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"The UK's level of ambition around capability is significantly out-of-balance with resources available on any realistic short-, medium- or long-term basis."
What he means by that, as he has explained in many seminars and talks since, is that if defence spending were to flatline for the next decade, the MOD would be able to afford its existing contracting commitments-and nothing else for the next 10 years. Just think about that: no new orders for defence equipment for a decade. What would happen to our defence industries then?
I hear about this hierarchy of requirements that puts defence industries at the bottom of the Liberal Democrats' priorities: tell that to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws)-but perhaps he was not in the Chamber when that was said. As I recall, we heard the Liberal Democrat spokesman declare that the first priority was the best defence equipment for our armed forces, then the financial constraints, then the defence industry-so the defence industry comes third.
Mr. Jenkin: No, the hon. Gentleman will have his chance when he concludes the debate later. The point is that our defence industries are a huge strategic asset. Defence research and development has already been cut by 22 per cent. between 2002 and 2008. As a former Defence Minister, Lord Salisbury, has remarked, we are eating the seedcorn of the industry's future. The defence industry-including in Liberal Democrat seats such as Yeovil-currently employs 300,000 people. It exports between £4 billion and £10 billion each year, and we still lead the world in key technologies. The UK is the second largest defence exporter-second only to the US-with around 20 per cent. of global defence exports, but we will soon be overtaken by others, even the Chinese, if we contemplate continuing cuts in research and development. A strategic, diplomatic and economic asset will be destroyed unless we address the shortcomings of the defence budget.
The debate between the defence chiefs about what to cut misses the point. The big choices facing us are what should be our global role for the next decade and
beyond, and what are the potential costs and benefits of that role. My right hon. Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary told RUSI last week:
"have not waited thirteen years to return to office simply to oversee the management of Britain's decline".
I suspect that the Secretary of State, whom I welcome back to his place on the Front Bench, rather shares that view. I am sure that he did not take on his job to oversee the management of Britain's decline.
There is the answer to the Secretary of State and his challenge earlier, but what do we mean by maintaining a "global role"? Yes, the UK is a member of the UN, NATO, the EU, the G8, the G20 and the Commonwealth, but Germany, Italy, France and Spain do much of what we do in the diplomatic sphere, so why must we accept the expense of our particular global role? For British prosperity and security, the UK's global role is not a lifestyle choice; it is an imperative. It is not merely an expression of our values, but it defines who we are as a nation. Our geographical and historical inheritance has granted us unique capabilities and advantages that few other nations have, and it is in the interests of all free nations as well as our own that we use them for our and their benefit. How would Europe or India or the US have turned out today without Britain's global role in the past?
In the past, there was nothing inevitable about the abolition of slavery or the defeat of fascism or the facing down of communism, and in the future there is nothing inevitable about the continuing spread of democracy and free trade-yet we depend upon democracy and free trade utterly for our own prosperity and security. We must play our role in the world simply because we can-unlike almost every other nation. That role reflects our values and our interests. I pay tribute to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire). How can we play our role in conflict prevention unless we have the means to do so?
In today's world, overpopulation, shortage of food, competition for resources, the risk of environmental catastrophe, mass migration, accelerating technological change, nationalism and extremism are all on the rise. These factors are now aggravated by global recession. Is this the moment to substitute hard power for the myth of soft power? Advocates of soft power are those who have decided to rely on a free ride on the hard power of others, including our own. Can we, too, risk opting out of our global role? Which nation would usurp our role as America's most influential and enduring ally? Are we to encourage the US to become unilateralist? Who would protect our shipping from the Somalian pirates? Who will win the friendship of the oil-rich Gulf states if we abandon them? Who will invest in NATO if we disinvest? Which other nation or nations would gain from our retreat? Will they promote freedom and democracy, or will it be something much darker?
Free trade, democracy and human rights, and international peace and security are mutually beneficial for all peoples and nations, but sustained diplomacy to promote those values must be underpinned ultimately by the threat of resort to force. The purpose of military
capability is not because we intend to fight wars. We cannot afford to fight so many wars as we have in recent years, but we must always remain able to deter them and to be prepared for the unexpected.
