Motion to Take Note
My Lords, in moving the Motion in my name, I should indicate that the amount of time available for the debate makes it very tight for speakers, so I will do my best to keep my comments relatively short. In doing so, I make clear that I do not intend to speak at any length on either weapons systems or troop numbers. Important as they are, there are many other speakers who are better equipped than me to speak on such matters. What I seek to do is talk about our defence strategy in relation to our foreign policy. We should start by recognising, as we always do, that defence is the handmaiden of foreign policy. I also recognise, because it is important to do so, that defence is important not only for war fighting but as a policy of war deterrence. That profoundly important issue is often underestimated.
My concern, like that of many others in recent years, is that we have a defence policy that seeks to be full-spectrum, but we are not putting up the necessary money to make that credible. History gives us plenty of lessons to show that there are few things more dangerous than the defence policy of a major power that has become incredible instead of credible. We are in acute danger of getting into that situation. In saying that, I echo comments made by many senior military experts in this country, and most important, those of many of our allies, not just the United States.
In recent years, we have seen a decline in our ability to fund our various systems to the level necessary to make them credible. I cannot overstate the importance of that point, and I know that many Members will speak to it in the debate. To put it bluntly, at the moment we are putting forward a defence posture for the United Kingdom that looks sophisticated, arguing—as the Minister has often done—that it is the fifth most expensive defence policy in the world, but we are not putting in the money to make it credible. One of the main messages I would like to get over in this debate is that although I look forward very much to the forthcoming strategic defence review, this is now such an important issue, particularly following Brexit, about which I shall say more in a moment, that we need to revisit it frequently over the coming year or two. This is a fast-moving situation and one to which we will not get a quick answer in one strategic defence review. I ask the Government to start thinking hard about how Parliament—indeed, the Government itself, most obviously—can think about this in the long term and be prepared to react to the changes that are taking place in the world.
The budget for defence should be increased. I know the Minister is likely to say that we aim to increase it to 2.5%, but if we are to maintain our current posture, we are more sensibly talking about 3%. My worry, which I will come back to, is whether we will be prepared to afford that with our economy, particularly in relation to Brexit. It is affordable, but will we be prepared to afford it? If not, we have to cut our defence posture to make it more relevant to what we are prepared to pay. I repeat: the most crucial thing is having a credible defence force, not one that people think is unlikely to be delivered effectively.
As I think most people have noticed, in recent years the world has become a much more unstable place, due to emerging new powers, which are rising very fast. To some extent, it is a success of the West that, over the years, we have seen a number of countries develop with good governance, even if it is not the type of government we would choose for ourselves. As a result, their economies are improving; as they do, they will spend more money on defence. That is one reason why we are unlikely to remain the fifth-largest spending nation in due course. Those new, rising powers are also challenging the status quo. History tells us that wars develop when there is a rapid change in the balance of power between nations. We know that, going back to the wars in Athens a couple of thousand years ago; we recognise that when there is a change in the balance of power between existing states, peace is at risk.
It does not follow that I am therefore full of doom and gloom that we are about to be launched into a major war. There are many checks now that did not exist before—on international institutions, the global economy and a range of such options—which make it less likely. Nevertheless, it is a serious danger; there is also a danger of major wars, in any event. We need look no further than the Middle East to see that, as sadly we so often have to do; the relationships there are changing very dramatically. If we look at the recent movement in Turkey, we see an example of a country moving away from its recent posture of close engagement with Europe and the West to a different role. Look at the development of the strange alliance emerging in the Middle East between Israel and the Arab states in the face of what they see as a greater fear—Iran. That conflict between Iran and the Arab states dates way back to the origins of the divisions in Islam, which caused so many problems for the Islamic community, just as the divisions in Christianity did. It would therefore be a mistake to put these problems down to any one religion; they happen in all religions. People do not always like it, but I often say that God is an idea but religion is an ideology and, like all ideology, subject to splits. Splits happen in religion and, unfortunately, people are prepared to fight and die for them. That is an important point that we sometimes forget.
The other reason to be concerned about instability is the rise of nationalism in the West, with the election of Donald Trump, Brexit in the UK, the situation in Turkey—as I have already mentioned—and other events. Nationalism is not something to be totally ashamed of, but it is something to be wary of. As someone born in the 1930s, although I do not remember the nationalism of that period, I am close enough to its history; having grown up during the Second World War, I have seen the effects of nationalism and how it can destroy communities, civilisations and nations. We need to be aware of that as another factor in change.
The third factor, which is incredibly important—I know that the Government take it seriously, but we will need to come back to it—is changing technology. We are all aware of cyberwarfare; we are increasingly aware of robots; we all know about drones; and we all know about intelligence, although the nature of that is changing rapidly. I shall give just a simple example. If I had longer, I might spell out others, particularly in robotic development. If we look at the use of drones, which I do not object to, in either Afghanistan or Syria, we see that they are effective in limiting civilian casualties, because otherwise air power or artillery are used less effectively. However, we should be aware that the technology that allows drones to be used in the way that we are using them can also be developed, and will be developed, by non-state actors, including by even very small groups. We should beware the dangers of such technology being used in existing civilisations and societies. In the age of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, those early warnings were perhaps relevant to what we have to say.
I have already indicated that my preference would be for an increase in defence expenditure. I do not think there are any shortcuts to this. Some in my own party and elsewhere will say, “We need to get rid of Trident”. I have no problem with dealing with such issues multilaterally; I have every fear about doing so unilaterally, because major changes in the defence policy of a significant power inevitably have a knock-on effect on other powers. That is another factor that can increase the risk of war, which is why I say that defence is an important way of preventing war and not just of fighting it.
We need a radical review of our defence posture. One SDR will not be enough. Post Brexit, it is difficult to know what will happen. I have taken the view for a long time—since it happened, actually, although I think it was a mistake—that Brexit can be made to work, but we should recognise, first, that it will take a long time and, secondly, that we are underestimating its political impact. We all talk, quite rightly, about the economic impact, but the political impact is enormous. I had lunch with an old contact of mine in the Chinese embassy from quite a few years ago. He is now the first secretary, and he came along with the second secretary to meet me here. I asked him what China thought about Britain’s exit from the European Union. He gave a very quick and clear answer: “I think both the European Union and the United Kingdom have lost influence as a result of that action”. Whether we agree with him or not, let us please recognise that this view is common across the world. Let us bear in mind that it has been United States policy since the end of the Second World War to have Britain in Europe, because it saw Britain as a stabilising influence within it. It also saw it as a necessary bridge between the US and Europe. The problem, as I have said on a number of occasions, is that many Europeans, for very good historical reasons, with all the wars, occupations and defeats, saw the European Union as a politically emerging state—we might even say a superstate, although it is a wrong term—whereas the British always thought of it as a super-market. We did not see the commitment to the politics of Europe as they see it in Europe itself.
That change is profoundly important. It might mean that we have to accept that, in changing our defence policy, despite Brexit, we have to work much more closely with the European Union. I am not one who takes the view that Europe should not develop its own defence policy. It is important that we link it with NATO, but I do not believe that Europe will avoid developing the outlines—as they will be at first—of both a defence policy and a foreign policy. It is in our interest for it to do that; it is not in our interest to go back to a system where each state had its own arrangements. We often forget how relatively new the nation states are. The other day I saw that, until about 100 years ago, Poland was part of Austria. When we look at things like that, we should recognise that the way change happens in Europe can be dangerous.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to comments in the Library briefing on my debate made by Professor Chalmers, the deputy at the Royal United Services Institute. He points out that we need to look at,
“UK national security and requirements in the form of contributions, military and developmental”,
along with other allies. Secondly, and very importantly, he says that,
“a new SDSR would need to ask whether or not there should be a Pivot to Europe”,
the very point I was making a few moments ago. Thirdly, he says that,
“a new SDSR would provide an opportunity to review the case for, and against, a more global approach to foreign and security policy in the light of the exit deal”,
but also in light of the other issues I have mentioned.
I want a close relationship with the European Union—anyone in their right mind will want that—and it has to be political and economic as well. It does not mean that we do not have to exit the European Union, as the electorate have decided. What I want more than anything else from the next SDSR is a serious, in-depth look at the problems I have described. This is a major strategic crisis for the United Kingdom. “Crisis” may be too strong a word; it is perhaps more like what happened in the 1960s, as I remember well, when we looked, under Harold Wilson’s Government, at withdrawal from east of Suez and at cancelling advanced weapons systems, such as the TSR-2 and others, all of which we did because we were driven by the economics of it. The acute danger is that something similar is happening now but we are not facing up to it. We really have to get a strategy that works and that we have paid for. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soley, very strongly on the excellence of his speech and on the persuasiveness with which it was presented.
I start from the premise that the Government should not take any steps which could lead to the United Kingdom losing its permanent place on the UN Security Council. More defence cuts could also mean that our position as a leading member of NATO could be put in jeopardy. I do not need to remind the House that there have already been severe cuts. The removal of Nimrod dealt a significant blow to our maritime capabilities and to photoreconnaissance. We now learn with alarm from press reports that the specialist landing ships HMS “Albion” and HMS “Bulwark” may become the victims of further cost-cutting and that the strength of the Royal Marines could be reduced by 1,000.
Our allies have expressed concern about any such move, claiming that cuts to the Royal Marines and the loss of two amphibious ships could have an impact on the defence relationship between the United States and the UK. In a Remembrance Day interview Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said:
“We continue to evolve our force structure to match the threats we face and an amphibious capability is part of that force structure”.
At a recent local Conservative meeting very close to where I live, next to Muirfield in Scotland, the new Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, promised the gathering that he would fight for the Armed Forces. I wish him every success. Can the Minister today shed any light on the most up-to-date Government thinking on what should be the appropriate size and capabilities of our armed services?
I am sure that the Minister is well aware of the famous story of those Royal Marines who became known as the “Cockleshell Heroes”. Their exploits were recalled in a BBC television documentary called “The Most Courageous Raid of WWII”. It was presented extremely well, if I may say so, by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and the men he talked about were some of the bravest of the brave. Before setting off on their daring raid on ships serving the enemy in Bordeaux, they were told that they were not expected to return, yet not one of them wished to opt out. Only two of them survived.
For the Treasury to consider further cuts which could result in standing down up to 1,000 marines would be no way to treat some of the best servicemen in the world. If the answer is that we could always expand the Royal Marines again later, I can confirm from my own limited experience that highly trained service men and women bear no resemblance to untrained recruits.
Indeed, as a volunteer officer with the Cameronians, I witnessed the day of the disbandment of the regular battalion when a Government had axed three-quarters of the Territorial Army. The ceremony was on a lonely Lanarkshire moor, and to my astonishment no fewer than 22,000 people came. The minister taking the farewell service offered some memorable words. He said: “You who have never been defeated in battle are being eliminated by the stroke of a pen in Whitehall”. A few years later, I joined a Cameronian company in the newly formed 2nd Battalion of Lowland Volunteers but immediately learned that the new battalion had a great deal of hard work before it to be on a par with service personnel who had fought in a variety of wars, including the Second World War.
Today, many years later, it is feared that as a result of the latest defence and security review our Armed Forces could be pared back even further, without any regard for the excellence of the training of those involved or their achievements in recent conflicts and in supplying humanitarian relief after grave natural disasters. It will be dangerous if we do not correctly weigh in the balance the nature of the perils which face this country, including terrorism, cyberattacks, other threats which are continually changing, and the urgent need to build up and modernise the Armed Forces who protect our national security.
