Previous Section Index Home Page

6.8 pm

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolton North East (Mr Crausby), with whom I served on the Select Committee on Defence in the last Parliament. I always knew that he had a great speech in him that would defend the strains in the Ministry of Defence. We certainly heard it today, and I congratulate him on it.

We all accept that in this Parliament debt reduction must be the coalition's main effort, but in this dangerous world, the UK needs to be able to protect itself from the threats it may face, now and into the future. The possession of a flexible, deployable military capability remains an indispensible component of any cost-effective defence and security strategy. As the Secretary of State told the Royal United Services Institute last week, defence is as much about deterrence as the actual use of force-and we heard that again today. The strategic defence and security review must be preoccupied not just with the capabilities we deploy during this period of "hot peace", as opposed to cold war, but with maintaining those capabilities that we hope never to use in anger.

I have no fear of further scrutiny of the Trident deterrent programme, first because Trident is the cheapest option available. Its costs are vastly overstated by its opponents, amounting only to 0.5% of the defence budget over its lifetime. No one knows how expensive the alternatives would be, but they would demand the creation of a whole new weapons systems without the input of allies. Does anyone expect this to be a cheaper option than piggybacking on American technology?

Secondly, the development of an alternative weapons system would also put us in breach of the non-proliferation treaty. What would the international community say about that? Thirdly, Trident is the most effective system. It is safe from first strike, unlike land-based missiles. It is supersonic, unlike cruise missiles, which would be vulnerable to interception, and crucially, it is the least detectable.

I draw the attention of the House to something that Baroness Williams wrote in The Guardian this morning, which she clearly fails to understand. She argues that by having three Trident submarines instead of four, we would not only save, as she terms it,

which is questionable, but could maintain a

if we

The suggestion is that the UK should be forced to deploy our nuclear deterrent in the face of the world's media in the midst of a full-blown international crisis. To plan for such a public escalation is strategically illiterate.

But Trident is simply one part of our deterrence. We need the new smaller surface warships to deter drug smuggling and piracy. We need more drones to protect ground forces on operations. Strike aircraft and cruise
21 Jun 2010 : Column 74
missiles help deter aggression by rogue states that threaten to destabilise their regions. How else would we defend the Falkland Islands today? The ability to deploy ground troops at a distance acts as a deterrence and also hugely increases our influence with our key allies, especially the United States.

Astute submarines can deter almost any other navy from putting to sea against us. Flexible, deployable capability gives us broader deterrence effect, and that indefinable and indispensable quality, influence. Such capabilities take decades to create and will take decades to re-create if we give them up now in the face of a one-off fiscal crisis.

But what can we afford? Even if spending is maintained, there will have to be substantial cuts in personnel and equipment. Bernard Gray, the author of the excellent MOD report on procurement last year, said that, if the MOD budget is frozen, the Department will be unable to order any new equipment for the next 10 years. If defence is to come out stronger, as the Secretary of State said it must, following the review, it is very difficult to see how spending can be cut-a point implicitly accepted by the protection of defence spending in the current year.

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have both stated that they have no wish to oversee the decline of the UK as a world power. The task facing the Secretary of State is to ensure that his "policy-led, resource-informed" cross-Government review does not lead to the UK stumbling toward decline as a result. I have set out my own basis for the review in the form of a memorandum which the Prime Minister might well have sent to the Cabinet Secretary in his first week of office-a memorandum which the Royal United Services Institute very kindly published on its website today.

The defence review is about what sort of nation we wish to be in, say, 2020, and it must also explain how we get there. Are we to become just another medium-sized European country, like Spain or Italy, or must we recognise that our historical and geographic inheritance has presented us with a unique global role that we should be prepared to shoulder?

Robert Flello: I am thoroughly enjoying listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech, which is well reasoned and considered. Has he considered-perhaps in his paper, which I have not had an opportunity to read yet-the position of our forces abroad, for example in Germany? He may come to that in his speech.

Mr Jenkin: Those forces should certainly be part of the review. It is difficult to imagine how we can hang on to a heavily armoured capability, give up those bases and provide for the expense of bases elsewhere. It is an open question. I do not present solutions or capabilities in the paper; I set out parameters for the discussion.

As I have said in the House before, 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 aspirations. It defines who we are as a nation. We have unique capabilities and advantages that other nations do not possess, and it is in the interests of all free nations, and it is our national responsibility, that we use them for our mutual benefit.

21 Jun 2010 : Column 75

In the past, there was nothing inevitable about the abolition of slavery, the defeat of fascism, or the facing down of communism, and in the future there is nothing inevitable about the continued spread of democracy and free trade, yet we depend upon democracy, free trade and the international rule of law utterly for our own prosperity and security. We must play our role in the world, simply because we can. That role reflects and reinforces our values and interests.