Military capability is not some theoretical concept. We need the new smaller surface warships, or how can we patrol the many parts of the world where we need to deter aggression or give humanitarian aid? The great strength of the Navy is its ability to loiter, perhaps unseen over the horizon, but still exerting a presence nevertheless. We need more drones to track terrorists, to support ground troops and to provide intelligence. Incidentally, the technology brought to bear to protect our armed forces in Afghanistan gives the lie to the idea that a low-tech insurgency can be met by low-tech armed forces in response. Fast jets do not just protect our own airspace but our ground forces, and a surgical strike capability is a massive sub-nuclear tactical deterrent. Flexible, deployable capability gives us that indefinable and indispensable quality that a powerful nation needs-it is called "influence" and it takes decades, not years, to create such capabilities, and it would take decades to recreate them if we gave them up just because of a short-term fiscal crisis.
How much would it cost to maintain those capabilities? Defence spending in 2008-09 was £36.4 billion, or 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product, including the costs of operations. A phased programme to increase defence spending by up to £7 billion to £10 billion a year, plus inflation over five years, would raise the share of GDP to nearer 3 per cent.-a wholly reasonable peacetime share of national income. With savings of perhaps £3 billion in procurement and overheads and a moratorium on discretionary operations, we could maintain a broad spectrum of capabilities and retain the UK's global role. I believe that that would be outstanding value for money. That is the choice.
What we cannot afford to continue to do is to fight wars not just with a peacetime budget, but with a peacetime mentality. Yet, as the papers produced by RUSI and Chatham House show, that is what this Government are guilty of doing. Public spending choices in the next Parliament will be the toughest since the 1930s. We must not repeat the mistakes with defence that our grandfathers made then. Can we afford our global role? The question we should be asking is this: can we afford to lose it?
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Devonport) (Lab): I should begin by associating myself with comments made by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House in praise of the courage and bravery of our armed forces in active service, particularly in Afghanistan. It has become a sobering but important tradition in this House that each week we honour those who have fallen in the line of duty. I pay tribute to those brave men and women in uniform who are still in the service of their country and to their families, many of whom are my constituents. Of course, those families sit at home and worry, but they are incredibly supportive.
Among those service families is the family of Able Seaman Nesbitt, the first servicewoman in the Royal Navy to be awarded the military cross for her bravery under fire. I was fortunate to meet her and her family
last week at a civic reception held in her honour in Plymouth. Her service and courage are a testament to the men and women who leave Plymouth on Royal Navy deployments.
It is also a privilege to follow some expert knowledgeable speakers in this debate, most of whom are members of the Defence Committee. I am not going to follow their broader arguments. I am afraid that my speech will focus narrowly on the Royal Navy, which is important to my constituency-home to the largest naval base in western Europe. We have some 2,500 civilian and naval personnel supporting our fleet worldwide. The future of the naval base and the associated dockyard, which employs many more of my constituents in vital maintenance work has, as a result of this Government's announcements in the maritime change programme on the continuing need for three naval bases, been offered longer-term security. The dockyard will therefore continue to support our domestic and international defence requirements.
Babcock Marine, the company that runs the dockyard, continues to grow and aspires to grow further. It well understands the importance of its work, and especially the importance of the quality and efficiency of the work it produces for the Ministry of Defence. The medium to long-term prospects for the company and Plymouth's work force were, after a period of uncertainty, largely resolved with the announcement that Devonport would be the centre for the deep-water maintenance of the surface and submarine fleets.
Labour understands just how important the Navy is to our global reach and in supporting our allies. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), who is my constituency neighbour, is also a member of the Defence Committee and a long-standing and well-informed voice on defence matters. A few months ago, when we last debated defence, she raised the issue of sea blindness in the planning of a future strategy for our national defence. I am proud to say that under this Government, we have had clear vision: the Navy has been supported, new vessels and equipment have been procured, and programmes have been continued. Before my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) seeks to intervene, I assure him that I am a steadfast supporter of the carrier and of British shipbuilders, and that I understand the importance of both in enabling the UK to project its power and influence through the Navy.