I hope that government Ministers can be persuaded that this is not the time to force cuts which would heavily reduce the manpower of our most outstanding units. Administrative convenience and yet more tightening of the purse strings should not be allowed to take precedence over operational necessity. We have an inescapable duty to protect our country men and women, and to give the United Kingdom the capability to play a beneficial and significant role on the world stage.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for arranging this timely debate. Of course, we should strive for a better world order. But to do so demands achieving and sustaining a position of strength, both moral and physical. The moral strengths are for others with greater insight to profess, but in recent years our physical combat strength has much reduced and is now too often belittled by friends and allies. Numerous pleas to correct this decline have failed to gain much traction in the minds of Governments. Yes, some financial uplift is forecast, but its promised benefit is greatly reduced, even nullified, by a mismatch between the essential purchases of new equipment—much funded by more expensive dollars—and unachievable economies in support and running costs. Constant claims about the 2% input do not focus minds on the one thing that really matters: the fieldable strengths and enduring capabilities that today’s Armed Forces can muster.
If we take history as our guide, this country has failed to be well prepared for conflict when it came. But, like the digital age in which we live, the outburst and speed of conflicts today will far outstrip experiences of the past. This critical point should highlight our current most serious weaknesses. Today we must face a foe with just what is to hand in the front line. It is the scarcity of key fighting tools, the stocks of weapons with which to arm them, and sufficient manpower to keep them going, even when taking casualties, that most concerns and alarms me.
Fortuitously, since the 1982 Falklands conflict, when six high-value ships were sunk and others crippled, aircraft brought down, and hundreds killed or wounded by a small and far from Premier League air force operating at extreme range from its bases, our expeditionary operations have enjoyed unrivalled air superiority in all subsequent conflicts. There is thus a danger in concluding that, like rebooting some virtual digital game, the next conflict will again be fought in a benign air situation. That is far too complacent a view.
What then? Our air forces would face losses in conflict; surface, and sub-surface forces too, might become vulnerable to loss if we could not provide mastery of the air. Unit losses counted on the fingers of one hand, let alone on the scale of those we suffered in three short weeks of combat in the Falklands, would amount to significant percentage setbacks to available strengths. Even small daily rates of loss could not be sustained.
Within a matter of days, not weeks, withdrawal or worse might become the only options available to government. Nor should Governments forget that the deterrent relies not solely on the horror of nuclear war, but on the capability first to resist an aggressor conventionally and with strength. How else should we show national resolve? Surely it would never be by quickly deciding to launch a Trident or two.
So my plea, even while supporting the many worthy activities that the noble Lord, Lord Soley, and others will espouse, is for all to realise how much such success depends on a vital precursor and enabler for this work: our assured ability to deter, and if necessary to fight off conventionally, any foe that challenges our military strength and resolve and threatens our freedoms and our ways of aiding others.
My Lords, I join others in commending the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for securing this debate and for framing it in this way. He made it clear that UK defence forces exist not only for the protection and promotion of immediate British interests but to contribute to global peace, stability and security. The scale of that task has obvious implications for the size of the defence budget and its distribution.
Unlike other noble Lords taking part in this debate, I am no expert at all in defence policy but I would like to make a case for continuing expert defence engagement in post-conflict situations, carefully co-ordinated with political processes and humanitarian assistance, to assist the war-damaged country to rebuild itself on every level. Indeed, I contend that British involvement in conflict brings with it a moral responsibility to remain engaged in the long-term reconstruction of the cities, societies and institutions which have been deconstructed—perhaps almost destroyed—in warfare. I also contend that this sort of activity is necessary for the prevention of future conflict and therefore that it pertains directly to our national security strategy, and so needs proper funding.
In 1945, the Allied control commission stationed Gwillym Williams in Kiel as the British branch officer for building. When the mayor of Kiel discovered that Williams came from Coventry, he was deeply moved: “This man had immediately done everything in his power to help a town which had shared the fate of his native city”, he wrote in a Kiel newspaper. The mayor called on his city to reach out to Coventry so that, in his words, “the names of our ravished cities can become the symbol of our spiritual and moral reawakening”. The Lord Mayor of Coventry reciprocated by visiting in 1947, and I joined the current mayor this year to celebrate 70 years of that relationship.
That is a story from a particular time and place, but perhaps it illustrates that commitment to the post-conflict reconstruction of buildings, institutions and security is a strategy for peace because it restores stability and reduces the risk of violence reoccurring. Post-Daesh Mosul is very different from post-war Kiel, but the critical issue there and in other liberated Iraqi cities is similarly: how can the cycle of violence that is a mark of modern Iraqi history be broken? To use an image of Jesus, if I may: how, having expelled one demon, can every effort be made to prevent seven returning?
Most of what I have said will be familiar to Her Majesty’s Government in principle. The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, which includes involvement, albeit limited, from the MoD, is the sort of integrated, cross-departmental approach to post-conflict reconstruction and stabilisation which I have advocated. Does the Minister consider that the MoD’s contribution to that fund reflects the strategic value of post-conflict reconstruction as a means of conflict prevention and achieving long-term British defence objectives? To put it in the terms of the noble Lord, Lord Soley: is our investment in a combination of defence, diplomacy and development assistance credible?
My Lords, if Ministers get defence wrong the nation will never forgive them, and the costs in blood and treasure are enormous. It was discovered that the decision to remove HMS “Endurance” from her role in the south Atlantic in the 1981 defence review was the trigger for Galtieri’s invasion of the Falklands, with a final cost to our nation of almost 300 British lives and £6 billion.
When armed forces are deployed properly and at the right level of strength, the outcome is very different. They stop wars happening. A good example was Operation Vantage in 1961 when the Iraqi regime threatened to invade Kuwait, which it did some years later. The immediate deployment of in-area assets—including Royal Marines from 42 Commando on HMS “Bulwark”, fixed-wing aircraft on board HMS “Victorious”, and 45 Commando on other amphibious shipping—stabilised the situation, war was averted and huge costs and many lives were saved.
The UK needs a stable world environment not only for the security of the nation and our people worldwide but for creation of wealth, and Brexit adds further weight to that. We are responsible for the defence and security of 14 dependencies worldwide. Global shipping is still run from London. We remain the largest European investor in south Asia, south-east Asia and the Pacific Rim. Return on these investments is hugely important for our trade figures. Shipping forms the sinews of our global village. It needs unimpeded global access.
Beyond this, we became a permanent member of the UN Security Council because we were one of the victorious powers in World War II. Military capability was a key part of the equation, and I argue that it remains so in the UN context and more widely. Yes, soft power is important and we are blessed in this country with an exceptional hand of factors that give us considerable clout, but soft power is as nothing if there is not hard power to back it up.
The significance of how our military capability was—and I stress “was”—perceived is shown by the numerous defence alliances we are involved in. As a key member of NATO, we and the US ensured the defence and security of Europe throughout the Cold War, which is illustrated by the fact that the US and the UK fill the key NATO command positions. Hollowing out of our Armed Forces since 2010 has led the rationale for that to be called into doubt by a number of our allies.
For 60 years we have had a mutual defence agreement with the United States. Separately, there are bilateral defence agreements with a number of European countries, and we have a web of agreements in the Gulf region and the five-power defence arrangements in south-east Asia. These commitments demand hard combat power, and I fear that our military is being hollowed out to such an extent that we are no longer capable of providing it.
Few of our population realise that SDSR 2010 cut our military capability by one third. It is quite extraordinary, and SDSR 2015 has not resolved that. The Americans have expressed growing concern about this diminishing military capability. It was most recently expressed by General Ben Hodges, commander of US forces in Europe. Despite what the chattering classes may say and jibe about, there is no doubt that in military and intelligence terms there is a special relationship with the United States which is extremely important to us. In a highly unpredictable and very dangerous world, the United States has until recently seen us as an ally with which it can stand shoulder to shoulder, and it will not be good for the world, the United States and, certainly, the United Kingdom should that change.
There is no doubt that the growing threat and modes of warfare have changed—indeed, they are always changing, but the terrorists’ threat is not an existential one unless they get their hands on an IND or a lethal pandemic pathogen. We also delude ourselves if we think that because of the importance of the digital domain—and, my God, it is important—we can avoid spending on hard combat power and replace it with spending on cyber, making huge savings. The two things are complementary. Cyber is not a panacea that will allow us to spend less money.
I thank my noble friend Lord Solely for instigating this debate. Defence does not get the attention it deserves, despite successive Prime Ministers and, indeed, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer mouthing the mantra that the defence and security of our nation and our people is the first duty of any Government. Do they really believe it? Yesterday was the Budget, and we saw no plans to increase defence spending—it was not even mentioned. The Government do not seem to care about the damage being done. We are standing into danger.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for giving me and others this chance to mention conflict resolution. In departmental budgets today, as the right reverend Prelate said, diplomacy, defence and aid are now entwined. Some 16 years ago, the FCO, DfID and MoD were brought together into a new conflict fund, whose life became quite hectic, as I will explain.
Of course, there are always fears that the MoD will have some claim on the aid budget, and one can see the reason for this. One problem is the difficulty of separating events such as refugee movements, which normally come under emergencies, from the need to prevent conflict, which is seen as a form of long-term development. In countries such as South Sudan, the two run side by side, because long-standing attempts at peacekeeping through the regional powers foundered in 2013 when the new SPLA national army and Government fell apart and created yet another world emergency.
The noble Lord, Lord West, although seeing the necessity for aid, has constantly raised this question, asking whether the defence budget is overstretched by our aid commitments. I completely understand his concern about that—although he did not mention it today—but I would say to him, first, that our Armed Forces, being highly trained, naturally do a superb job during emergencies. Secondly, it is surely part of the training of our Armed Forces that they are called upon and carry a degree of responsibility when an emergency occurs.
With Srebrenica in the news again this week, my mind often goes back to our commitments in the western Balkans and the tireless work done by our soldiers in rapidly erecting refugee camps for ethnic Albanians fleeing Kosovo into Albania and Macedonia. You can argue that these were NATO and KFOR defence commitments but they were not yet, to my mind, aid commitments calling on the DfID budget—they were a proper defence responsibility. But increasingly since that time there have been new emergencies and conflicts requiring new commitments, notably in implementing the relatively recent UN concept of R2P, the responsibility to protect.
It was partly for this reason that the Government established the Conflict Pool in 2001. Over the years, as someone who periodically visits countries in conflict such as Sudan, Nepal and Kosovo, I have heard from various sources that there were problems surrounding the Conflict Pool. Its performance was finally reviewed in 2012 by the very competent aid watchdog, ICAI, which rated the programme “amber red” and found that,
“its governance and management arrangements are cumbersome”,
and it has,
“little capacity for measuring results”.
On 1 April 2015, perhaps in response to this criticism, the fund converted into the CSSF—the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund—as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. In 2016-17, the CSSF had a total budget of over £1.1 billion and funded 97 programmes across the world, with an average expenditure of £5 million per programme.
I am delighted that the fund, in turn, is currently being scrutinised by ICAI. The commission started work in August. It is already collecting the findings and will report back next April. One finding will be that the MoD is contributing comparatively little. In the calendar year 2016, it gave an estimated £14.9 million, compared to the FCO’s £417 million and DfID’s £108 million. However, this was a considerable increase on the previous year.
I hope that the Minister will comment on the importance and the performance of the fund, and say whether he sees the MoD’s role expanding in future. Incidentally, I am delighted that the CSSF’s programme in Mali has been chosen for review, showing that Francophone countries are still a concern of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for initiating this most timely debate. I thought his speech was one of the most brilliant encapsulations of what is necessary today.
