which did not usually work. We have to be more sophisticated about training now, and I will definitely take my hon. Friend’s suggestions on board.
This year we have seen a lot of very valuable discussion about women’s safety and rights, and rightly so. Unfortunately, we also know the armed forces do not have the best record on these issues, so, on White Ribbon Day, will the Secretary of State confirm that these reforms will prioritise the safety of women soldiers and set out the steps being taken to do so?
The hon. Lady tempts me to get ahead of the report I have to give first to the Defence Committee. I would not want to eat their sandwiches for them, so all I would say is that I agree with many of her observations and we do have steps in place, but I will let the Committee criticise my attempts when it gets to them.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. Can he confirm that Army numbers will stay above 100,000 personnel including reserve forces, and will he outline how the greater agility and flexibility he has described as being created will improve our deployment capabilities when required?
One way we want to use the hubs is to have longer tours in places, rather than just a few weeks. In some of our overseas exercises we used to go there, get off the plane, do the exercise and then get back on the plane; we might as well have gone no further than around the corner. We had no influence in the region and learned nothing about it. Now we will see much more exercising in places like Oman and Kenya to enable us to be forward and present. Over the past five years we have had an armoured battle group in Estonia, permanently really—it rotates through every six months, but in fact it is a permanent location. Our presence there is deterring Russia as an adversary, and we are part of a multinational battle group; there are four or five such groups in that part of the world. I am determined that one of the premiums we get from being forward—just being in the area—is deterrence. It also makes us more ready, and if we are more ready, we are more productive when something happens.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. As a member of the armed forces parliamentary scheme I was lucky enough to visit the Army Foundation College in Harrogate, a truly outstanding facility training young soldiers and creating life-changing opportunities. How will the Army’s training facilities support the restructure outlined today?
My hon. Friend has prompted me to visit Harrogate. One of the biggest mistakes in “Options for Change”, a defence review I served under in 1990, was getting rid of what were then called junior leaders—young men who were brought into the Army at 16. That had knock-on effects, certainly in infantry recruiting, and I was glad that it was reversed about 15 years ago.
Harrogate does an amazing job. We must remember that these are young people who need safeguarding; we have to always keep an eye out for that, and safeguarding the young people parents entrust to us is one of the things I am most concerned about. We can do a number of things: we must make sure the training is as relevant as possible, with the right equipment; and we must also make sure those young people are safeguarded when they are, effectively, released by their parents to come under our duty of care. We must work on sending out the message that their children are safe with us and we will give them a great career.
When the planned disposal of Vauxhall barracks in my constituency takes place, I and many of my constituents hope we might use some of the land for increased health services, because ours are bursting at the seams. Is there an update on the disposal date for the barracks, and will my right hon. Friend work with me and his colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care to explore the possibility of putting a Didcot health hub on that site?
I am sorry to say to my hon. Friend that the disposal of Vauxhall barracks will now be delayed for a further six years, to 2034. It is a useful barracks for our forces and is in demand. If he would like, however, I am happy to meet him about a range of issues, including whether we can free up any other defence land to help him with that. While some colleagues campaign to keep barracks, there is a delicate balance to strike, but I am afraid the Army requires that barracks up until 2034.