We must not fall into the trap, as many Opposition Members seem to have done, of believing that the Navy is no longer relevant-nothing could be further from the truth. The Navy is vital to this nation's defence and to our ability to maintain relevance at the top tables of international diplomacy. I also take issue with the opinions of General Lord Guthrie, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, who told the BBC last week that there should be a ruthless re-examination of defence priorities, resulting in the bulk of spending going to the Army at the expense of the Royal Navy. He is second-guessing a detailed strategic review, and his comment was not helpful. We in Plymouth-from where the taskforce left and to which it returned, fewer in number, at the end of the conflict-have not forgotten the Falklands war. Although there is no suggestion of another war, and clearly diplomatic and Foreign Office effort has been put into ensuring that no further military action is required, there has been a raising of the temperature in
the south Atlantic. We need to be ready, should the unlikely need arise, to protect the interests of the Falkland Islanders. We would need a strong Navy and carriers, which are already being built.
We must not retreat to a fortress Britain position, as the Conservatives, by proposing little more than an emphasis on Army numbers, suggest we should. I am concerned about the fact that in the Opposition day debate on Monday 1 March, no direct comment was made about the Navy. Opposition Front Benchers fell short of the mark from Plymouth's perspective, with only one direct reference to the Navy throughout the debate. We must invest in a military that can respond to ever-changing threats to our national security, which must include ensuring that our Navy is capable of meeting global challenges. The Navy must be able to take our air defence to places where there is no friendly country willing to allow us to use air bases, and to take our Army personnel and Royal Marines to a position in which they can make landings. It must also be able to stand off and offer firepower in support of our land-based forces.
We cannot be sure what situations we will face in the next five or 10 years or beyond, but a number of scenarios have been referred to by other right hon. and hon. Members. We can expect-at least we hope we can-a drawing down of our forces in Afghanistan as the Afghan army and police become able, perhaps over the next five or 10 years, to take a more responsible role for the security of their country. We might then begin to bring our troops home. We must hopes that our troops will not be called on again in the near future to go into action abroad to engage in so lengthy a conflict in defence of our home security.
If that is a medium to long-term hope, why would we increase our Army by up to three battalions? On a good day, the Conservatives think we should do that, but on any other day they are unclear on the matter. Our Army is the best in the world-I in no way wish to suggest otherwise-but the lobby to increase its numbers greatly, at the expense of the other services, needs open and transparent discussion in the House, as part of the strategic defence review. I acknowledge the comments by the right hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot) on the importance of that discussion in enabling the wider public to understand the precise role and risks that we face and to which our armed forces are expected to respond.
The risks beyond 2030 that defence strategists are considering include mass migrations as a result of global warming, the need for further major humanitarian missions as a result of increasingly erratic and severe weather patterns, conflict over scarce resources such as water, increased piracy and cyberthreats. In each of those serious scenarios, there is a vital role for our naval forces, which must not be ignored. We need mobility and flexibility, but will we need an enlarged land-based standing Army-and if so, where will it be based and what would we expect it to do? Let us have that discussion. In my view, that is why the strategic defence review is vital-it will bring some sense to the debate and, more importantly, facilitate an understanding of the UK's strategic defence needs and wider role in global security.