I think it is today that the cream of the international one-star military officers are attending a strategic forum held each year by the Royal College of Defence Studies, based in Belgrave Square, where they study for a whole year. I have had the pleasure of being present at these forums several times, and many of these young officers have risen to the very top of their countries’ command structures. For me, the most interesting aspect was that many were prepared to ask the most pointed and radical questions of the three-star and four-star officers addressing them, including His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan. I can say with great pride that many of these officers have trained at Dartmouth, Sandhurst and Cranwell and have always looked up and respected this country for having one of the world’s finest powerful armed services of the highest moral standing.
The questions are always totally polite but heavily loaded, just like in this House. The NATO 2%, quoted often and sometimes in a rather triumphant manner, seems to include everything but the proverbial “kitchen sink”. To complete the present programme, an extra £2 billion per annum is needed now, and that does not include our expanded role following Brexit.
I have been involved in international business for most of my working life. I bring that up because I think it might possibly help in our deliberations. In the international commercial world, one is up against some of the finest brainpower and the finest in technology every day of the week, and training is at the highest level. In this ever-changing world, though, innovation is crucial. If you do not innovate, you are dead in the water; indeed, you can raise capital to expand and retain your competitive edge only if you allow radical thinking its head and are always reinventing and ditching outdated ideas. Through the ages, and certainly since the Industrial Revolution, this has been the formula that has been the key to improving the lot of humanity worldwide in most fields of endeavour.
I bring these views to your Lordships’ attention because I strongly suggest that they can be applied to the present position of the Armed Forces. My personal view, as I have said before, is that we are at a crossroads and, sadly, we are moving quite fast down the wrong road. Although it is not surprising that most democratic countries reduce their armed forces after major conflict, accompanied by heavy reductions in their budgets, over a period of years inertia sets in, creating a creeping bureaucracy, and in time the senior thinking can easily become wedded more to yesterday than to tomorrow. Further, lack of money causes the three services understandably to protect their own endeavours rather than pull together.
Are we attracting our finest young people today, or are the Armed Forces their third choice because other careers look a lot more attractive? Is the ethos to serve as great as ever?
Most spheres of activity of endeavour of a global nature fall when they go below a critical mass, and then rapidly go into a decline from which it is very difficult to climb back and which damages reputation. Radical thinking, innovation and making the best use of assets, which I illustrated is vital in the commercial world, does not seem to have been sufficiently fast-tracked in the Ministry of Defence. If we went on a war footing tomorrow—or, worse, experienced a military catastrophe—I am sure the transformation would be immediate.
So what should be the way forward? We as a nation are most fortunate in having such a splendid body of people ready to serve our country in such a special way, and we must give them the resources to be powerful enough to have the right deterrent. Both Russia and China, possible adversaries, are steaming ahead of us on many fronts. Together with our key ally, the United States of America, we must be seen to maintain our role as a serious hard power. I hope the Minister will take back the message that further funding is essential now, not tomorrow. Defence of the realm is, after all, our primary responsibility.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Soley for giving us the opportunity today to have a very important conversation about the future of our national security and Armed Forces. Like my noble friend Lord West, I think there was probably a broad consensus in 2015 about the outcome of that security review. It recommended Joint Force 2025, an expeditionary force of nearly 50,000 people, with significant land, sea and air elements. It embarked on a hugely significant programme of defence equipment procurement across land, sea and air, and contained a promise to keep spending on defence at 2% of GDP.
But there was obviously major concern at the time, confirmed now by the Public Accounts Committee, the Select Committee on Defence in another place, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, senior retired officers and think tanks—pretty well everyone—that the MoD would not be able to sustain the ambitions of the 2015 SDSR. There was and remains no clear path to realising the significant efficiency savings on which all that spending was predicated, other than continued pay restraint for members of the Armed Forces—and that is perhaps not a brilliant recruitment and retention tool over the long term. Since then, we have had to add into the equation the significant impact of Brexit and the dramatic fall in value of sterling—the pound is 30% down against the dollar and the euro—when so much of that defence budget is spent in dollars and euros.
Two years on, we have the announcement of a new security capability review. Every Defence Minister learns the mantra that everything is kept under review, which can sometimes get them out of trouble. On this occasion, it has probably got them into a little more trouble. There are probably two principal justifications, two years after a significant SDSR such as the 2015 report, for having another look at things. One would be any significant or material change in the threat situation facing the UK. By common consensus, that has got worse, not better. The other would be any significant change in technological development and science—technology that might allow us to think again about how we equip our Armed Forces and where we want to spend our money. Neither of those justifications is plausible for this midpoint review of the SDSR. There is only one obvious conclusion for us all to reach: this is really a review about money.
The question cannot be answered by Mark Sedwill, who I think is a brilliant official. I have absolute confidence in Mark’s ability to conduct a rigorous review. The questions that we are debating can only be raised with Ministers. I think there are two: do they stand by the 2015 SDSR and, if they do, are they now willing to commit the necessary resource to complete that programme?
I am absolutely opposed to the United Kingdom acting unilaterally—for example, by announcing the end of our effective amphibious capability. I do not believe that the QE2 class carriers—they are brilliant ships and I am proud to see them serving in the Royal Navy—have the equivalent capability. Nor do the Bay class ships. They are incapable of supporting and mounting large-scale amphibious operations with the fighting vehicles that the Army now has. Our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan led us, rightly, to conclude that they needed to be better protected: they needed to be stronger, heavier vehicles. We need “Bulwark” and “Albion” to retain that capability.
So we must tread pretty carefully. I am all in favour of the defence industry co-operating with government in the efficiency review: I think it should. I am certainly in favour of our thinking carefully about how we use the overseas aid and defence budgets together to secure greater security results. But it is hard to avoid the obvious conclusion that we will need to spend more now to preserve UK effective capabilities. The painful lesson from history is that spending less on defence does not make us more secure; it does not make those threats go away, it just makes us less able to deal with them.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for securing this debate. His choice of wording is most appropriate. He speaks of a “sufficient level”—nothing excessive or gilded—
“to contribute to global peace, stability and security”,
which is the first duty, as we surely all agree, of any responsible Government. Yet there are well-founded fears that our defence capability is to be cut once again. Yes, we all know that the current Front-Bench response is to reassure us that these are only options that are being looked at, at present, and no decisions have been taken. But the real world is that options can quickly become decisions, and then the damage is done. In 1996, axing the royal yacht was an option, but that option became a decision, saving a paltry £60 million and causing lasting damage to the standing of the United Kingdom and great hurt to Her Majesty.
Today, it is also said that the defence budget, pegged to 2% of GDP, is rising year on year in cash terms, to which is added a 0.5% rise in the equipment budget. That fools no one who has any understanding of the realities of funding defence. Defence inflation has historically stood at a higher level than general inflation. Moreover, with an increased dependence on buying US equipment, we are subject to adverse exchange rate movements and, in terms of equipment procured from domestic industry, our product runs are small so there are no economies of scale, and our requirements are at the cutting edge of technology because we want the best for our people. Therefore, risk is high, delay is commonplace and cost over-runs are an inevitable consequence. It should not be like this, but that is the reality of defence procurement, which has stood resistant to change despite the reforming efforts of successive Governments.
So what is to be done? There are three choices: either cuts to our capabilities have to be made to save money, or there have to be further efficiencies, which are more cuts by another name, or there has to be an increase in our defence budget—an unlikely prospect, given the silence of the Chancellor on this subject yesterday. Therefore, in a national zero-sum game, this inevitably takes us back to the debate about the balance between defence spending at 2% of GDP and our spending on overseas aid at 0.7% of GDP. A 0.25% adjustment between those two figures in favour of defence would see a reallocation of some £4 billion to £5 billion from the overseas aid budget to the defence budget, a figure that would largely solve the crisis in defence spending over a 10-year period.
While we are obsessing over internal budgetary matters and over our approach to Brexit, I fear that there is a danger that we forget to lift our eyes to the horizon and reflect on how others see the United Kingdom, both our allies and our potential foes. It is only a few weeks ago that US General Ben Hodges commented with evident sadness that the UK was in danger of losing its leadership role among European nations as our defence capabilities diminish. He was expressing a strongly held view in the US that the UK is sliding towards military irrelevance. In Oral Questions the day after General Hodges made his comments, I asked the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, whether it was still the Ministry of Defence’s policy that our land forces should be able to deploy a division of at least two UK combat brigades in a future conventional war. It was, I admit, an unfair question to the noble Earl, but that question still stands today to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, as that capability is an important yardstick by which the Americans judge our utility as an ally. Not to be able to deploy a division takes us off the top table in a future conflict, and thereby our influence with our closest ally is much diminished.
What does Russia make of our internal obsessing? Surely, Russia sees military weakness and an opportunity to exploit chinks in the solidarity of NATO. President Putin would love to see nothing better than doubt over Article 5 of the NATO treaty and a fracturing of the cohesion of NATO itself. What stronger message could we send to our allies, our European partners and our potential foes than by announcing a rise in our defence spending? That 0.25% rebalancing from overseas aid to defence would show that this UK Government took their defence responsibilities seriously, wished to retain a leadership role in Europe and yet were continuing to make a significant contribution to the alleviation of poverty worldwide. When you cannot do everything, choices have to be made, and the first duty of Government, as today’s Motion indicates, is to provide sufficiently for peace, stability and security.
My Lords, I draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to my entry in the register, which mentions my engagement in the Bangsamoro peace process in the Philippines, funded in the past by Her Majesty’s Government. I welcome today’s debate and the efforts of my noble friend Lord Solely in securing it, as well as the powerful case he made for maintaining UK defence forces at a sufficient level for global peace, security and stability. I recognise the importance of that case, but I want to argue in the time available this afternoon that such a case on defence is not enough for global peace, security and stability.
There are noble Lords who speak today, and have on many previous occasions, in favour of deferring the expenditure from the development budget of the United Kingdom to the defence budget. But it seems to me much more important that we make the case today for an integration of our work on defence, development and diplomacy, coming together both nationally and internationally to secure greater prospects for peace and a reduction of conflict, not simply a management of conflict.
Conflict today is on the rise again, reversing a trend that had been fairly consistent since the end of the Cold War, with a rise in the number of individual wars and the number of deaths, both in battle and among civilians. The nature of conflict, however, has changed dramatically. Conflicts are no longer cross-border; they are no longer about building empires or resource grabs from other places. Today, they are about resource-sharing, inequalities, historical discrimination and identity—and clashes of identity within borders rather than across borders. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations pointed out just last week in London, the vast majority—over 90%—of terrorist attacks across the world since the end of the Cold War have taken place in countries that are known and mapped for their extrajudicial killings, imprisonment without trial and other human rights abuses.
Force can contain conflict, but you cannot bomb grievances out of the minds of young men and women. We need to also address the key issues of opportunities, jobs, human rights, inclusion, institutions they can trust and the quality of life that they experience. That is why long-term, sustained investment in peacebuilding—not just defence—is so important. It must be peacebuilding that recognises the crucial importance of women at the negotiating table, women as signatories and women as peacebuilders in local communities and national forums; peacebuilding that recognises the critical importance of the neighbourhood, whether it is in an African region, the Middle East, south-east Asia or anywhere else, and the crucial importance of the countries of the neighbourhood helping and supporting, rather than those sitting in New York or in the developed world dictating what should happen next; and peacebuilding that recognises the critical importance of political settlements. Here in the United Kingdom we have experience that we can use to assist those making new political settlements, including federalism or devolution, some form of sub-state and governance that recognises those identity clashes and gives political voice to the minorities who have felt oppressed.
