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British Armed Forces: Global Britain

Volume 809: debated on Thursday 21 January 2021

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what role the British Armed Forces are playing in support of the “Global Britain” agenda.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the Army Reserve. On 19 November, the Prime Minister said:

“Everything we do in this country—every job, every business, even how we shop and what we eat—depends on a basic minimum of global security.”

Our people are sustained by

“a web of feed pipes, of oxygen pipes, that must be kept open: shipping lanes, a functioning internet, safe air corridors, reliable undersea cables, and tranquillity in distant straits.”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/11/20; col. 488.]

This, in a nutshell, sums up defence’s contribution to global Britain. But global Britain is also about reinvesting in our relationships, championing the rules-based international order and demonstrating that the UK is open, outward-looking and confident on the world stage. As we await the publication of the integrated review, a subject to which I will return in a moment, I want to start by highlighting just some of the contributions our Armed Forces have made in recent times.

Our Armed Forces are a force for good in the world, providing international security, coming to the aid of the most vulnerable, providing direct humanitarian assistance, delivering aid and peacekeeping. The UK has a proud track record of being on the front line of every major international humanitarian disaster of the last decade. But with a spate of emergencies in the Caribbean in recent years, our ability to respond has been helped by the fact that the Royal Navy maintains a forward presence in central America to ensure that we can always be on hand whenever disaster strikes, particularly in the hurricane season.

In November 2020, more than 80 personnel assisted Belize with disaster relief in the wake of Storm Eta by providing planning and medical advice, moving vulnerable people to safety, distributing food and water and building flood defences. The year before, RFA Mounts Bay delivered essential aid to the Bahamas, which had been devastated by Hurricane Dorian, and in 2017 more than 2,000 Armed Forces personnel provided humanitarian and disaster relief to the Caribbean islands left devasted by Hurricane Irma. They distributed 135 tonnes of aid, provided 10 million gallons of safe water and supplied 500,000 water purification tablets, as well as sharing skills and lending equipment to repair infrastructure.

But it is not just in the Caribbean that UK military forces have been providing support. In west Africa, since June 2020 we have transported vital supplies to communities struggling against Covid-19, through RAF transport flights. In particular, we delivered the components for a field hospital to Ghana to treat victims of Covid-19.

Our reputation in the region as a partner of choice has grown following our provision of long-term support on the ground during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, where we built new medical facilities and provided additional medical support. In the Mediterranean last summer, the UK deployed HMS “Enterprise” to Beirut to deliver supplies and provide vital survey data that allowed the port to return to normal operations after the explosion. We also provided supplies to house and feed up to 500 soldiers from the Lebanese Armed Forces who were working on the relief operation. Even further afield, in the last few years we have delivered support such as shelter kits, solar lanterns and water purifiers to Indonesia and Vanuatu in the South Pacific, following natural disasters, and deployed teams from the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers to help support their fellow nationals in Nepal in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes.

In 2021, as we become a truly global nation, I seek the Minister’s assurance that with such a strong track record of humanitarian support, we will continue to prioritise our defence assets to support the safety of communities around the world. Of course, the principal role of the military is to deliver security, and I am pleased that recent years have witnessed an increase in the UK contribution to international peacekeeping. I have been part of NATO missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, so the subject is close to my heart.

I have been fortunate to visit two recent success stories. First was the deployment of personnel to support UN, African Union and EU peacekeeping missions to counter al-Shabaab in Somalia. Indeed, in March last year, the first 400 Somali National Army soldiers graduated from a new UK-supported training facility in Baidoa. The second was equally impressive: our contribution to the UN mission in South Sudan, where we have deployed a regiment of Royal Engineers and, for a period, a field hospital. UK service personnel also undertook a wide range of educational support to civilians, including English language and computer training, as well as practical skills such as carpentry and mechanics.

Bringing us completely up to date, the recent deployment of 300 UK military personnel to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, where they will help to promote peace and counter instability, is in addition to the three RAF Chinooks and their teams that have been supporting the French counterinsurgency operations in the region since 2018. As we look forward to an ever increasingly global Britain with trade at its heart, it is worth recognising that, since the 1980s, we have maintained a long-standing maritime presence in the Gulf and Indian Ocean, now known as Operation Kipion, to ensure the safe flow of trade and oil, while also promoting peace and stability in the region. While not wishing to be fixed in any particular mission, can my noble friend the Minister reassure us that the overall recent increase in support to UN missions will persist?

