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Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD):
I thank the Defence Secretary for his statement and for the Green Paper, which is a well-judged attempt to frame the questions
that the strategic defence review must answer. However, that agenda is unbalanced by the omission of one item: the replacement of Trident. A few minutes ago, the Prime Minister responded to a question about it by looking at the issue from a strategic security point of view, and I agree that that is the starting point, but surely the scale and the timing of any replacement of the Trident deterrent has profound opportunity cost implications for the entirety of the rest of the defence budget. A strategic defence review cannot be genuinely comprehensive if the biggest single strategic and spending decision is parked outwith its framework.
The statement rightly identified that the strategic defence review needs first to ask: what role does Britain want to play in global security? I agree with the Defence Secretary that it would not be appropriate for us to "defend from the goal line", and that we should be prepared to go to distant places in our national interests, but are we going to learn from our mistakes? In particular, the 1998 assumption that we would be quick in and quick out of some engagements has not turned out to be correct. Should we not also learn the lesson that invading Iraq without the support of many of our usual allies and with dubious legal cover made the operation a great deal more difficult to prosecute thereafter?
I strongly welcome the Defence Secretary's remarks about a greater importance for co-operation within Europe on defence matters. The Americans' strategic interests and financial resources mean that in the next few decades they will not be able to make the contribution to European defence that they have made in previous decades. It is absolutely right that the Americans remain our key strategic ally, but we can contribute more to that relationship if we better harness the efforts of Europe in its own cause.
An interesting observation in the statement was the restatement of the 1998 assumption that there is no external direct threat to the United Kingdom. The Defence Secretary went on to talk about accelerating reform and the need to be more adaptable. I entirely agree, but I urge him to be bolder and to go further not only with reform, but with making ourselves agile enough to face emerging threats. We still have troops in Germany who seem to be prepared for the unlikely eventuality of the Soviets arriving with their tanks. There is a great deal more work to be done, but I welcome the direction that the Defence Secretary has pointed out.
Finally, we still have troops in Afghanistan, and we will have for many years yet. We know that there is pressure on the defence budget, but surely we all agree that ensuring that those troops continue to have everything they need is the top priority that cannot be sacrificed to anything else.
Mr. Ainsworth: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his response. He takes these issues seriously and studies them, and I hope that he finds the Green Paper a useful tool for his thinking as we move towards the strategic defence review.
The reason why Trident was not included in the Green Paper was that we had to take a strategic decision in 2006 to replace the deterrent if we genuinely wanted to maintain both the skill base in Barrow and our ability to build nuclear submarines. If we had not taken that decision, the risk to our ability would have been profound, and, having done so, we see no reason to
attempt to revisit or re-take it. If we did so, that would be destructive. We took the decision, and the time scales in developing nuclear submarines are considerable. That is why the decision had to be taken when it was.
The hon. Gentleman will find that the Green Paper acknowledges that the possibility of quick in, quick out was thought about and hoped for. However, we have not been able or prepared to remove ourselves from some of our operations, and we have been enduring counter-insurgency as a result. That has profound implications, because if we want to maintain our ability to conduct operations like those that we are undertaking in Afghanistan, we must address that issue, among others.
I really believe that the US contribution will continue for the foreseeable future, but I do not believe, as some-not all-Conservative Members do, that there is an alternative to an Atlantic relationship or a European relationship. Our strength in Europe enhances our position with the United States of America. I believe that the two are complementary, and we should pursue both.
Our forces are based in Germany not in anticipation of the Russians coming over, although that is the historical reason why they are there. They are there because bases were built, and that is where they are based. Over time we have reduced our footprint, and over time I should expect us to continue to do so, but that is effectively their home. I am enormously pleased that they are made welcome in Germany, and that we will continue to have a close relationship with the German authorities.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the statement and accompanying papers and the emphasis that my right hon. Friend places on adaptability and partnership to meet not only the ongoing commitments in Afghanistan but the uncertainty that lies beyond that. He concluded by saying that he hoped that there would be "a mature and well-informed debate about the future structure of our armed forces." Given that this time last year 29 per cent. of personnel deployed in Afghanistan were naval personnel, can he confirm that this work on the future structure of the armed forces will recognise the naval contribution?
Mr. Ainsworth: In response to my hon. Friend's final question, yes, of course, it is absolutely necessary and vital that we have that rounded debate and that we appreciate our geographical location and our dependence on the maritime environment. The existence of and necessity for naval capability is therefore an issue that we must consider seriously.