We know that peacebuilding works and that investment in peacebuilding produces a far higher return than investment in armed conflict. Every £1 of investment in peacebuilding secures a return of at least £10 and, according to some studies, perhaps £14 or £16. We know that, today, only 2% of global expenditure on conflict is spent on peacebuilding and conflict prevention. That is a shocking figure at the start of the 21st century and it is something that this country should take a lead in tackling.
I should like the Minister, if he has time in his response, to address the fact that, despite the world having changed since 2011—when it looked as though there were good prospects in Libya, Yemen and a number of other parts of the world—our Building Stability Overseas Strategy has never been updated since it was first published by the then Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell, in 2011. Since then, the Government’s commitment to spending on conflict-affected states, fragile states and peacebuilding has gone from 33% to 50%, but the strategy has never been updated. Since then, we have also agreed internationally to goal 16 of the sustainable development goals. We need to update this strategy and give a UK focus to this work at home and abroad. I hope the Minister will agree.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on securing this debate. Thanks to the evidence given to the Defence Select Committee last week by former senior military figures, we now have confirmation of what many of us have been saying for so long: our Armed Forces have been dangerously hollowed out and inadequately funded for many years. I have read the full transcript and I quote General Sir Richard Barrons:
“The people who are in defence have to keep going every day. They are never going to say publicly, or to themselves, their enemies, or their allies that we are broken, but when they fly, sail, or deploy on the land and they look at their equipment, their sustainability, the shortfalls in their training, and at their allies, they know that they are not fit for purpose”.
We should also read the Times article today on our Type 25 destroyers.
Admiral Sir George Zambellas said:
“If you take as a premise, what certainly the three of us know, that defence has been under-resourced for years, the challenge that is being set to the Chiefs of Staff now is try to make further savings”—
all this against a background of a very dangerous world with Daesh, the Taliban, North Korea, and Russia and China substantially increasing and modernising their defence capability, to say nothing of cyber. The head of German foreign intelligence said very recently:
“Russia’s military has undergone an ‘amazing’ modernisation”.
I repeat: “amazing”.
Of course, we will be told by the noble Earl, in his usual conciliatory and soothing way about the 2%, the new naval orders and the current defence review. However, we know from the evidence given at the Select Committee hearing by the former National Security Adviser, Sir Mark Lyall Grant, that defence reviews are compromised and effectively nobbled. He said:
“So there was a Treasury official seconded to the Cabinet Office team who was in regular touch with the Treasury to ensure that whatever ended up being in the review would be affordable”.
We cannot go on like this. Enough is enough. We have to find more money to rebuild our defence capability; tinkering will not be enough.
Last week, I asked an Oral Question on the ratio of overseas aid to defence expenditure and was told that it was 3:1 one in favour of defence. I cannot accept this ratio. The 0.7% GDP commitment is very laudable when we can afford it but circumstances change. All domestic government budgets are under huge pressure, particularly defence, where the fall in the value of the pound creates exceptional pressure because of the necessary purchases from abroad, particularly from the United States. In our present situation there can be no sacred cows. I agree very much with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt: the time has come to revisit our aid commitment and reduce it from 0.7% to 0.5%. I know that I will have no support from any of the Front Benches but that would release approaching £4 billion, of which £2 billion could go to defence and the balance to other programmes. It would still leave us with a £9 billion overseas aid budget, which is a very substantial figure.
I have also doubted, as others have, whether overseas aid needs a separate department of state. The Times recently advocated that it should be subsumed into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Certainly, overseas aid, defence and foreign expenditure should be considered as one.
Of course, our defence assets, personnel and equipment frequently play a significant role in humanitarian relief—yet another reason to retain our amphibious capability—and our new carriers could, given their size, operating theatres and potential helicopter lift add a whole new dimension of scale to our humanitarian effort. In addition, the requests for our military training missions, so important around the world, always exceed the resources available. Enhanced funding would enable us to do so much more.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on his excellent speech and on procuring this debate. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, on his incisive analysis of the situation.
Discussion has focused largely on equipment, preparedness and procurement but the other main area, the nature of the threat—what is a sufficient level and what is needed overall to make the contribution suggested?—has been defined by SDSR 2015, which, for better or worse, is the road map in use until the current quasi-review reports. Indeed, while it is clearly evident that procurement has been far slower than expected, it has to be accepted that thus far SDSR 2015, in naval terms at least, is our only set of directions, unless some of the darker rumours reported in the press about the axing of the LPDs “Albion” and “Bulwark”, and the consequent loss of an amphibious capability, turn out to be true.
However, I wish to look at a more immediate and pressing problem—namely, the people who will be required to man and fight these systems. Recent statistics indicate major shortfalls in personnel, which are not being made up by recruitment. It is clear that service morale and recruitment have suffered badly from a combination of factors: the reduction in conflict operations in the Middle East, with the consequent lack of a sense of purpose and direction; stagnation of pay and conditions; failure to incentivise enough young men and women to join the reserves; and regular and prolonged separations. This all leads to low morale among serving personnel, and further leads to retention rates being below recruitment rates.
The Royal Navy has a target of 30,450 personnel and is currently 1,000 short of that. Of this total, some 8,000 are Royal Marines. The Royal Marines is the only European marine force currently capable of conducting amphibious operations at brigade level. Therefore, the naval personnel available to man the new aircraft carriers and the other assets expected to come into service amount to fewer than 20,000. This is a shockingly low figure given the requirements of training, rotations, family life and so on, and must be the main impetus behind the proposals now being voiced to remove the Royal Marines’ capability to land a brigade-sized force anywhere in the world. This was a major plank of SDSR 2015 and Joint Force 2025 and, at the very least, should be maintained. Vague talk about giving one of the carriers an amphibious capability should be dismissed for what it is: a red herring. However, if there is no alternative to withdrawing “Ocean”, “Albion” and “Bulwark”, has consideration been given to laying them up in maintained reserve until such time as the recruitment situation has improved or we suddenly have a pressing need for their services? These are highly specialised vessels with much service life left, and selling them off to a foreign navy or, worse, to a scrapyard, will go down very badly in the public prints and with the public at large.
There is no simple way to increase recruitment at a time of pay restraint and lack of challenging service, but there are plenty of arguments for improvements in the X factor component of service pay. A five-yearly review of the X factor is currently under way, and it would be an admirable moment to use it to improve service pay and conditions after so many years of being shackled to minimum pay increments by an austerity-obsessed Treasury. Indeed, I note that the Chief Secretary has recently written to the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body outlining her guidance that a 1% pay award would be appropriate. Will the Minister undertake to investigate this avenue?
Finally, to return to a question I raised in this House a year ago, the naval reserve figures are dreadful, at a total strength, including some 750 Royal Marines reservists, of 2,400 against an establishment of 3,100; that is, 23% below target. This clearly has a lot to do with lack of opportunities for naval reserve personnel. Will the Minister undertake to consider the handover to the Royal Naval Reserve of the older River-class offshore patrol vessels when the new deliveries arrive, to provide an incentive for seagoing training and promotion, as well as a means of providing fishery protection and Border Force support after Brexit?
My Lords, I join others in congratulating my noble friend on his initiative and on a Motion which begs many questions. For example, have we adjusted sufficiently to our important but diminishing role in the world? Can we afford to be, or indeed not to be, a global UK punching above our weight in defence matters? What is the state of our defence readiness?
Sir Richard Barrons, the former commander of Joint Forces Command, told the Commons Defence Committee on 14 November—the transcript of that debate is well worth reading—that currently we have,
“a Navy that is structurally underfunded, an Air Force that is holding together a bunch of very good equipment but is really at the edge of its engineering and support capacity, and an Army that is now broadly speaking 20 years out of date”.
For example, today’s Times reports that HMS “Diamond”, our Type 45 destroyer, is aborting its mission to the Gulf for engineering reasons, when its five sister ships are in Portsmouth for maintenance, shortage of staff and engine failure.
Have our people recognised the scale of the changes since the Second World War in our potential world role? Nostalgia and myths clearly played a role in the referendum debate. It is perhaps relevant that the Chancellor did not mention defence in yesterday’s Budget.
It is relevant also that the Government have just replaced a Defence Secretary who knew his job and was highly respected by the military with a man who has apparently shown little or no interest in defence and security matters and whose expertise lies in party management. The pressures on the Chancellor were shown in yesterday’s Budget, with the financial context, including the cost of equipment, worsened by the dollar/euro/sterling exchange rate post Brexit, and hard choices on whether to buy more cheaply off the shelf from the US or develop national capabilities.
As a number of noble Lords have mentioned, key questions include deciding how vital to our core interests amphibiosity is in general, the future of the Royal Marines and the potential loss of HMS “Albion” and HMS “Bulwark” in a trade-off with the Navy. Technical developments, such as artificial intelligence, have changed the debate, and of course the nature of the debate is changing so rapidly that the 2015 SDSR already needs a review.
Last week I had the opportunity to discuss the current problems with a group of Welsh Guards. They all agreed that they were being asked to do too much with too little. Are our military being asked to do too much? They spoke of too many peripheral tasks, such as training others countries’ forces, and questioned whether our 20 current active overseas missions are justified.
Does our military have too little? That depends on the role that we assign to it. A key question is: should our military be expected to have excellent capabilities across the full spectrum? Where do we seek to link with our allies, particularly with France, after Lancaster House and St Malo? What about our EU and NATO alliances? NATO is challenged by Trump’s ambivalence on the Article 5 commitment and by Turkey’s pivot to Russia, as evidenced, for example, by its purchase from Russia of an air defence system which is non-NATO compatible. Our EU critics may question the added value but, in response to the US President and Brexit, on 13 November 23 of the 28 EU states began a process of permanent structured co-operation in the defence field, which could include the development of a new combat aircraft to replace Eurofighter and Rafale. Where does all this leave us? Should we just remain on the sidelines, or do we become more reliant on the US?
As a final reflection—this was said by my noble friend Lord McConnell—clearly hard power will not defeat terrorism. We need also to rely on our excellent soft-power facilities, but we also need to constantly evaluate the relevance of all our current commitments and not ask our military to do too much with too little.
My Lords, as we have heard, the UK has the fifth largest defence budget in the world and we meet our NATO 2% commitment, but we have heard in this debate, including from the noble Lord, Lord Soley—I thank him and congratulate him on initiating this debate—that perhaps that figure should be 3% of GDP.
When commenting in July this year on the role of the Armed Forces in responding to the spectrum of threats, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy highlighted its concern that the Armed Forces would,
“not be able to fulfil the wide-ranging tasks described in the … SDSR 2015 … with the capabilities, manpower and funding”.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee stated that,
“the Ministry of Defence’s … Equipment Plan is at greater risk of becoming unaffordable than at any time since … 2012”,
and that it is, quite frankly, optimistic. It also says that the devaluation in the pound caused by Brexit could increase the cost of procurement by £5 billion. Does the Minister agree with that? In fact, the defence editor of the Times thought that the funding shortfall would be £10 billion. A senior partner at PwC, Roland Sonnenberg, thinks that the figure is approaching £30 billion, driven by the cost of new defence expenditure. Does the Minister agree with that? Turning to our own Defence Minister, Tobias Ellwood said that the capability review was required because there had been changes to the international situation since SDSR 2015. He pointed out the growth in terrorism and extremism, state-based aggression and cyber—all points that have been brought up. Sadly, there have been five recent terrorist attacks in this country.