In addition to humanitarian relief and security, the other key element of defence’s potential contribution to delivering a global Britain will undoubtedly be our ability to assist our allies with training. Training support comes in two forms. Examples of international training are the UK’s ongoing contribution to peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where we are providing training on human security, including gender advisory work to promote stabilisation, and in Iraq, where over 6,000 members of the Iraqi security forces have now been trained by UK soldiers. Training is also delivered here in the UK through a variety of courses for all ranks, from junior commanders to the world-famous Royal College of Defence Studies, aimed at nations’ future leaders. I highlight the MoD’s internationally renowned defence human security advisor course, which covers topics including women, peace and security and has trained 20 international personnel a year since November 2018. One often-overlooked fact, however, is that the extensive network of defence attachés and regional-based training teams means that the MoD has a larger international footprint that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

I have always been deeply impressed by the MoD’s defence engagement strategy and am delighted that this is now firmly a mainstream career option for our service personnel. It is also a key component of the UK’s soft power along with, for example, the BBC World Service. Can the Minister tell us what plans there are to have a genuinely comprehensive cross-government approach to prioritising and delivering soft power influence?

Looking to the future, we await the publication next month of the integrated review, which should deliver, in the language of the grand strategic approach, the ends, ways and means of the Government’s future ambitions. However, it is worth noting that the MoD has already quietly published some of the detail of the ways, or how, it intends to operate, in the Integrated Operating Concept 2025—the IOpC—last September. This sets out a new approach to how we will use our armed forces in an era of persistent competition and the rapidly changing nature of warfare. Representing the most significant evolution of UK military thought in several generations, it will lead to a fundamental transformation not only of the UK military, but how we use it.

It articulates a clear distinction between operating and warfighting, and reasons that while ultimately we need a contingent capability for our military to defend the nation and fight a war, our military should also be out and about in the world, operating—namely doing useful things, helping to build alliances and responding to crisis—rather than simply training as a contingent force. This is good news, as it implies that the MoD will be encouraged to do even more of the sorts of tasks with partner nations that I have highlighted in support of global Britain. Can the Minister confirm that this will be the case?

The IOpC also makes clear that we must be prepared to be enduring in our commitment and forward deploy our Armed Forces. There is no better example of this than the recent forward deployment of HMS “Montrose” to Bahrain. I hope that in the coming years, further Royal Naval assets, including offshore patrol vessels, frigates and future commando elements, will also be persistently forward deployed. I was fortunate, as Minister for the Armed Forces, to travel to 58 partnering nations. The one consistent message that I received was that, while the training and support that we offered were viewed as some of the best in the world, we would be there one minute and gone the next, which is why this move to persistent engagement will be the key for defence’s contribution to global Britain.

I end by highlighting that, in May, a carrier strike group led by HMS “Queen Elizabeth” will undertake our most ambitious deployment for two decades, encompassing the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and east Asia. If the security of our nation is where defence meets prosperity meets global influence, then this deployment, and those global deployments that will follow, will be flagship events for defence’s contribution to global Britain.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, for securing this debate. There is of course a UK and NATO defence base on Gibraltar, with important facilities and which is strategically placed at the entrance to the Mediterranean, which I visited as a Minister in 2001. I therefore welcome the joint announcement on 31 December 2020 by the UK and Spain that they had reached agreement on a “political framework” to form the basis of a separate treaty between the UK and the EU regarding Gibraltar, under what Spain’s Europe Minister called “co-responsibility”.

The agreement eliminates any physical checks at the land border with Spain, bringing Gibraltar within the Schengen zone, the customs union and the single market. This seems a common-sense outcome that will secure UK defence and other interests, lift the shadow of historic Spanish restrictions over the rock and offer citizens of Gibraltar and Andalucia the basis for a positive stable relationship, based upon future co-operation rather than historic confrontation.

I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, for introducing this debate, but I fear that much of the British public sees global Britain as involving the British Council rather than the British Army, and certainly not the intractable problem of Mali, currently the most dangerous of all United Nations peacekeeping missions. The humanitarian achievements of our armed services are legion and demonstrate in a very practical way their capacity for dealing with the unexpected, but if the Army is to be deployed on missions such as Mali, the criteria for doing so must be spelled out clearly in public, and must include the possibility of mission creep.