In many ways, the strategic defence debate has already started, and the Green Paper is a contribution to that. We have already been consulting widely and provoking other people to join in the debate. Papers are coming out of the Royal United Services Institute and other think-tanks and organisations, which are a great contribution to the debate, and those on the Front Benches and Back Benches are turning their minds to it, as are others in the country. I really wanted to encourage that debate when I embarked on this programme, and I hope that this Green Paper has made, and will make, a contribution to it.
Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): I am grateful for prior sight of the statement and of the Green Paper, which is fine, and helpful. I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that the more discussion we can have on this, the better, and I am glad that he has started it off. The Bernard Gray report suggested a 10-year rolling budget. Does the Secretary of State agree that a 10-year indicative planning horizon is a watering down of that proposal, and was it the Treasury that objected?
Mr. Ainsworth: The longer the planning horizons that we can have in this regard, the better off we are, so we have obviously been discussing that within Government. The provision of the indicative budgets will be a great help, particularly on the equipment side. However, that, on its own, will not get us to where we need to be. Transparency, uncomfortable though it will be, is something which the right hon. Gentleman's Committee, the Defence Committee, has been advocating for some time, and it will be the big tool in getting us to a better place.
Mr. Speaker: Order. A further 22 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. I should like to accommodate everybody, but there is important business to follow, so short questions and short answers are required.
Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): On Friday, I will be visiting BAE Systems' plant at Samlesbury in Lancashire, where the joint strike fighter is being built. Some £800 million has been invested in the plant, and the aircraft are due to fly off the two aircraft carriers that my right hon. Friend mentioned. His colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), mentioned to the Defence Committee the Government's commitment to an order of 140 aircraft. I am sure that when I visit the plant on Friday the work force would be pleased if I could confirm that the Secretary of State had made a similar commitment.
Mr. Ainsworth: Over time, our plans are to base our air capability principally on two aircraft-the Typhoon and the joint strike fighter. The numbers and the particular capabilities of either of those will need to be considered in the defence review. I hope that my hon. Friend takes heart from the fact that even with the movement of resources in December towards the Afghan mission, I brought forward the Typhoon capability upgrade, which means that I understand the importance of maintaining our air capability.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): May I thank the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) for their kind words and say what an honour it was to serve on the Defence Advisory Forum?
Having heard the Prime Minister's thoroughly slippery and entirely inaccurate answers on defence matters at today's Prime Minister's questions, will the Secretary of State confirm that good though this Green Paper is-and it is a good piece of work-a great deal more thinking needs to go on in respect of foreign policy? The foreign policy baseline needs to be the architecture on which the security and defence review will be based.
Mr. Ainsworth: This Green Paper is clearly grounded in the security documentation that the Government have produced, and I hope that it is consistent with our foreign policy objectives; I have no reason to believe that it is not. The Foreign Office has had the same kind of input as the hon. Gentleman has had. We have been showing him drafts, and he has been providing input and helping to mould this work as it has gone forward. I do not think that his fears are well founded; I hope that they are not.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): If I may say so, I found the Secretary of State's statement rather depressing. There was no mention of a peace process, no mention of international law, and no mention of the United Nations. How on earth can one have a review of defence capabilities without including the nuclear question and the replacement of Trident, which forms such a massive part of our future expenditure? We could save £76 billion over the next 20 years by cancelling the Trident programme, so helping to bring about world disarmament.
Mr. Ainsworth: I am not surprised that my hon. Friend and I have failed to reach a consensus on the nuclear issue. If he reads the Green Paper that I have produced-I commend it to him-he will see that the United Nations figures quite considerably. Of course, we want to support the security apparatus that provides not only for our own security but for good relations throughout the world, and the United Nations is a very important part of that. If we can promote peace in any and every way, and to the maximum degree of our ability, we should do so, but we should not be naive in thinking that that will always be the case. We therefore have to accept the need for capable armed forces of the kind that we have today and that we will need in future.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): May I add my thanks to the Secretary of State for the way in which he has sought to engage with a wide range of people on this Green Paper? Does he agree, however, that this would not be the moment for an east of Suez retrenchment of the United Kingdom under financial pressures, that we cannot afford the luxury of withdrawing back to our home base, and that it is extremely unlikely that we can sustain our global role unless we maintain increases in defence expenditure?
Mr. Ainsworth: The financial pressures are real, and they will have to be tackled. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should not retreat to the goal line, as I put it, and that we should continue to play our part in the world. However, if we are not increasingly efficient and agile in doing so, and if we are not prepared to accept that we have to do it with others-that we cannot be unilaterally secure-then financial pressures may well force us in the direction he describes.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I warmly welcome the thoughtful statement by the Secretary of State. In terms of emergent threats, where is the reference to cyber attacks, accepting and acknowledging that, for many, those present the greatest threat to our security?