The strength of our Army, at 82,000, does not even fill Wembley stadium. The SDSR in 2010, headed by Liam Fox, was awful. It projected an Army of 95,000 by 2015 and 94,000 by 2020. Now we are at 82,000 with 30,000 reserves to be achieved by 2020. A former Armed Forces Minister, Mark Francois, said recently that:
“A combination of lower retention than expected and failure to achieve recruiting targets means this under manning is”,
worse than ever. He continued:
“The Royal Navy and the RAF are … running … 10% short of their … recruitment target, whilst … the Army … shortfall is … 30%”.
Will the Minister confirm that?
Will the Minister give us an update on the nine new Boeing Poseidon aircraft that are replacing the Nimrods that, awfully, were destroyed? We have had a decade without an aircraft carrier. Do we have the aircraft carrier force capabilities to support the aircraft carriers that the Minister has confirmed? Probably, what is required with all of these changes is a new SDSR. Does the Minister agree that we need one right now?
Then there is the role of NATO and the threat of Trump’s comments and now, on top of all that, the head of the Defence Police Federation has said that years of cutbacks risk leaving,
“many of the UK’s critical military assets and sites at unacceptable risk”.
Even the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has said that,
“we’ve reached, as a consequence of … cuts … a tipping point in our ability to keep Londoners safe”.
Of course, many noble Lords have mentioned General’s Richard Barrons’ claim that the Army is now,
“20 years out of date”.
“Defence is close to breaking … Unless we put more money in it, it will fall over”.
He also said:
“The armed forces are in a denial … They cannot hold this together”.
“They are effectively fielding holograms of capability in some cases”.
Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, commander of the US Army in Europe, has said that the UK would be unable to keep up its international commitments if forces were cut further.
Can the Minister confirm that HMS “Albion” and “Bulwark” will not be taken out of service and that the Royal Marines will not be cut by 1,000? Lieutenant-General Jerry Harris of the US Air Force said that he too was against a reduction in the size of the Royal Marines.
This is about defence capability, but it is also about credibility. We were a global power but, thanks to Brexit, the perception is that we no longer are. I host Indian civil servants in Parliament and they unanimously think that we should remain in the European Union. One went so far as to say that he felt sorry for us. We have an abundance of soft power, but it is useless without hard power. Barrons described the cut in the Marines as “madness”, which was echoed by Admiral Sir George Zambellas, who has just retired. He said that the Marines are the “Premier League fighting force”, made up of a small proportion of the total number of troops, but they contribute half our Special Forces. He said that the services have been underresourced for years and that the choice being offered to service chiefs amounted to whether to cut off a right arm or a left one.
My Lords, the issue before us all is that defence expenditure has to be increased. There can be no ifs or buts about that. For the next five years, the National Security Council will have to find an increase from 2% to 2.5% as the bare minimum. That body is looking at cyber, development, defence and foreign policy. It is the right body to give a remit to this new review that it will be funded to this extent. Without that, frankly, it will not be serious.
Europe has been freeloading on the United States, as far as NATO is concerned, for long enough. Britain, coming out of the EU, has to demonstrate to the Americans that we are committed to NATO’s defence. Without that, we will not maintain the support of the American people for their commitment to NATO. Everything that we see indicates that that is vital. Why?
President Putin has admitted that he considered putting Russian nuclear forces on full alert at the time of maximum tension over Crimea, which shows how unwise it is to assume that Russian nuclear strategies are anywhere near the same as ours in NATO. It is also true that President Putin has threatened to base nuclear forces in Crimea and that he has deployed missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave in the Baltic Sea which neighbours Poland and Lithuania. I do not wish to exaggerate—Russian Federation military power is far less than that of the old USSR. The relevant concern we have is the growth in the belief among informed NATO military opinion that Russian conventional forces are now able to punch a hole in NATO’s conventional defences, particularly in the Baltic region. This is the rational case for increased NATO defence spending. Not to allow it is, in my view, to put NATO’s whole deterrent strategy at risk.
It is also vital that in this review we look at the role of the aircraft carrier. Aircraft carriers are huge and hugely expensive, so we have to find a way of making a contribution worldwide through a rapid reaction force committed not only to NATO but, more importantly, to the UN. It should operate worldwide from Oman, and be part of a global British strategy for the next decade that will be beneficial to us in achieving greater prosperity and a global profile. In that context, we must look at the amphibious forces. What is envisaged for the Royal Marines, and for the ships that are necessary, raises very serious questions. How many of us were pleased about the intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000? Without that amphibious capability, our capacity to intervene would have been negligible—in fact, the intervention would have been so dangerous that we could not have undertaken it.
There are big tasks ahead. We now have an integrated structure that looks at our overall international policy. If that means we have to take more from the overseas budget, I would, extremely reluctantly, accept it. There are ways of achieving it within the normal rules, provided that they are changed. For instance, the HMS “Ocean” mission to the British Virgin Islands during the emergency was not a defence expenditure and should be met out of the foreign aid budget. It is ridiculous to be told that OECD rules imply that we cannot use our foreign aid budget because this country was previously considered to be a medium-sized economy. A lot of those OECD rules are out of date and if they cannot be changed, we have to change them unilaterally. The foreign aid budget is potentially extremely important, but day after day we hear how it is grotesquely badly used. The British public will not go on accepting that. It may be that the House of Commons does not have the will power to change the present resolution, but we in this House have a responsibility to remind Commons Members of their responsibility to the defence of Europe and not to allow this burden to be borne only by the American people.
My Lords, I find myself very much in agreement with what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, has just said about funding, as I did with almost everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, in what I thought was an extremely impressive introduction to the debate. We are all in his debt not only for securing the debate but for the way in which he introduced it.
I have to take issue with my friend the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. He is normally the most genial of men, but he was a bit mean-spirited when he talked of my successor as the Member of Parliament for South Staffordshire, Gavin Williamson. When I first entered the House of Commons in 1970, a wise older Member who had an MC, as did so many of them in those days because they had fought in the war, said to me, “Whatever you take an interest in, you must always take an interest in defence. Every self-respecting Member of Parliament must do that”. I believe that my successor, although he has had to be fairly quiet as first PPS to the Prime Minister and then the Chief Whip, has also imbued that lesson. He is a vigorous young man with an agile mind, and I believe that he can bring those qualities to the role. I also believe that the manner in which he was appointed ought to give him particular strength when he is arguing with his Cabinet colleagues, in particular with the Treasury. I wish him every possible success.
I wish to concentrate on only one point. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, touched on Russia, and I believe we must re-examine our relations with Russia. When I entered the House, the very first thing I did in a semi-official capacity was co-found, and be chairman of, the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry. We have travelled a long way since. I rejoiced, as so many did, at the falling of the Iron Curtain and the ending of the Cold War, but at that time frequent visits to Moscow made me realise that people there felt that they had lost position in the world. Putin is not my ideal statesman, but nevertheless he has given his countrymen back their self-respect. I believe that we have been ill-advised publicly to criticise too much. Of course, I do not believe in the way that he annexed Crimea, although I believe that if the referendum had been under international observation, the result would have been very similar.
It is important to remember the words of that brave and sadly slaughtered MP, Jo Cox, when she said that,
“we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/6/15; col. 675.]
In this global context, in a world where terrorism is such an ever-present and unpredictable threat, there is more that unites us with that great European power, which suffered so much in two World Wars and therefore has an understandable hesitation when it is suggested that Ukraine should become a member of NATO et cetera. I urge the Government to back off the strident public criticism and try to get alongside a nation alongside which we must be, if we are to have a peaceful and stable world.
When I entered the House, the words of Dean Acheson were still echoing around:
“Great Britain has lost an empire and not yet found a role”.
In a post-Brexit world, one of our roles can be to get alongside all the nations whose influence is necessary for world peace.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for initiating the debate, especially as I have just had the honour of joining the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. As part of that, I have been invited to dinner this evening on HMS “Victory” in Portsmouth, to hear more about the Navy’s capacity. In preparation, I have been reading about Nelson. This quote struck me as very significant:
“Never break the neutrality of a port or place, but never consider as neutral any place from whence an attack is allowed to be made”.
How would Nelson think about our world now, when decisions about what constitutes neutrality are so much more complex?
The internet is the most complex of places. It would be absurd to talk about our defence resources without recognising the role of the internet in global peace. It is an enormous challenge. When it comes to resourcing and defending the UK, and maintaining our role in global peace, we must recognise that threats have changed forever. Our resourcing must reflect that. I believe that we in the UK do not yet understand the full power of the internet.
We must look at that issue through the lens of countries that, arguably, understand the internet’s power. I agree with the thesis of the academic John Naughton that those countries are Russia, China and, to a lesser degree, North Korea. Surprising choices—but consider their strategies.
Russia was quick to refine its military doctrine to incorporate information operations, which lays out a new theory of modern warfare—one that, according to Naughton, looks more like hacking an enemy’s society than attacking it head-on. As the news site, Politico, wrote:
“The approach is guerrilla, and waged on all fronts with a range of actors and tools … hackers, media, businessmen, leaks … fake news … conventional and asymmetric military means”.
I am sure I do not need to remind colleagues of the role that played in the US elections. I am equally sure that this is the tip of the iceberg. As has been admitted, we were caught off-guard.
China is clearly very different but as threatening. It is highly technocratic but has decided to have the internet without its liberal tendencies. As Naughton writes,
“China now has a very large and vibrant Internet, huge online industries and formidable technical and hacking capabilities. They have invented what the scholar Rebecca Mackinnon calls networked authoritarianism”.
I call it a parallel internet.
North Korean prowess in cyber operations is steadily mounting. In 2016, North Korean hackers stole nearly $1 billion from the New York Federal Reserve. They were stopped only by a spelling mistake: a bogus misspelled “fandation”, rather than “foundation”. They still got away with over $80 million. Two years earlier, they led the devastating attack on Sony Pictures. Kim Jong-un’s regime understands how digital technology can overcome its industrial and economic weakness and turn it into a strength.
So, we have three regimes using the internet in different, but terrifying, ways—ways which I believe we are neither resourced nor, equally importantly, structured to fight. However, that is not my only concern. We will never make the right decisions about how to have a sufficient level of resources if politicians and policymakers fail to understand the internet and, worse than that, make it a kind of scapegoat.
As I have said here before, after the hideous attacks in the UK over the past year, politicians and commentators used inflammatory language that was knee-jerk and unhelpful, leading the public to believe that if the internet could be shut down, we would all be safe. As RUSI recently wrote,
“Scapegoating tech companies for online radicalisation is not only misguided – it detracts attention away from the crucial responsibility that society must bear in fighting the spread of violent extremism where it matters most: in the real world”.
As a director of Twitter, I declare an interest; I have seen first-hand how it wrestles with these issues. However, as RUSI argues,
“how would social media companies go about designing a tool that could automatically detect and block ‘extremist content’? What constitutes ‘evil material’? And who determines what these are? As Brian Lord, former deputy director for Intelligence and Cyber Operations at GCHQ, pointed out … content that is seen to be ‘free speech’ in one country might be seen as incitement to violence in another”.
Welcome initiatives, such as the National Cyber Security Centre, are building our cyber resilience, but they are a drop in the ocean and relatively insignificant. We do not have time to waste. This is one of the gravest moments in my lifetime. We need a dramatic rethink, not only about overall levels of funding, but, crucially, about how we structure ourselves to collaborate across disciplines and deploy diverse skills.
What boldness in long-term thinking can the Minister reassure us that the Government are working on? To end again with Nelson:
“Time is everything; five minutes make the difference between victory and defeat”.