My Lords, all Members of this House recognise that the Armed Forces already convey an excellent image for the United Kingdom whenever and wherever they deploy, and that in so doing, they help the Government to meet their aspiration to be a global force for good. To paraphrase the Prime Minister, our Armed Forces are one pillar of the Government’s ambition to safeguard Britain’s interests and values by strengthening our global influence. This entails having a United Kingdom presence that can be seen and felt physically on a worldwide basis, capable of exerting soft or, if necessary, hard power, at any time, and wherever it might be needed on any continent or ocean.

A maritime strategy that involves forward deployment is fundamental to this, and such a strategy is in place today, embodied by the carrier strike group deployment later this year. It will be enhanced by the emphasis given to the importance of a strong Navy by the Prime Minister in his speech on defence in November, a sentiment that I commend to your Lordships.

My Lords, our International Relations and Defence Committee report on the UK and Afghanistan, published this month, demonstrates the important role that our Armed Forces play in supporting global Britain. We welcome the significant part that the UK has played in NATO’s resolute support mission. In particular, our establishment of the Afghan National Army Officer Academy in Qargha, colloquially known as “Sandhurst in the sand”, has trained and improved the leadership capability of a generation of Afghan national defence and security forces, which face the challenges of the Taliban insurgency. Several alumni occupy senior positions in the Afghan Government, which has helped to build closer ties between the UK and Afghanistan. The initial UK training agreement was for 10 years. Does my noble friend agree that this programme is valuable for the global Britain agenda and should continue to be funded?

My Lords, if the Armed Forces are to continue to promote global Britain, we must look after them and fulfil our obligations under the Armed Forces covenant. Research by the Royal British Legion and Poppyscotland points to the difficulties that veterans are encountering in getting benefits assessors to understand post-traumatic stress disorder when scoring health assessments for disability benefits. One stated that:

“I supplied a consultant psychiatrist’s letter stating all my mental health conditions. I scored zero. This is laughable”.

I agree. A government spokesman has said that the report would be given careful consideration, but consideration must be given both carefully and urgently if we are to continue to promote global Britain.

My Lords, we have a disgracefully short time in which to debate a vital topic. I agree with virtually everything that the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, said in his introduction. My fear is that the promotion of global Britain gives us back the idea that we are somehow a global great power. We have to recognise that we are not. We should not go back to the decision to withdraw east of Suez that we took in 1968. We have plenty of interests in Europe and its neighbourhood, where we have to play a vital role, given the Balkan tinderbox, the dangers of Russian revanchism, tensions in the Mediterranean and the north African problems to which other noble Lords have referred. We must avoid overreach. I support a stronger defence budget, but we must not imagine that we are what we were.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster. I put down peacekeeping and training as the main thrust, or a very large part, of what any modern force should be doing. As the noble Lord has covered that, I limit myself to a couple of questions.

If the Army, Navy and Air Force are all going to be taking part in this, what will be the spending commitments and procurement process that place it on an even keel, with major battle-fighting capacity, compared with other nations of our status or bigger? Do these things feature in the planning? Defence spending has a habit of getting sucked into big projects, with egos involved. Are we going to take some steps against that? Are we going to include the police in any form of training going forward, as well as the Armed Forces?

My Lords, some might thing that the UK, in claiming for itself the title “global Britain”, was being more than a little pretentious. The challenge is to substantiate the claim, and the route to that substantiation is the gaining of influence in the world, a reasonable ambition in the post-Brexit era. The real influence comes through a combination of the UK’s hard and soft power, a true integration of the skills of our diplomats, the strength and versatility of our Armed Forces and the correct focusing of our international development budget.

While I applaud the recent and significant increase in our defence budget, a welcome addition to our hard power, I am utterly dismayed—along with former Prime Minister Theresa May, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and others—by the decrease from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP in our international development budget. In the overall context of the Chancellor’s fiscal challenge, this £4 billion saving is tiny, but the damage that it does to the global Britain aspiration and our international reputation is huge. Would the Minister like to comment on whether this truly awful decision will either be reversed shortly or maintained solely for one year?

