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Strategic Defence and Security Review

Volume 776: debated on Monday 21 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are intending to review the Strategic Defence and Security Review in relation to maintaining the size of the army at 82,000 personnel and increasing the size of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

My Lords, the Government have no plans to reopen the strategic defence and security review. The national security strategy established clear national security objectives and the SDSR set out a funded plan to achieve them, all based on a clear-eyed assessment of the risks and threats that we face. Our energy is now devoted to its delivery, including the desired size of each of the armed services.

SDSR 2010 reduced the size of the Army from 102,000 to 95,000. Three years later, in Army 2020, this was further reduced to 82,000. Despite paying Capita £440 million to take over Army recruitment, this September we had an Army of just 76,000 trained personnel. But lo and behold, last Thursday the Government changed the definition of “trained personnel” and tell us that we now have an Army of 80,780—5,000 more this month than we had last month. Do the Government have any idea of the true size of the British Army, and when will they get to grips with recruitment, as both the Navy and the RAF are smaller than they promised they would be?

My Lords, the key question is whether the Army is configured with enough strength to deliver the demands that we place upon it. We are clear that it is. The noble Lord is absolutely right that we have a way to go on recruitment, but the figures are heading in the right direction—that is, the inflow figures are looking encouraging. The change in definition of “trained strength” is simply a reversion to previous methods, which included phase 1 trained personnel as part of the trained strength, with their ability to engage in homeland resilience and in basic tasks that we place upon them within the UK.

My Lords, Russia is growing in intent and capability. We are not only not matching either but we are shrinking in both. We do not have enough numbers in the RN and the RAF to man properly the equipment we have today. Brexit will surely demand that we be prepared to operate more autonomously. Surely the Government must realise that SDSR 2015 is not fit for purpose.

The question is whether the Joint Force 2025 concept that we set out in the SDSR is the right choice for the current strategic context. We are clear that it is. It is a concept that is about making more effective use of our Armed Forces because it both invests in new capabilities and makes better use of the people we have. Of course, with more people and more equipment we could do more, but we are satisfied that the Armed Forces will be the right size to meet our defence and security policy requirements. I say that without wishing to give the impression that we are complacent, because we are not—these things are under constant review. However, we must remember that we face these challenges not alone but alongside our allies and partners.

My Lords, the world has changed since the last review—it has been only a year, but think of what has happened and what has changed. As far as I am concerned, we are living in the most troublesome time of my lifetime, and I have lived through both the war and the confrontation with Russia. I have asked for permission to have a full defence debate in this House because this is a most serious subject. Does my noble friend agree that, because of what is happening in Europe and in the United States of America, not only has the situation changed but the demands placed on our armed services could be greater in the years to come?

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend’s request will not have fallen on deaf ears as regards the usual channels. I am happy to speak to him afterwards about the possibility of a debate on these matters. We are not complacent about Russian capabilities, the political changes in the United States or Brexit. We remain, however, fully committed to NATO and our European partners, with whom we will deter threats across a wide spectrum in order to protect our people. We have a readiness action plan that we have developed with NATO. That gives NATO the tools needed to respond to short-notice, or indeed no-notice, incidents in order to protect alliance territory.

My Lords, our defence is supported by a skilled Civil Service. Will the Minister confirm whether the SDSR commitment to reduce MoD staff by 30% by 2020 is still on track and what proportion the Government anticipate will be carrying out the same role but with a new employer?

It is too early for me to answer the last part of the noble Baroness’s question, but I acknowledge that the last few percentage points in that 30% target are challenging—there is no doubt about that. At the same time, what we are impressing on our people is that to the extent that they are able to save money from a reduction in the Civil Service headcount, all that money is to be ploughed back into the defence budget under the efficiency agreement with the Treasury.

My Lords, I am afraid that the comfortable words about our defence forces just will not wash. I am delighted that, in this Chamber and in the other place, there is a growing ground-swell of people who understand that we have not got sufficiently strong defence forces. That awareness is now growing in the public at large. This is a real concern, bearing in mind the risk. Is it possible to get the NSC to have a half-day’s discussion, or ideally a day’s discussion because it always meets for such short periods, to look at what capabilities we have—and my goodness me, they have been suffering death by a thousand cuts—and what that means for our position in the world and what we can do about the threats that are all around us?

Again, my Lords, I am sure that that message can be conveyed very easily to the National Security Council. I recognise the concerns that the noble Lord has. It is no use denying that we live in a more dangerous and troublesome world. I come back to the Joint Force 2025 concept. It is a long-term programme, but it is designed to enable our Armed Forces to respond to a wider range of more sophisticated potential adversaries and complex real-world challenges. I believe that that is the right direction in which to go.

My Lords, what is the present strength of the Territorial Army, and what contribution is it making to the figures given by my noble friend?

My Lords, the Army Reserve, as it is now known, is currently 28,080 and our target is to reach 30,000 by 2020.

My Lords, on configuration, why do we have 40 admirals and all their attendant costs? Would not that money be better spent on the front line?

My Lords, I would refer the noble Lord and noble Lords in general to the Written Answer I gave on that very subject the other day, which explains that the number of admirals should not be taken in the context of the Royal Navy alone but in the much wider context of our NATO commitments and other commitments around the world.