Imagine: that was in 1800. Thank goodness the world has slowed down.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Soley for this pertinent and important debate and congratulate him on his excellent speech.
The record of this Government on discharging their responsibility for national defence is truly awful. In the 2010 Parliament, they cut a number of essential defence capabilities, including long-range maritime surveillance, as has already been mentioned. The worst thing they did was to cut the Army. As they knew perfectly well, that has a gearing effect; whereas for years we were able to successfully deploy 9,000 men and women in Afghanistan, now we can only deploy perhaps 3,000 on a permanent, long-term basis. That is a puny number for a country that considers itself a serious military player, important ally and permanent member of the UN Security Council.
On top of all that, we now face the prospect of getting rid of our amphibious capability—HMS “Albion” and “Bulwark”; not replacing HMS “Ocean”—and, quite extraordinarily and horrifyingly, 1,000 of our very brave and professional Royal Marines. I find that almost unbelievable; it is an absolutely crazy solution to the problems of the modern world. Our amphibious capability is essential to our ability to deploy in parts of the world where crises and threats arise in unexpected ways. We cannot predict them in advance; in most of the crises we have had to cope with, our interventions and operations were caused by events that were unpredictable only a few years, or even months, before.
So, that decision is quite extraordinary; it can have only three effects, as I see it. One is to greatly encourage our potential enemies, who want to take risks with world peace. If other countries follow our example, that will happen even more.
The second effect of that would be to discourage our allies—we already hear the sadness expressed by the Americans at prospective cuts. The third point, which has not really been made today, is that it will discourage recruits. We have always managed to recruit the best and the brightest into the British military—thank God we have; we have really depended on them and they never let us down—but the best and the brightest do not join organisations subject to constant cuts. How could you possibly want to start a career in any organisation where, every year or two, the Government will come back for more cuts? This is a very worrying situation. I do not think that the Government care about it at all. They say that they are under financial constraints. They are happy to spend money on hiring thousands of new civil servants. The other day, I saw that they were about to hire 2,500 new customs officers. That is nothing to do with the referendum, by the way—the referendum did not deal with whether we should stay in the EU customs zone; this is an entirely gratuitous obsession of the Government. They are perfectly happy to hire far more customs officers, yet they are ready to release and make redundant excellent marines. It is quite an extraordinary order of priorities and a frightening, perverse and bizarre set of values. It was enormously eloquent that defence was not mentioned even once in yesterday’s Budget presentation. What a sad situation we find ourselves in.
I want to ask two important questions. I hope that, this time, I get answers from the noble Earl, because I am not very successful at doing so when I ask him questions in debates. The answers will clarify a number of doubts that many people in this country have. First, is it correct that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is to receive compensation from the Treasury for the impact on its expenditure of the devaluation of sterling, although the MoD will not? Secondly, a rumour is going around—by raising it, I think I am doing a good service to everybody because if it is not true it will be of great service to the individual concerned that it has been formally denied on the record— that, alone among Ministers with major spending responsibilities, the new Secretary of State for Defence did not ask the Chancellor for a private interview in the weeks leading up to the Budget yesterday? I hope that it is untrue, but it is important that we should dispose of this potentially damaging rumour by getting a clear answer to that question.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for securing this debate and for his excellent speech in introducing it. The noble Lord speaks in the Labour tradition of the progressive and patriotic internationalism of Attlee and Bevan. So much that has been said from the Labour Benches this morning has been precisely in that tradition. That is a great comfort, because we need in this matter above all matters a bipartisan approach.
That tradition is not dead. It is worth referring to a speech given at Chatham House on 26 October by Chuka Umunna, “A Bolder Britain: Remaking a Major European Power”, which expresses it with great force. Towards the end of it, he said clearly:
“One of the priorities for a Labour Government must be a Strategic Defence and Security Review to give the electorate, our allies and our potential enemies a clear message of our intent and purpose. Our spending commitment should rise above NATO’s two per cent of GDP, lifting it incrementally to 2.5 per cent over a five year period. This will allow us to maintain our conventional forces at an adequate level”.
It is clear from so much that has been said today that we have a problem of morale in our Armed Forces. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, said that the best and brightest do not join institutions which are subject to constant cuts. We have probably all noticed with some pleasure the presence in the House of Commons of relatively young former Army officers on the Benches of both parties who are making major contributions to debates such as these. I am as impressed by them as many others. I am also slightly worried. Do we have quite so many of them because they are no longer so conscious of the desirability of a long-term career in the armed services?
I have made it clear that I am in favour of raising the level of our current defence expenditure, for reasons that have been so eloquently stated today. I want now to refer to some of the difficulties, because I know they exist.
First, there is inevitably wastage in defence expenditure. There is no silver bullet about this; there will always be some wastage, because nobody can precisely guess what our future priorities might be—I acknowledge that. However, there is public concern, and the battle has to be won here, about revolving-door issues through the Ministry of Defence and the defence companies and about expenditure which sometimes seems very large and which our Armed Forces do not seem to have benefited very much from. Attlee first raised such concerns in 1925, and they will not be sorted out in any short order—and I am not expecting the Minister now to do so. On the other hand, the Prime Minister, when she took office, made a number of speeches acknowledging her awareness of public concern about these issues. If we are going to win the battle, we will have to deal with it.
The matter is made extremely difficult now because of Brexit, because it places the Government in a situation where they have to bring people into government very quickly to solve technical problems. It is very difficult for government to deal with such issues. In the short term, there is no silver bullet, but in the medium term the Government should send out a signal that they acknowledge public concern about this issue—so much is written in the press about it. I am certain that practice can be improved. There is a battle to be won here. Part of the battle to ensure that we have a proper level of defence expenditure will be to reassure public opinion.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Soley not only for having introduced this debate but for having spoken so outstandingly well. It is a good time for us all to put on record our eternal tribute to the men and women who make up our services, both uniformed and civilian. It is a good time also to think about the living evidence of warfare in those who are maimed and incapacitated for life. It is a good moment, moreover, to think about the vital importance of avoiding overstretch, which in my view is criminal policy, because it puts people into positions in which they cannot be properly resourced, either in personnel or in equipment.
Three issues have to be covered in any serious defence review. One is the threat. We must keep asking what threat we are setting ourselves up to deal with. In doing that, we have to look at what ideally we need to meet that threat and then look at what we have inherited, and we have to see what compromises are possible. In that process, there must be no sacred cows. If we decide that a nuclear deterrent is still vital—I am one of those who believes that—we then, honestly and searchingly, have to ask whether the way in which we are organised for that nuclear deterrent is the best way.
The second question is: what about our global responsibilities? I do not think that any Member of this House would suggest that we give up our seat on the UN Security Council, but if we are members of the UN Security Council, what are the responsibilities that flow from it and how should we meet them?
Thirdly, what will be possible when we take into account the indispensable need to have a strong economy and a strong, prosperous nation—a nation which is well cared for and in which alienation is unlikely? One of the biggest dangers we face is alienation in our own society and people preying on it. We have a very good example in the cuts to community policing, which strike at the whole stability and security of our society. It is crucial that we have police who are close to the community, part of the community and able to watch what is happening very closely. In that context, we have to take those issues into account in determining the size of our defence budget.
I am confident that in any future we have to concentrate on flexibility. Here I join those who deplore any thought of cutting the Royal Marines. The Royal Marines is exactly the kind of organisation we need in the unstable, insecure world in which we live: marines can be rapidly deployed to contain situations. There must be an emphasis on integration in the services, because the services are totally interdependent in anything we do these days, and we need to make sure that we are strengthening the organisation of that interdependency.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry said something tremendously important: of course, we must talk about post-conflict situations but we must also talk about conflict resolution, pre-emptive diplomacy and all the things that are necessary to deal with situations before they get out of control and become disastrous. It is a complex task and I wish all those involved well.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for this debate and for his speech. Being this far down the speakers list, I make no apology for a certain repetition of what has been said: I agree with just about everything that every speaker has said.
As we have heard, the defence budget is not in a good place and soothing words from the Government that all is in order run counter to every single other commentator on defence—academics, journalists, experienced ex-servicepeople and so forth. The extra money that is being promised is having to be found from efficiency savings, and since this has been the case for some years, proper efficiencies can no longer be identified; therefore, savings measures are being run that are not efficiencies at all but capability cuts. Meanwhile, cuts in running costs, especially in the supply chain, are already hollowing out the services, where, additionally, the manpower situation is dire, a casualty of inept decisions in SDSR 2010 that remained largely uncorrected in SDSR 2015. In the case of the Royal Navy, for example, ships are constrained from going to sea because they cannot be properly manned.
As for the subject of today’s debate, the UK, as a member of P5, G8 and so on, has a significant responsibility to step up to the plate and assume some obligation for world order by contributing to global peace, stability and security. Indeed, when the Prime Minister met HMS “Queen Elizabeth” on her first arrival into Portsmouth in August this year, she said,
“as Britain forges a new, positive, confident role for ourselves on the world stage in the years ahead, we are determined to remain a fully engaged global power ... Britain has an enduring responsibility to help sustain the international rules-based order and to defend the liberal values which underpin it”.
Noble Lords may say, “Well spoken”, and, indeed, this should be deliverable, most likely through maritime, since the problems of getting overflying, basing rights and so on can be avoided by operating from the high seas. The three key maritime pillars to enable this are theoretically in place: continuous at-sea deterrence, carrier strike and amphibiosity, all supported by a force of destroyers, frigates, nuclear attack submarines and suitable fleet support ships. Continuous at-sea deterrence seems assured, with steel having been cut for our new class of SSBNs, the Dreadnought class, although it seems irresponsible to put the costs of this political capability into the defence budget, where those costs of build are gravely distorting the conventional programme. The 2007 defence White Paper on this subject sensibly made it clear that this should not happen and the Government should reconsider this. I would be grateful if the Minister would say something about it.
On the second pillar, carrier capability is rolling but threatened, in particular, by undermanning and an insufficient number of F-35B aircraft. The other key capability, amphibiosity, by which theatre entry can be achieved from the sea at a time and place of our choosing, is under threat. The Minister will no doubt say that this is speculation and no decisions have been taken; but is he prepared to deny that cutting the Royal Marines by 1,000 and disposing of HMS “Albion” and HMS “Bulwark” are not being contemplated? Were this to happen, we would lose a crucial global capability and an important leg on our stool of pillars for defence.
The supporting force of destroyers and frigates for these three pillars is also in a fragile state. That fragility and lack of resilience could not be better demonstrated than by today’s news of the withdrawal of HMS “Diamond” from the Gulf with a mechanical problem and the fact that she cannot be replaced. The numbers of our destroyers and frigates are too low in any case. We should be concerned, additionally, that the ageing Type 23 frigates will not be able to hang on long enough to be relieved by the new Type 26 and Type 31 ships. Will the Minister assure the House that we will not at any time drop below a force of 19 destroyers and frigates? Does he agree that this number is too low in any case to meet a proper global deployment capability? I recognise that the new ships will be more capable, but they cannot be in two places at one time.
The land and air environments are equally assailed. The fact is that the defence budget is not fit for the purpose of delivering our global aspirations. As has been said, it must be increased. It is not sufficient, for example, for the Minister to vaunt that we spend more on defence than our European allies: they do not flaunt a global role.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Soley, posed the underlying question for this debate: are we prepared to pay more to maintain our status and influence in global security, or do we have to reduce our ambition? The related question, which has come up in several speeches, is: will Brexit further reduce our diplomatic and global status or our importance both to the United States and to our European partners, or will it somehow enable us to regain our sovereign status as “global Britain”? There is a third, unspoken question: if we are to spend more on defence, what other public services are we going to cut or which taxes are we going to raise? Juggling with the aid budget, as several have suggested, might assist at the margin with the humanitarian role of defence, but it will not raise spending to 3% of GDP. Of course, the Brexit shock is likely to squeeze tax revenues and has already raised the cost of overseas procurement from the United States and elsewhere.