My Lords, we must strive to be the foremost player in European defence by bolstering NATO and playing a constructive and key role in European security. Further afield, with China having proved willing to announce the new Hong Kong security law and the detention of Uighur Muslims, we see passions run strong. The careful meshing of foreign policy, trade and defence interests against a backlash in public opinion over relations with China will provide an early and stern test for the British Government’s definition of global Britain. A strong defence policy will have a key role to play in the recalibration of Britain’s influence in the world, best delivered through an integrated and synthesised approach to security, defence, development and foreign policy, with a growing role in peacekeeping and humanitarian work. The welcome defence spending increase over the next four years will provide a real opportunity for global Britain to deliver and influence outcomes. In such uncertain times, that should be welcomed.

My Lords, I must admit to fearing that our Armed Forces are currently too small to satisfy the Government’s aspirations for us to be global Britain after Brexit or the CDS’s vision of a more forward-deployed military. The Army certainly has no surplus after those required to help with the pandemic have been removed—plus its contributions to NATO’s enhanced forward presence and UN peacekeeping operations in Cyprus and Mali. The realisation of the Government’s aspirations is therefore very much resource related.

My Lords, global Britain will only progress in alliance with our key allies, be it the US, France and so on. Of course, I welcome the increased funding and the four-year settlement, but hard choices remain. We have to ask ourselves whether we, as a middle-sized country, can do everything across the spectrum with excellence, as the Defence Secretary claims. Can we be everywhere, in all the theatres, as the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, implies? I reflect that the increase in funding and presence worldwide took place at a time when we were a member of the European Union. Nevertheless, we took important and sovereign decisions. Was EU membership in any way a constraint on our defence posture in terms of procurement or deployment?

My Lords, the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, has repeatedly called for a multiyear defence settlement to enable the military to invest in constructing a modern defence capability. I echo that plea. If the military is to be able to deliver the integrated operating concept, a pivotal strategy for global Britain, with its emphasis on continuing cyberwar against authoritarian states, it needs long-term investment in technology.

Secondly, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, spoke of the horrors continuing in Mali. Some 220 UN peacekeepers have been killed there since 2013, eight of them in the last four weeks. Our UK mission there is under-resourced; it needs helicopters —absolutely essential for providing crucial casualty evacuation—and it does not have them. Would the Minister examine that situation?

My Lords, our Armed Forces are a shining example of how to teach, learn and use foreign language skills. The Defence Centre for Languages and Culture teaches 40 different languages. Will the Minister confirm that its funding is secure? Local interpreters are vital, but lessons learned from Iraq and Afghanistan led to a step change in our own language training, essential also for peacekeeping, conflict prevention and humanitarian aid. Language skills are required for promotion, conform to NATO proficiency standards, and attract a financial reward. Will the Minister ensure that this best practice is more vigorously disseminated to promote more widespread cultural change under the banner of global Britain, including throughout the Civil Service? Our Armed Forces show that multilingualism is not just useful but valued—a really important part of what global Britain should look like.

My Lords, I am not terribly keen on the term “global Britain”, but some Members have already pointed out the necessity to join up our activities. Embassies need to ensure that they have economic as well as diplomatic and military representation, because it is entirely the bringing together and integration of these services that enables us to promote our interests and those of the wider security of the world. Our Armed Forces have been underfunded for many years, particularly our Navy. We also have to pay attention to Africa, which will be the great powerhouse of the future, with a growing population. We should be able to capitalise on our historical connections there, and I strongly urge the Minister to do so.