I urge Defence Ministers-I am afraid I am going to get very parochial now-to consider the proposal to reduce staff at the Defence Equipment and Support
and Defence Storage and Distribution Agency depots, including the one in Ernesettle in my constituency. That links to some of the concerns raised by Bernard Gray. If there is to be a re-examination of the shape of the future Royal Navy and future service competence as part of the strategic defence review, there must therefore be a need for a reappraisal of the support services offered. Therefore, it is premature for us to downsize that depot at this stage, because it may need to be brought back on stream. Those plans need to be part of the wider discussion, and decisions should not be taken arbitrarily now. Local trade unions are concerned that there appears to be no flexibility in the plans being proposed, largely by the military, which takes me back to Bernard Gray's suggestion that DE&S should be moved outside total military control. I know that my Front-Bench colleagues do not necessarily agree with that position, but what is happening at Ernesettle gives me cause for concern. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will re-examine the proposals.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his cogent description of the Government's priorities. I do not think that my electorate in Plymouth will have any doubts about where the Government stand, and I believe that that will give them some guidance when they come to make the decisions on defence issues that are important to their long-term security.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on making an excellent speech this evening-as, indeed, he always does. I think it right to examine the global landscape and demonstrate a global perspective in defence debates.
I pay tribute to all Her Majesty's armed forces who are serving in Afghanistan, to a few who are in Iraq, and to those serving in other theatres around the world including Northern Ireland and the Balkans, although there are fewer there now. I pay particular tribute to all who have lost their lives in the service of their country, and to their families who have suffered so much in the cause of freedom and liberty. I also recognise the sacrifice that people have paid through being injured and maimed. Many of them are multiple amputees. We salute their courage, and recognise them here this evening.
I thought it right for my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) and, indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) to point out that the country needs a strategic defence review that is led by foreign policy, takes account of assessments of current and future threats-when the future can be read-and then matches those with military capabilities. Only then should specific defence programmes, and defence procurement programmes, be examined in detail.
I sometimes think that Members feel slightly embarrassed about referring to the British national interest in the House when it comes to defence and foreign policy matters. I do not think they should be, because this is a special nation. The United Kingdom is still a force for good in the world. If the United Kingdom were not giving assistance in certain countries-through the Department for International Development, the Ministry
of Defence, the Foreign Office and other Government Departments-there would be other foreign players in those countries. I do not think that every country in the world necessarily believes in the same values as the citizens of this country, and, indeed, Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Opposition.
To be a force for good in the world, we need the wherewithal to exercise influence, and to ensure that the values we espouse as a country are shared by those whom we want to receive them. Those values are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and the ability of people to go about their business in trying to ensure that their own and their families' lives prosper without fear of being killed or persecuted for something they might say or believe.
We in this country should be proud of the global influence that we have had for many centuries. It would be a miserable day for our nation's history if we had to withdraw, through lack of resources, from the many good things that we do around the world. People talk of the threat to our national security posed by the Taliban, or al-Qaeda and its affiliates al-Shabaab and Jamal Islamiyah, or whomever it might be-on these shores or elsewhere-and it is entirely true that those organisations and terror groups pose a threat to us. However, I believe that the biggest threat to our national security is this country's national debt. If we do not have the money to pay for many of the defence programmes that have been discussed here today, and for future programmes, we shall not be able to protect ourselves from multiple threats, whether they are state-on-state or posed by the terrorist organisations that I have mentioned.
I have had the privilege of visiting Afghanistan. I pay tribute to all the regular and reserve forces from Shropshire, and-as we approach St Patrick's day-to the Royal Irish Regiment based in the county. Afghanistan represents a critical mission for our armed forces. We must stay the course for many reasons, but for three in particular. First, a premature withdrawal would provide a huge boost for jihadists around the world, and we cannot allow that to happen. We cannot fail: we must be resolute in our commitment to the mission, and we must see it through. Secondly, a premature withdrawal would be a terrible blow to the credibility of NATO. Although it is an imperfect military alliance, NATO has served this nation, and indeed others, well for more than 60 years. Thirdly, and I think most importantly, a premature withdrawal would be unfortunate-to say the least-for all the brave armed forces personnel, both men and women, who have already sacrificed so much by dying or being maimed for their country. We must see the mission through to ensure that their sacrifice was not made in vain.
Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): I agree with the sentiments that the hon. Gentleman has just expressed. However, while we speak of winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan, we are in grave danger of losing the hearts and minds of the British people. Does not the possibility that the hon. Gentleman's arguments in favour of our staying in Afghanistan are beginning to fall on deaf ears pose a graver danger at present?
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