There are dangers of nostalgia about our global status and illusions about our global standing and influence. The image of a global Britain, re-established by freeing ourselves from the chains of EU membership, has formed a frequent theme in our wonderful Foreign Secretary’s speeches, in which he announces that we are back east of Suez, that Diego Garcia is now a major British base and that we intend to send an aircraft carrier task force through the Malacca straits. He has not mentioned whether we have to have the aircraft on it first. The reality of the 2010 defence cuts was that, as the United States recognised, we had reduced ourselves below the level at which the United States regarded us as a fully capable partner. We did that and are now in a situation where our relationship with the United States is much less clear than it was before. We lost our overall capability and found ourselves dependent on the French and others for maritime surveillance among other things. The focus, over a long period, on high-end, prestige capabilities—the independent deterrent force and the large carriers—has meant that we lack the supporting ships, forces and helicopters that we also need.
I asked the Minister not long ago where we would find the frigates to complete the task forces for aircraft carriers. His reply was, “They don’t necessarily have to be British frigates”. That is a very interesting reply, because it raises the whole question of how far we are trying to have an independent capability, or how far our future posture depends on close collaboration with others, and if so, with whom. There has been a suppressed history over the past 40 years of co-operation with our European partners. The UK-Dutch amphibious force has been there for 40 years, rarely celebrated in Britain—rarely reported in Britain. In 1999 the then Labour Government signed a UK-French defence agreement. A stronger one was signed—by Liam Fox, of all people—in 2010. He thereupon did his utmost to prevent press interest in the whole dimension of UK-French collaboration. I am told that he told the civil servant responsible that he was glad to meet him but he did not want to know too much about what he was doing.
That is part of the illusion between Britain standing alone and the realities of where we are. Fear of the Daily Mail and the Telegraph is such that Liam Fox also resisted taking a press team to see what I thought was the rather splendid Operation Atalanta joint command centre at Northwood, which had almost every single member of the European Union engaged in a joint operation. Even in the commemoration of World War I we run into problems about recognising how much we did things together with others. I am told that the commemoration of Third Ypres/Passchendaele downgraded the input of the French and Belgian troops in the battle. After an effort, there is to be a small but “modest” commemoration next year of the point at which British troops came under French overall command in April 1918. I think “modest” means, “We hope the TV won’t notice it”.
That feeds the whole idea that we are somehow an independent power on our own and we can do it all even though we do not spend enough money. The position paper published two or three months ago on foreign policy and defence co-operation with the EU after Brexit was remarkable. It was the most positive government statement I have ever seen of the importance of European foreign policy and defence co-operation to Britain’s national interest. I assume it was written by officials and Ministers did not actually look at it in sufficient detail before it was published, to cut some of that out.
More recently, the Government have welcomed the European Union’s proposals on closer defence co-operation and expressed hopes that the United Kingdom will be closely associated with it—for obvious reasons. There is logistical co-operation that saves money. There is joint procurement, which is of active interest to our arms industry. There are joint forces and joint exercises, and operations in the Mediterranean and Africa, which are dealing with the sorts of humanitarian crises, conflict prevention and conflict resolution that others have spoken about in the debate.
Can the Minister tell us more about how the Government propose to maintain co-operation in defence with our European partners as we leave the European Union? We have not heard anything in detail from the Government on this. Does he recognise that the Government are working against the onslaught from the right-wing media? I saw a one-and-a-half-page article in the Daily Mail yesterday warning about what was happening. Apparently there is a populist surge on the European continent—not here, of course—and Britain should disengage from the European continent as far as possible.
Brexit is reducing our global status and influence. Our prospects for economic growth have just been downgraded. Our public services continue to be cut and our public infrastructure is desperately short of investment. I, for one, cannot go out and persuade people in West Yorkshire, who are facing real cuts in education and further cuts in public services—local services, child support services, social services and social care—to accept further cuts in order to increase our defence spending and prop up our global status. My answer to the challenge posed by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is that we must modify our posture and ambitions. We have to admit that we cannot claim global status for Britain on its own, whatever fantasies Liam Fox or Boris Johnson may still be pursuing. Our contribution to global peace, stability and security must be a shared one, in which our defence forces work closely with those of our allies and neighbours.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Soley for procuring this debate. It seems to me that the essence of the debate is the question: are the Government maintaining United Kingdom defence forces at a sufficient level to contribute to global peace, stability and security? I put it to your Lordships that at least 12 of the noble Lords who have spoken so far have answered that question with a no, but obviously the Government will try to persuade us that the answer should be yes.
I have investigated what the essence of that claim will come from, and I assume it will come from Command Paper 9161, the racily titled National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, which was published two years ago. Delving among its pages, its reference to defence is to be found on page 29 under the heading “Joint Force 2025”. It says:
“We will ensure that the Armed Forces are able to tackle a wider range of more sophisticated potential adversaries. They will project power, be able to deploy more quickly and for longer periods, and make best use of new technology. We will maintain our military advantage and extend it into new areas, including cyber and space. We will develop a new Joint Force 2025 to do this, building on Future Force 2020”.
The Government committed at the time to produce an annual review of that paper. The first annual review came out in December 2016 and essentially reiterated that Joint Force 2025 would be the answer to its commitment. En passant, I ask the Minister whether there is going to be a second annual review, because if there is, it should be presented next month, in December.
If Joint Force 2025 is the answer to the question, let us look into it. Essentially, defence is made up of equipment and people; 40%-plus of the expenditure is on equipment. The equipment for Joint Force 2025 is covered by the Defence Equipment Plan 2016, published in January 2017. The Government were bullish about this plan. Harriett Baldwin MP, Minister for Defence Procurement, said in the introduction:
“This built robust foundations for the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review which now sets the vision and future structure for our Armed Forces, taking us from Future Force 2020 and on to Joint Force 2025”.
I do not find this credible. The plan is a 10-year £178 billion programme that assumes £14 billion—by my calculations, because the numbers are all over the place—of unidentified savings. All history says that that will not happen.
I am not alone in my pessimism. The National Audit Office simultaneously produced a report on the plan, published, once again, in January this year. Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office—a moderate person—said on the publication of the plan:
“The affordability of the Equipment Plan is at greater risk than at any time since its inception. It is worrying to see that the costs of the new commitments arising from the Review considerably exceed the net increase in funding for the Plan. The difference is to be found partly by demanding efficiency targets. There is little room for unplanned cost growth and the MoD must actively guard against the risk of a return to previous practice where affordability could only be maintained by delaying or reducing the scope of projects”.
The Joint Force 2025 equipment plan is simply not credible.
Let us now turn to the other side of any force: the people side. The people plan for the future, according to the Library Note, has a 2020 target for the military to have a full-time trained strength of 144,200. The latest figure is 137,720—4.5% down on that 2020 target. One might feel that margin could be built up over the period, but history says that over the last two years our net full-time trained strength has gone down by 3,670 individuals.
Further, according to the UK Regular Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey,
“Satisfaction with Service life in general has decreased since 2009, especially for Other Ranks”.
The figures are frightening. In 2009, the satisfaction level recorded in that publication was 61%; it is now 42%, which is a reduction by almost a third. Elsewhere in that report, it says:
“The proportion of personnel who perceive Service morale as being low has increased since 2016”—
one year before—
“driven by the Army (up 12 percentage points)”—
up meaning worse—
“and changes in the Royal Marines (up 15 percentage points)”.
I contend that despite the Government’s statements, Joint Force 2025 is failing. There is not enough money to fund the equipment programmes; there are not enough trained military personnel to populate it; sadly and worst of all, the morale of the personnel is declining.
However, I wonder whether the Government agree with me, for on 20 July 2017 the Cabinet Office—not the Ministry of Defence—produced a statement which said:
“The government has initiated work on a review of national security capabilities, in support of the ongoing implementation of the National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review … The work will be led by Mark Sedwill, the National Security Adviser, with individual strands taken forward by cross-departmental teams, and will be carried out alongside continued implementation and monitoring of the 89 principal commitments”,
in those plans. What does this mean, and how is it to be done? Is it just code for more Treasury-forced defence cuts? Will foreign policy be taken into account? As my noble friend Lord Soley said, in the final analysis defence is the kinetic element of foreign policy, so when will the report be published and how will Parliament be involved?
Labour’s position on defence is straightforward. We said in our manifesto:
“As previous incoming governments have done, a Labour government will order a complete strategic defence and security review when it comes into office, to assess the emerging threats facing Britain, including hybrid and cyber warfare”.
Elsewhere in our manifesto, we committed to the 2% and to ensuring that we,
“have the necessary capabilities to fulfil the full range of obligations”.
We also committed to the nuclear deterrent. Sadly for the nation, and particularly for the wonderful people work who work in defence, defence is in a mess. We look forward to the challenge of putting it right.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on securing this important debate and by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken for their thoughtful and informed contributions. The wording of the noble Lord’s Motion reminds us of our nation’s proud history as a global force for good, and I agree fully with what he said about the role of the Armed Forces in that context. For the UK, it has long been a matter of principle that we should play a leading role in upholding global peace, stability and security. In many respects, in preparing to leave the European Union we prepare for a moment of great change for our country, but not in this regard. The Government are committed to an ordered, open and fair world, and to having Armed Forces that can contribute fully to maintaining that reality.
I agree with the overall approach of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, to the Motion he has tabled. At a time when the global security context is becoming increasingly challenging, it is right that we should reflect on our place in the world. State-on-state competition and regional instability are on the rise. The coalition is close to defeating Daesh in Iraq and Syria but this will not bring an end to the larger conflict. Meanwhile, Libya and Yemen continue to be gripped by unrest, while Lebanon is fighting to avoid political crisis. We have all witnessed the growing tensions in that region, especially between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In the Asia-Pacific region, North Korea’s tests of nuclear and ballistic missiles cannot be tolerated. Kim Jong-un risks destabilising the entire region and undermining the UN’s nuclear non-proliferation treaty. This grave situation is not helped by high tensions in the South China Sea, where the threat of militarisation looms.
Closer to home, violence and discord have flared on NATO’s eastern flank. I listened with respect and care, as I always do, to my noble friend Lord Cormack but in Crimea and in the Donbass, Russia has employed deceit, pretence and brute force to violate Ukrainian sovereignty. In Syria, Russia is propping up a regime that holds no qualms about the use of chemical weapons, including on civilians. In the North Atlantic, it is probing NATO’s resolve through increased maritime activity and of course, whether through hacking high-profile targets or polluting national conversation, Russia has sought to influence and disrupt democratic processes across the NATO membership. Of course, dialogue with Russia is desirable but we can judge Russia only by its actions, and many of those actions are unacceptable.
Russia is not alone in using cyberactivity to target UK interests. There has been a steep rise in cyberactivity by both state and non-state actors. In its first year, the National Cyber Security Centre has responded to almost 600 serious incidents. We all recall the WannaCry ransomware in May and the hack on Parliament in June. In addition to these high-profile cases, hundreds more have targeted British businesses and private citizens, threatening our prosperity and our peace of mind.
Finally, we have recently seen a dramatic rise in terrorist activity. In the Euro-Atlantic region alone this year, there have been incidents in the United States, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and of course on five occasions in the UK. Throughout the Middle East, Africa and Asia, violent Islamic extremism has blighted the lives of countless innocent civilians.