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, I will always remember the support of our Armed Forces for the people of Kosovo 20 years ago. Our soldiers did a lot of humanitarian work at that time; in fact, they acted as aid workers alongside the UN. The reverse is sometimes true as well—that aid workers have to defend themselves, and staff are casualties, often unreported. Those soldiers were carrying out a mission under the UN principle of R2P, responsibility to protect, and my question to the Minister is: does that principle still hold good in defence circles, because we seem to hear less about it? The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund combines the skills of DfID and the MoD. As we have heard, we have sent 300 Light Dragoons and others out to Mali, adding to 100 already taking part in the French-led Operation Barkhane. I know the region, and I can only wish our soldiers and aid workers well. As has been said, this is a dangerous area where men of violence occupy places where government fears to tread.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, for introducing this short defence debate, so necessary in these perilous times. We have left the European Union but not Europe, and with the major new extra funding for our Armed Forces, together with transformation and innovation, we are by far the strongest member of NATO in Europe. President Biden will undoubtedly need help to inspire the democratic allies of the United States, of which we should be far the closest. Statecraft and networking has always been one of our special strengths; we are recognised as one of the best in the world at it. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will play key roles in helping and influencing the President accordingly, while developing our own urgently needed long-term foreign policy. Con Coughlin’s excellent article in yesterday’s Telegraph is a key geo-assessment of how dangerous the world has become, suggesting that Beijing, Moscow and Tehran represent by far the most dangerous totalitarian states. I totally agree.

My Lords, the UK has one of the strongest and most powerful combinations of hard and soft power in the world. Our Armed Forces are respected around the world as the best of the best; in fact, the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, mentioned soft power in his opening speech. I am an honorary group captain in 601 Squadron of the Royal Air Force, and the announcement of the new Space Command is a major development given the increasing threat in space and the need to prioritise this capability and ramp it up at speed. Does the Minister agree that our Armed Forces should continue to build closer links, with joint exercises and exchanges of personnel, with other countries such as India? Our Armed Forces are truly a crucial and prominent part of global Britain.

My Lords, it is hugely welcome that the Government define global Britain as a commitment to uphold the international rules-based system. That is not a given, as it might have seemed only a decade ago. There are daunting and growing challenges on that front. The Armed Forces’ capability is vital, so all eyes are on the integrated review, particularly the ability to project a naval and cyber deterrent into the Indo-Asia-Pacific region in the decades ahead. What is important is not simply the Armed Forces’ capability, however; this is about the will to act. Recent episodes such as Syria have shown that, if that is not there from the United Kingdom, we can allow nations with far inferior capability to become dominant. Global Britain must be about being a committed, enduring global leader, right from the very top.

The increasing challenges that Britain and our friends face in the world are very real. While commercial shipping demand grows inexorably, climate change is opening up new trade routes. The challenges multiply. The need to influence, to project our values and, where necessary, to compete—all those factors are focused on the world’s oceans. We should look to support our friends and partners where appropriate and able. Britain’s forthcoming new investments in maritime defence assets is not unique. It is to be seen also in other navies such as Australia, Canada, Japan, India, France and the USA. I draw attention to the calibre of our people. Their dedication, professionalism and can-do spirit are truly remarkable. At a time of profound national challenge and change, they have a special power to inspire us all, at home and around the world—soft power.

My Lords, we all await the delayed integrated review. I too welcome the extra £24 billion for defence and our Armed Forces, but think it somewhat perverse to allocate the extra funds before working out the detailed strategy that they are meant to underpin. Should not Her Majesty’s Government work out the strategy first and then commit the necessary funds to achieve it? We need a coherent and comprehensive defence strategy if the funding is to be effective. Can the Minister confirm that, as part of the global Britain agenda, Her Majesty’s Government will strengthen their “east of Suez” strategy—for example, working with our regional allies to better protect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea in particular and the western Pacific in general?

My Lords, in my one minute, I make an impassioned plea for Britain to be less global in strutting its military might across the world. We already have a military presence on 145 sites in 45 countries. If other members of our so-called Security Council were to follow our example, our fragile world would become even more dangerously unstable. Does the Minister agree with the words of former Prime Minister Theresa May that we should stop acting as the world’s policeman?

My Lords, I pay tribute to our Armed Forces’ regulars and reserves for the work they do internationally and at home: dealing with Covid, the floods and now trying to play a key role in global Britain. The noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, urged the Minister to say that the Government would keep up the major humanitarian efforts, but he also noted that the problem is that the UK is seen as here today and gone tomorrow, or here one minute and gone the next. That reflects the danger of Prime Ministers—David Cameron did this quite often—and others going somewhere and making a commitment without necessarily a clear strategic objective. Could the Minister clarify what the strategy behind global Britain will be and reassure us that it will not cause overstretch, further damaging our Armed Forces’ morale?