Passages in the Green Paper refer to the cyber environment, because we must be mindful of the great vulnerabilities to which we may be subject as
we become more technologically dependent. A lot of investment has already been made in cyber defence and associated matters, but it is an issue to which we must give constant thought.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I welcome the Secretary of State's statement and the strategic defence review. I note with sadness that he chose not to have talks with all parties in the House; perhaps that can be remedied in future.
In Scotland, since Labour came to power, more than 10,000 defence jobs have been lost, regiments have been amalgamated, and bases have been closed. According to the Ministry of Defence's own statistics, between 2002 and 2007 there was a £4.3 billion defence underspend in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State agree that the strategic defence review must take account of defence spending and the defence footprint across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom?
Mr. Ainsworth: I personally get on very well with the hon. Gentleman: I want to say that at the start. However, I point out-sadly rather than in any other way-that in seeking to establish the Defence Advisory Forum and capture other political views, if I had thought I would get a constructive contribution from the Scottish National party, I would have included it. However, I genuinely thought that any points from its representatives would have been parochial point scoring rather than genuine input into the planning of the future of defence for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): My friend talks all the time about "our people", but a steadily rising number of our people are recruits from the Commonwealth with no direct experience of life in the UK. Does the Green Paper say anything about future manpower planning, if I can use that term, and where the recruits are going to come from?
Mr. Ainsworth: What my hon. Friend says was certainly true for a fairly long period, when we had an increasing contingency from across the Commonwealth. That trend has gone down, which may well be connected with the recession and job opportunities-I am not sure. We are now as near as we have ever been to full manning in the Army, but we need to maintain the high-level skills that we need at every rank. We are not talking just about officers, and when we see how our armed forces operate we see that they need more than bravery. The adaptability and brain power that the lower ranks bring to problem solving is impressive, so of course we must plan for how we can keep those people satisfied and employed in the armed forces.
Mr. Douglas Carswell (Harwich) (Con): Will the strategic review allow for more off-the-shelf procurement? Will it call time on the ruinously wasteful protectionism in the defence industrial strategy, and if not, why not?
The hon. Gentleman takes the view, which is not widely shared in the House, that we can simply buy cheaply and readily off the shelf from what is available on the market. There would be consequences for us in doing that. If we buy jets, helicopters or ships from abroad and lose the technological capability to produce such items ourselves, we will probably never be
able to gain it again, and we will be sold what is effectively second-class equipment. That is the inevitable consequence. It may well be cheaper, but it will probably be second-class. That is why we have the defence industrial strategy, which decides where we can afford to go in the market, where we can afford to buy cheaply and where we need to maintain our own industrial capability onshore.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): The public's response to soldiers returning from conflicts has demonstrated that they want our armed forces and the members of them to be held in the highest regard. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that part of the review is the care and rehabilitation of soldiers returning from conflicts, who often come back traumatised and needing support, and particularly ensuring that those who are injured in the service of their country get the best form of treatment and that the families of the fallen are looked after?
Mr. Ainsworth: We need to recognise that the way in which we treat our armed forces has an impact on our ability to recruit the high-calibre people whom we want. The detailed work on how we take forward our welfare programmes for both veterans and serving personnel is being undertaken by the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones). There are aspects that we yet want to improve, despite the improvements that we have made over the years in the service personnel Command Paper and so on, and we may make further statements in the near future on aspects of welfare for parts of our armed forces.
Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): How can the Secretary of State justify taking the decision now to close RAF Cottesmore in Rutland before the completion of the defence review, when the economics of doing so must be totally unclear?
Mr. Ainsworth: I understand that the hon. Gentleman is representing his constituents assiduously, but the needs of Afghanistan and the priority that needed to be given to it, and therefore the need to continue to take the money that was specifically available for the operation from the Treasury reserve and to adjust the core budget, were justifiable and overriding. There were consequences of that, and I am sad to say that one of them fell in his constituency.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): May I ask the Secretary of State how successful he has been in building a consensus with the Opposition parties on the future of the Royal Navy and the need for there to be thousands of jobs in the UK in building aircraft carriers? In the drive to build a consensus, is he willing to meet representatives of the work force engaged in building the carriers, and will he use his good offices to try to arrange meetings with the leaders of the Opposition parties so that they can hopefully be drawn into that consensus?
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