This daunting list makes clear the extent to which global peace, security and stability are under threat. The Government’s 2015 strategic defence and security review anticipated these challenges and we set out an ambitious plan for defence in response. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that we are committed to publishing the annual reviews on the SDSR. But we underestimated the pace at which the challenges would accelerate, and their cumulative impact on us and our allies. In the light of this, the only responsible action is to review our plans to make sure that we are as efficient and effective as possible in securing our homeland, and in strengthening the institutions that safeguard global security.
The noble Lord, Lord Soley, was again right that the UK has a unique role to play on the world stage in matters of defence and security. We must consider how best to play that role in this more troubled strategic context. The Ministry of Defence aims to use the current review of national security capabilities to address that question. I say again to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, that this is a cross-government review and we expect Ministers to consider its outcome towards the end of the year. It will then be for the Cabinet Office to determine the next steps.
Your Lordships, in particular my noble friend Lord Selkirk and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, will appreciate that there is little I can say at present about potential outcomes of the review. Evidence is still being considered, analysis conducted and options developed. Absolutely no decisions have been reached. Indeed, recent media reporting on potential NSCR options, whether HMS “Bulwark” and HMS “Albion” or anything else, has been highly misleading, speculative and deeply unhelpful to the men and women of the Armed Forces. However, I can tell the House about some of the principles guiding the department’s work on this review. First and foremost—I hope the noble Lord, Lord Soley, will welcome this—we must understand how to spend our growing budget more intelligently to emphasise those capabilities that are most effective at keeping us safe, most valued by our allies and most feared by our foes.
As ever, that begins with the foundation of our collective security: NATO. I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord West, said on that theme, and with the experienced observations of the noble Lord, Lord Owen. Today, in the face of the growing threats that I have described, we must reinforce the alliance once more. We aim to modernise and strengthen our Armed Forces, as well as NATO. For the UK, that means identifying and bolstering what is unique about our contribution to the alliance. For NATO as a whole, that means ensuring that together we possess the right combination of conventional and innovative capabilities to deter and defeat our adversaries. This includes refining our ability to combine all the levers of national power—military, economic, diplomatic—in the service of our security.
Beyond NATO, the UK must continue to use its status as a global power for good. I listened with care and respect to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell. To safeguard and strengthen the Euro-Atlantic alliance, UK defence must also be able to strengthen international security more broadly. Our leading role in the UN is vital in this regard. This year, we have increased our commitment to UN peacekeeping operations, notably the almost 400 troops we are contributing to the UN mission in South Sudan, which was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. In fact, South Sudan is a classic example of the UK supporting peace and stability in fragile areas of the world. Equally important is our network of alliances and partnerships throughout the world. That is why we are also using the review to consider how we can do more to make our Armed Forces even more complementary to, and interoperable with, those of our allies and partners across the world. By doing so we stand to deepen our collective defence.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, who put this conversation into the European context, we are a global player. We will remain engaged in the world and central to European foreign and security policy after we leave the EU. This is very much the desire of Ministers. As we have repeatedly made clear, we are leaving the EU, but we are not leaving Europe. We are committed to playing a leading role on Euro-Atlantic security. Our defence budget is the largest in NATO after the US and we are one of two European nuclear weapons states. Opportunities to engage are continuous, so it is not possible for me to capture the full range of what those extensive engagements might look like, but we have seen several examples in recent years.
The noble Lord, Lord Soley, said that we should be spending 3% of GDP, not 2%, on defence. That call was repeated by my noble friend Lord Sterling, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, and other noble Lords. Of course we could do more if we had more money, and 2% is a minimum, not a target. We are in fact spending more than 2% at the moment and the defence budget is rising every year of this Parliament, but we have to balance the demand for funding across the whole of government. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, was right to say that the real issue is not inputs but capabilities, including, as he pointed out, resilience. I encourage the House to think in terms of what defence is able to do around the world, and not about size alone. The Government are committed to ensuring that Britain’s Armed Forces can continue to make their crucial contribution to Britain’s status as a global power.
The noble Lord, Lord Hutton of Furness, expressed scepticism about the rationale for the NSCR. The national security capability review is being conducted in support of the implementation of SDSR 15. Its aims are clear—to ensure that our investment in national security capabilities is as effective, efficient and joined up as possible. It is a strategic exercise as well as, of course, a financial one, as all such reviews should be.
However, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, was completely wrong in what he said about the efficiency programme. The department is more than a year into its five-year efficiency programme, and it is already forecasting line of sight to 90% of our challenging £7.4 billion formal target, as set out by Her Majesty’s Treasury. As this is an efficiency programme, it is about savings that need to be made without adversely affecting defence outputs. We are achieving this by, for example, saving more than £2 billion in the way we procure equipment and £600 million by implementing the single-source contract regulations and equipment support contracts, and by how we procure complex weapons and a reduction in the size of our civilian workforce. A mass of work streams is contributing to that effort.
The noble Lord, Lord West, referred to the hollowing out, as he put it, of the Armed Forces. I cannot agree with those comments, any more than I can with similar comments from the noble Lord, Lord Lee. It is an overplayed mantra. The Armed Forces are meeting all their commitments across the world within all the bilateral and multilateral relationships that the noble Lord, Lord West, named. The Government will ensure that they continue to do so. Of course recruitment is challenging across the piece. The Armed Forces are fully funded to recruit the current liability and the force structures set out in SDSR 15. They are currently recruiting through active and targeted campaigns and are increasing engagement and activity in those communities from which the Armed Forces have historically not recruited.
Is it not true, however, that there was a reduction of 4,000 in the recruitment ceiling in the Royal Navy as part of SDSR 2010 and the Navy has been allowed only 400 back? Therefore it cannot recruit to a higher level to try to fill the spaces that are missing. This is part of the reason that it has ships alongside because it cannot man them and part of the reason for the pressure to look at other ways of manning. That is the reason that this has happened. It is because there is insufficient money to set a ceiling that makes sense tying in with the equipment that the Navy has to man.
Opinions can differ about what that ceiling should be. All I can tell the noble Lord, Lord West, is that the Navy tells us that it is working towards a target that it believes is credible and workable.
Turning to the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, between October 2016 and September 2017 we have seen a positive degree of progress in recruitment and retention, especially in outflow. Outflow has improved with fewer people leaving the full-time Armed Forces over that period compared to previous years. We are not out of the woods yet, but we are progressing. The noble Earl also questioned whether we would have enough personnel to man the aircraft carriers. There is no direct relationship between the size of a vessel and the manpower required to operate it. Technology has allowed manpower efficiencies over time. I can assure the noble Earl that the carriers will be appropriately manned to ensure that they can always operate effectively and safely. We are confident that with the uplift in numbers that has been announced and through an ongoing process of internal reprioritisation, the Navy will have sufficient manpower to crew both aircraft carriers and the Dreadnought submarines.
The noble Earl also mentioned pay. We welcome the Treasury’s decision to allow greater flexibility for public sector pay, and we acknowledge that the Armed Forces are among the most extraordinarily talented and hard-working people in our society. We are committed to ensuring that the overall package that they and other public sector workers receive reflects the value that we place on their work. Armed Forces pay rates are recommended by the independent Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body and the Senior Salaries Review Body for the most senior officers. The Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body reported earlier this year that it believes that the 1% increase in base pay recommended for 2017 would broadly maintain pay comparability with the civilian sector. We look forward to their recommendations for 2018-19.
The noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Bew, referred to morale in the Armed Forces. We recognise that satisfaction with Armed Forces pay has declined since the introduction of pay restraint, although traditionally pay has not been cited as an important factor in influencing decisions either to join or to stay. The remuneration package for service personnel, which includes a good pension, subsidised accommodation and a range of allowances on top of the basic salary, remains, I believe, very competitive.
The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, expressed his fear that the UK risks becoming militarily irrelevant and referred to the recent comments of General Hodges from the United States. The UK has been a world leader in matters of defence and security for centuries. We will ensure that we retain our long-held military edge by strengthening and modernising our Armed Forces to meet the harder threats that we face today. He also asked about our commitment to the Army. I reassure him that the Strategic Defence and Security Review set out our plans for investment in new Army capability and a modernised war-fighting division, which will enable our Armed Forces to respond to a wider range of more sophisticated potential adversaries and complex real-world challenges. In answer to both the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, Joint Force 2025 is being designed to sustain a higher level of concurrency of smaller-scale operations which better reflects the real-world demands in place today. However, at the same time we want to develop the ability to deploy at large scales where this is required. The plan is to be able to deploy at appropriate readiness a force of around 50,000, which includes up to 40,000 from the Army. The restructuring of the Army will offer more choice for policymakers in that context.
I will touch on equipment and procurement. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, referred to the carriers. The carrier-enabled power projection programme will allow the UK to project military power from a floating corner of Britain anywhere in the world for the next 50 years. Aircraft and amphibious forces will be able to launch from the carrier, and represent tremendous value for money given the unprecedented level of flexibility they will offer to the Royal Navy. Are we confident, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, asked, that we can protect the carriers? Yes, we are confident that our new carriers are well protected thanks to the defensive systems we have invested in as part of our equipment plan. I can say to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, that, yes, nothing has changed as regards our commitment in the SDSR to a fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers.
I will write on specific procurement questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, about maritime patrol aircraft, and by the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, on offshore patrol vessels. My noble friend Lord Sterling pertinently referred to a very important topic, innovation. That is why, in 2016, the Ministry of Defence launched the defence innovation initiative to develop a culture that is innovative by instinct. Innovation is a big challenge for defence. My noble friend mentioned the risk of complacency, and he is absolutely right. We aim to establish a mindset across the department that incentivises our people to think and act more innovatively, and I would be glad to talk to him further about that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, referred to an extremely important part of our armoury, which is the internet and cyber. I assure her that the Government recognise the importance of the internet as a domain of competition and conflict. The MoD and the National Cyber Security Centre are committed to working closely together and exploiting each other’s expertise and assets. There is more on that topic that I can usefully tell her.
I will write to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry about the MoD’s contribution to post-war aftercare, but the key point of that post-war aftercare is overseas aid. Again, I can comment on that topic in a letter, as I will on the CSSF, a topic touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich.
I am afraid I have received a message to say that I am over time already. I will just ask noble Lords to be patient as the NSCR progresses. We have taken no decisions on this, and any suggestions to the contrary are mistaken. I look forward to further discussion in this House once the review has reached its conclusion.
The noble Lord has just taken the words out of my mouth. I thank all noble Lords for their thoughtful and constructive comments. As usual, the noble Earl has made a thoughtful and encouraging response. But—and this is an important but—there is an acute danger that he and the Government are underestimating the concern that has been expressed for months now by very senior military officers, by various groups such as RUSI, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and others, and by many people among our overseas allies. That concern is real. If we duck it or ignore it, we will not do ourselves any favours.
Secondly, I simply make this point. I do not expect the defence review to give all the answers, certainly not to the questions that I raised in my opening speech, but I hope that it is a step on the road which we need to look at intensely carefully over the next year or two. We are in a bad place right now and we need to get into a better place.
Finally, I was pleased to hear the involvement of the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, because I would like to have talked more, as I did only a little, about the new technology. The reason Russia, China and North Korea—the three nations she identified—are using these technologies is precisely because they are still militarily weak in the face of the West. That will not last for ever. Russia still has a weak economy, but countries in that state use other technologies, which is what it is doing. It will not be just Russia, it will also be Iran fairly soon.