Britain’s Armed Forces are renowned for their dedication, professionalism and excellence. Labour stands four-square behind them, their families and our veterans. Today Britain faces a diverse array of threats: adversaries investing heavily in their military, a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, autonomous weapons, and a climate emergency. But uncertain times provide an opportunity to outline a new vision of our place in the world, and the Armed Forces should have a key role in that.

We have been here before: after the Second World War, the leadership of Clem Attlee and Ernie Bevin was instrumental in setting up NATO, but the Government cannot say how the Armed Forces will contribute to global Britain if we still do not know what is going to happen with the integrated review. When will it be published? There is much ground to make up. Two defence reviews cut spending by £8 billion and reduced the forces by 40,000. The recently announced increase in capital spend was matched by a real-terms cut in revenue.

We need an ambitious strategy for our Armed Forces to develop new international relationships and protect our country against serious threats. We need a coherent vision of Britain as a moral force for good in the world, which places the Armed Forces squarely within that. When will this Government show some leadership? Are they capable of showing us a vision of a new global Britain, as Attlee and Bevin did all those years ago?

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lancaster on securing this valuable debate and thank your Lordships for a stimulating discussion. I know your Lordships felt constrained by time, and trying to listen to your excellent contributions was rather like listening to a constantly beating staccato drum—so, if I do not manage to include everyone in my remarks, I apologise.

My noble friend laid out very well the extraordinary contribution that our Armed Forces make to the security and influence of the UK, not least our support of humanitarian and peacekeeping work and training. Globally, the Armed Forces truly are ambassadors and defenders of the UK’s values, prosperity and security. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, both acknowledged and paid tribute to that, for which I thank him. Particularly, he asked that we build closer links with friends and allies. I agree and confirm that India is indeed a valued ally.

To illustrate the range of activity I can report that, over the festive period alone, more than 6,000 military personnel were deployed on 39 operations in 46 countries. That eloquently underpins the concept of global Britain. As global competition deepens, as the challenges of Covid-19 put strain on the international system, as nations seek to find an edge—through fair means and foul—we face an unprecedented and accelerating challenge. While the Armed Forces already make an indispensable contribution to our security, prosperity and values, and to global Britain, we can and will do more. We shall be more globally engaged: actively competing and collaborating to defeat and deter our adversaries, working ever more closely with allies old and new, extending our reach to new theatres and domains, and tackling global challenges to our safety and prosperity. That is why the Prime Minister announced more than £24 billion for next-generation military capability, cementing our place as a leader in NATO, defending our people from new and evolving threats, operating globally, protecting the world’s most vulnerable, and bringing jobs and prosperity to every part of the United Kingdom. That is something of which we can all be proud; it means that global Britain is not some empty piece of rhetoric but a very solid concept. The MoD and our Armed Forces are certainly demonstrating —dramatically—just how solid a concept that is and how valuable it is to the rest of the world.

My noble friend Lord Lancaster raised a number of important issues that were echoed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Boyce, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and many others. I can reassure my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, that humanitarian response and United Nation peacekeeping will continue to be an important component of the MoD’s engagement activity. As my noble friend is right to point out, the integrated review proposes a transformation in the Armed Forces to increase our presence and engagement across the world. Two important components of this will be agility and persistence. It is vital that the Armed Forces are flexibly deployed into the situations where they can deliver the greatest value, whether this be supporting United Nations peacekeeping and French counterterrorism operations in Mali, or delivering humanitarian aid to the Caribbean. The Armed Forces will do more to deliver this Government’s integrated approach to foreign policy and soft power, a point that my noble friend specifically mentioned, as did the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans.

The noble Lord, Lord Hain, in connection with current and recent issues, raised the very important matter of Gibraltar—a key defence base that occupies a special place in our affections. As he pointed out, it is of huge strategic importance. Around 440 military personnel, from all three services, are supporting Gibraltar. We are pleased that they can look to the future with greater certainty as a consequence of the outlined agreement.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, raised Mali and mission creep. I seek to reassure him that the terms of deployment are clearly defined and they are over a specific time. Mission creep is not something that we would ever want. He is right to raise that prospect because there have been painful lessons in the past, but we are very cognisant of how these deployments must be closely described, defined and monitored. Indeed, in Africa, some 300 British troops and RAF Chinook helicopters are working alongside French and United Nations colleagues to support counterterrorism operations and a United Nations peacekeeping mission. In Somalia, 65 British service personnel support peacekeeping and training missions with Somali forces. As my noble friend Lord Lancaster said, that is another indication of the dimension and the broad spectrum of the support we can give.

