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Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy: Integrated Review

Volume 802: debated on Wednesday 4 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the timescale for the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy; who will lead that review; and whether the members of the Chiefs of Staff Committee will be part of the team delivering the review.

My Lords, the integrated review will align with the comprehensive spending review reporting later this year. Implementation of its recommendations is expected to be a multi-year project. Further announcements and timings will be made in due course. The review will be led by the Prime Minister. It will involve numerous stakeholders, including the Chief of the Defence Staff and service chiefs.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. I am amazed that this highly complex review, which ought to be called the Johnson review, is going to have to provide answers about money, effectively, for this summer. It is also sad that its aim is not something as straightforward as ensuring the defence and security of our nation and people, rather three pages of waffle.

My Question relates to spad involvement. When I was a Minister for three years, I am afraid I came to the conclusion that most spads—not all—were a complete waste of rations. Very recently, a spad has actually said that this country does not need an agriculture and fisheries sector, which, in strategic terms, is totally bonkers. Can the Minister reassure me that this study will be done by people who actually understand geopolitical and geostrategic issues, rather than by weird—I use the word advisedly, as it has been used by other people—spads?

My Lords, let me try to tease out a few questions from the rhetoric. First, we have to be realistic: circumstances for the United Kingdom have changed dramatically, not least because we have left the EU, but particularly since the last strategic defence and security review in 2015. What we are contending with globally is unrecognisable from what we knew then. If this review was called the Johnson review, it would be a very appropriate title because it is an absolutely essential response to a geopolitical situation that is fluid globally. It is an essential response to the need to knit together government policy for defence, for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, of course, for DfID. That is a very far-reaching prospect.

I do not share the noble Lord’s pessimism about the timescale for this review. He will be aware that, in fact, as far as defence is concerned, a lot of the preparatory work has been done: it is there and ready to be pulled down and presented by way of evidence to the review.

On the matter of spads, it is a little unfair to refer to people who are unable to be here to defend themselves. My experience of spads is limited but essentially positive—they can be an enormous help in the discharge of ministerial responsibility. It is very easy to get cheap headlines by knocking somebody because of the way they dress—no doubt, I could be knocked because of the way I dress—but I think what matters is the cerebral capacity that can be brought to the role, and I am absolutely satisfied about that.

My Lords, may I declare an experience, as the co-ordinator of the 2010 strategic defence and security review? Does the Minister agree that good strategy is about choosing and prioritising? Does she accept that one of the most crucial aspects of this review is that it should start with a clear statement of the Government’s vision for Britain’s role in the world—a realistic role that gets beyond the slogan of “global Britain”?

I am grateful to the noble Lord; he gets to the nub of the issue. The review will indeed develop global Britain’s foreign policy. It will focus on our alliances and diplomacy, look at the trends and shifts in power and wealth to which I referred, and then determine how best we can use our international development resource.

My Lords, I share the concerns of the noble Lords, Lord West of Spithead and Lord Ricketts; we need to be realistic about what the United Kingdom is trying to achieve. Apparently, this review of policy is supposed to be the most fundamental since the end of the Cold War. That sounds fine, but can we be reassured that, if it takes place alongside the comprehensive spending review, it will not be an excuse for the newly integrated No. 10 and Treasury spads to find ways of ensuring that the cloth is cut according to what the Treasury thinks? Will we have the resources that our place in the world and our defence needs require?

The noble Baroness asks a serious question. In an endeavour to reassure her, let me say that the review is a serious, substantive proposition. As I have indicated, it examines areas of policy, defence strategy, alliances, international partnerships and so forth. The review is deliberately wide-ranging, as it has to be, but it will be underpinned by our existing commitments to contributing 2% of our GDP to NATO and 0.7% of GNI to development and, of course, to maintaining our nuclear deterrent, which will be a core part of the review.

My Lords, there is a general consensus that the 1997-98 strategic defence review was serious and thorough. It involved 14 months of consultation and included a panel of 18 external experts, submissions from 450 MoD civilian and service personnel, seminars with defence and foreign affairs specialists, written public submissions, and base visits so that 7,500 staff could express their views. If this is the biggest review of our foreign, defence, security and development policy since the end of the Cold War, as the Government keep repeating, can the Minister unambiguously confirm that the consultation will be at least equal to the 1997-98 process?

In no way do I diminish the significance of the review to which the noble Lord refers; it was important and necessary. The world in which we live now, both domestically and globally, is very changed. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord West, a lot of the work that will be necessary to produce evidence for the review regarding the defence perspective in the UK has already been done. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, will be aware that over the years, we have had the 2015 SDSR, the Contest strategy on counterterrorism, the national security capability review, the modernising defence programme, and the exciting and very effective transformation programme. A lot of that work is already in place, and a lot of evidence is available for the review.