If we wish to step back from our global role, we must be frank about the likely consequences of such a move. We must ask which nation will take our role as America's most influential and enduring ally. Are we to encourage the US to become unilateralist by disengagement? Who would protect our shipping from Somalian pirates? Who will invest in NATO if we choose to disinvest? Which other nation or nations would gain from our retreat? Would they promote freedom and democracy, or their own agenda, not ours?

The world is getting more dangerous and more fluid. We are in an age much more akin to the 19th century than the relative stability of the cold war stand-off. In today's world overpopulation, competition for food and resources, the risk of environmental catastrophe, mass migration, accelerating technological change, nuclear proliferation, nationalism and extremism are all on the rise, and that is quite a list, aggravated further by the global recession. Is this the moment for us to substitute soft power for hard power? Too often, advocates of soft power are those who have decided that they can take a free ride on the hard power of others.

The Conservatives in 1979 inherited an economic and fiscal mess almost as bad as the one that we now face, yet between 1979 and 1985 defence spending increased by 30% in real terms or by almost 0.9% of GDP. The national interest was put first, and it should be put first now. Defence spending in 2009-10 was £35.3 billion, historically very low as a percentage of GDP. Other programmes, such as social security, are several times larger. While spending will have to be restrained in the long term, with a modest phased spending increase, 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. That would be outstanding value for money for this country and for the world, and would help to create a safer, more secure, and therefore more prosperous world for the next generation.

6.18 pm

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) who, as ever, was thoughtful and knowledgeable.

I welcome the decision by the current Government to follow through, as recommended in the Gray report, on the Labour Government's proposed strategic defence review, now the strategic defence and security review. We have heard from right hon. and hon. Members across the House of the importance of assessing our forward requirements and cutting our cloth to ensure that we do not leave our country, our armed services or our people at risk from the range of potential threats
21 Jun 2010 : Column 76
that we face. How we equip ourselves to meet those risks and the implications for the UK defence industries, for service personnel and their families and for the taxpayer are all questions which the SDSR will have to answer.

I accept that linking homeland security to the review makes sense, but this will make the process a hefty task and clearly one that should not be rushed. Does the Secretary of State have any concerns about the capacity of those undertaking the work to deliver an outcome within a realistic time scale, given the Government's intention to cut as far and as fast as possible in all Departments?

So what are the risks? Across the globe there are three main areas from which threat could develop, areas where pressures have already built, or are building, and could lead to the need for engagement-engagements in which we as a nation could, or perhaps should, become embroiled. We need a sensible assessment of the international context in which the review takes place and of the future character of emerging conflicts. Those risks involve climate change, globalisation and global inequalities, and the sense of injustice that grows from that. This SDSR will need to make an assessment of the nature of the changes that will arise from climate change. There is an increased likelihood of mass migration as a direct result of the scarcity of materials and natural resources and the loss of habitable land.

Globalisation presents different concerns, which could need a military solution. Competition for goods and markets will increase, and there is an inevitable increase in the use, internationally, of telecommunications and cyberspace, and, therefore, the vulnerability of companies and countries to cyber attacks and the threat posed by serious organised crime, occasionally masquerading behind an ideological or religious front. The continuing divide between rich and poor nations, and between the rich and poor within nations, and between different societies and groups, is also a flashpoint that might need a military response from Britain, or indeed bring terrorist or other activity to our shores.

The Development Concepts and Doctrine Centre's strategic trends programme sets out those risks in great detail, looks at the next 30 years and offers analysis on the type of future military capability that might be required. We know that our armed forces have undertaken over 100 operations since the last strategic defence review. Those varied from major conflicts in Iraq, international operations in places such as Kosovo and a counter-insurgency operation in Afghanistan, through to counter piracy work in the Indian ocean and drugs patrols in the Caribbean.

We have in the last decade moved beyond the cold war scenario and our capabilities have changed to match the new requirements. However, we have always to be mindful of the risk of a sudden change to the demands being placed on our armed forces, including a new cold war, and this SDSR has to ensure that we are equipped to meet all risks while ensuring that the UK maintains its place at the top table internationally. We do not want to be caught out, as Governments were in the past following earlier defence reviews in which swingeing cuts were the outcome, and find ourselves in a Falklands war scenario with inadequate equipment and a reduced Navy, or, as at the time of the first Iraq war, with an Army that has been cut back. Both, incidentally, followed Conservative Government strategic defence reviews.