The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, raised languages. I totally agree with her: it is an essential support that we value. I did not make a detailed note of the point she raised, but I will look at Hansard and endeavour to respond to her.

Many of your Lordships raised the broader questions of international security, international influence, how we deploy our resources and what our objectives are. In among all that, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, raised international aid. As I said, the Government are committed to our aid and support role, and our Armed Forces play an important role in the discharge of that obligation.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and other noble Lords raised the issue of activities and influence, the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, mentioned south-east Asia, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked about coherent activity. The best illustration of that is possibly the carrier strike group, which I feel illustrates the point well. The United Kingdom reached a major milestone in December, when it declared that its carrier strike programme had achieved initial operating capability. The Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, and the US acting Secretary of Defense, Christopher C Miller, co-signed the UK-US joint declaration for the carrier strike group 2021 deployment. This declaration paves the way for a successful inaugural operational deployment of the UK carrier strike group alongside its allies. The joint declaration supports the UK carrier strike group, led by the UK’s aircraft carrier HMS “Queen Elizabeth” on its inaugural deployment later this year.

This deployment embodies the strength of our bilateral ties and reflects the depth and breadth of this vital defence security partnership. It will include the Indo-Pacific region working together with allies to send a clear signal of our commitment to the region. But this will not be a flash-in-the-pan activity, as some of your Lordships, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, were concerned about; it is all part of a coherent approach. The deployment supports the UK’s deep and enduring defence relationships, such as the vital Five Eyes partnership, our ongoing commitment to supporting United Nations operations in the region and our desire to advance bilateral security co-operation with ASEAN nations.

My noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns raised the important matter of Afghanistan, as did a number of your Lordships, and I will just cover the points that she raised. She referred to her committee’s work on the recent publication of the International Relations and Defence Committee report, The UK and Afghanistan. I pay tribute to my noble friend and her committee for a very useful report. It seemed a most comprehensive review of everything that has happened, with some very useful pointers as to where we ought to be looking. I reassure her that we remain committed to supporting Afghanistan in its journey towards lasting stability and security. The United Kingdom is the third-largest troop contributor to the Resolute Support Mission, with around 850 personnel deployed. We remain committed to building Afghanistan’s stability and security, committing £70 million in military funding and £155 million in development funding for 2021. Again, that is a useful indicator of the Government’s intention relating to their overseas responsibilities.

Our valued contributions make us well placed to influence our NATO allies and our partners, including the new United States Administration. We look forward to engaging with President Biden and his Administration. It is already clear that the United Kingdom and United States have much in common on a range of issues. I reassure my noble friend that we will seek that engagement at the earliest opportunity to reiterate our continued commitment to Afghanistan.

A number of your Lordships, including the noble Lords, Lord Touhig, Lord Anderson of Swansea and Lord Truscott, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, raised the integrated review and the issue of defence spending and budget. We are increasing defence spending by an additional £16.5 billion over the next four years—the biggest investment in the UK’s Armed Forces since the end of the Cold War. That marks the first outcome of the integrated review. It will enable modernisation of the UK Armed Forces, with at least £6.6 billion for research and development. The full conclusion of the integrated review will be announced in the coming months.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth raised the matter of our veterans—a matter dear to the hearts of us all. We offer support and advice across a range of areas through the Office of Veterans Affairs and our support for veterans’ charities. The case that he referred to was troubling and, if he wishes to provide me with more information, I shall investigate.

This has been an excellent debate. It has highlighted the broad contributions of the Armed Forces to global Britain. The value of the defence contribution to global Britain, as I have already said, cannot be overstated. This year will be a turning point: not only will it see the inaugural deployment of the carrier strike group, to which I referred; it will be a demonstration of the United Kingdom’s technological and industrial prowess, and a sign of our enduring commitment to allies across the world. It will also see the publication of the integrated review—a very important development, setting in motion the transformation of the reach and impact of our Armed Forces across the world and delivering a global Armed Forces ready for a global Britain.

I thank my noble friend for calling this debate and all noble Lords for their very interesting and thought-provoking contributions.

Sitting suspended.