21 Jun 2010 : Column 77

I want an assurance that this Government will not cut for the sake of it, but that they will, as they seek to ensure that we have a flexible and affordable capability, listen very carefully to the advice being offered to them from across the services and avoid being Army-centric. Clearly, as a Plymouth MP, I would be expected to say that, but a number of the signals from Ministers, both before and since the election, have suggested an increased role for the Army. However, the other two services, especially the Navy from my constituency perspective, are vital. Perhaps the Minister could confirm whether the settled view of the Government is that the Army is too small or needs enlarging.

I would argue that there is an ongoing requirement for the capability to ensure that our merchant shipping is protected and sea lanes remain open. We could not afford to be caught out with an undersized Navy were another Falklands-type incident to arise, and we certainly need to be able to move armed forces by sea and into the littoral environment quickly and safely on vessels that can give hard support to troops on the ground.

I do believe that we have to have a nuclear submarine based deterrent, but I am unclear exactly how Trident and its platform-the successor to Vanguard-fits into this SDSR. I did ask the Secretary of State this question during our last exchange, when I gave my second maiden speech, but I did not, perhaps because the right hon. Gentleman was thrown by the response of the House to that comment when he made it, get a reply. What specifically will the remit be for this proposed value-for-money review into Trident, and how would that process be scrutinised? Given that Trident money was earmarked as Treasury spend originally, not MOD, what pressure is the Secretary of State under from his Treasury colleagues, let alone his Liberal Democrat friends, to bring Trident forward and for these costs to be cut?

The economic benefits to British industry and to its work force of maintaining this programme, and indeed the Astute programme, which is so vital to the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), are significant. Babcock, which has its headquarters in Plymouth and which punches above its weight, as the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, is not only involved in successor submarine contracts but has a major commitment to the carriers. The first sub blocks have already made their way from Appledore to Rosyth, on time and on budget. That is very much in line with what Bernard Gray, in his report, wanted to see. My constituents are also benefiting from the work on the carriers as Babcock moves work down from Rosyth to accommodate the expansion of the carrier build. The new ships should be a vital component in the future fleet. When the Minister replies, will he explain what the options are of not proceeding with one or both of the carriers?

The future surface fleet combatant, or the new Type 26 class, was designed to replace the Type 22 and Type 23 frigates. What scope is there for BAE to bring forward initial concept designs offering the full range of options, from the gold-plated option down to the workhorse frigate? We in Plymouth believe that the workhorse frigate would give us some opportunities not only to base port, but to continue to service.

This SDSR has to balance the UK's need to preserve its position internationally with the role that our armed forces play in protecting our security at home and
21 Jun 2010 : Column 78
abroad and support our trade routes. Therefore, I would suggest closer working between Departments. But given the Treasury's strong involvement in the process, will the Minister confirm whether the Treasury will be the final arbiter rather than the MOD?

6.26 pm

Mark Menzies (Fylde) (Con): The hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) made a light-hearted reference to her second maiden speech, but I am proud to tell the House that this is my first maiden speech. If the House will indulge me for a few moments, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor as a Member of Parliament for Fylde, the right hon. Michael Jack.

Michael was known to the House most recently as an incredibly capable MP who served as Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and he was held in great esteem. But Michael also served this country as a Minister both in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and in the Treasury. More importantly for me, he served the people of Fylde with real class. When I look to someone as a model Member of Parliament, Michael Jack is such a person. Without the glare of publicity, he just got on and did the job. With that in mind, I hope to be able to serve in his footsteps. Michael Jack was also a great defender of the Typhoon Eurofighter, which I hope to talk about later in my speech.

The Fylde constituency is the jewel of the north-west. I am glad that it is you, Madam Deputy Speaker, not one of the other Deputy Speakers, who is in the Chair, because they might disagree with that comment. I am often asked by hon. Members where Fylde is, and whether it is next to Blackpool. It most certainly is not. Blackpool is in the Fylde, not the other way around. Fylde is famous for a great many things. It has world-class golf courses and will soon host the world open golf championship. It has some of the cleanest beaches anywhere in the United Kingdom and some of the finest agricultural land in the north-west. Lytham Green, with its iconic windmill, which this year hosted the local proms, is an example of a fine green space which is attractive to tourists.

My constituency does have its problems, however. The high street of Kirkham, a proud market town, like many high streets throughout the country, has many empty local shops. Councillor Elaine Silverwood runs a local bookshop there, but she also makes ice cream and has a tearoom. That spirit of entrepreneurialism gives me a lot of heart. It is not about sitting back and complaining about how things are; it is about encouraging people in the constituency to go out there and make a difference, to take over empty shops and really start to bring something new and different to the high street. I pay tribute to such people in my constituency.

Next Section Index Home Page