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"disastrous if this Coalition government forsook coherent policy and simply put a spending programme in place on the basis of what was affordable, with scant regard for the consequences."-
that was said not by not a supporter of ours but by General Sir Richard Dannatt. I hope that the Prime Minister listens to him this time-he employs him for that reason, after all. It is our job as a country and as politicians to work on this issue. No MP has a greater responsibility than to defend the realm.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I call Dan Byles, a Member wearing a Royal Army Medical Corps tie.
Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): Snap, Mr Deputy Speaker.
This has been a fascinating debate so far, and I pay tribute to Members on both sides of the House for interesting and at times well informed contributions. It is extremely important that Members take it upon themselves to learn about and understand defence and the military, especially as so many of them might not have direct experience of them. I have been impressed by many of the contributions that I have heard. I also know that many colleagues still wish to speak, so I shall try to keep my contribution brief.
I am grateful for the timing of this debate, as it comes only a few days after I attended a parade by the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers on Sunday in Nuneaton and Bedworth, a borough that covers part of my constituency. The regiment was being given the freedom of the borough, and it was greeted by thousands of local people who, as ever, showed it warmth and their great pride. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my local regiment for its sterling work. I know that many young men from the regiment will be going to Afghanistan later this year, many of them for the first time, and I pay tribute to them.
The House will be aware that I was a regular officer before entering Parliament. Indeed, I left the Army to come into this place because I was concerned about the treatment and direction of the armed forces under the previous Government. I find myself in a quandary. I am here to be a champion of the armed forces, and it is clear that the SDSR will be very hard to swallow for many serving and retired soldiers, sailors and airmen, and for many others of us in the wider defence community. I confess that I am concerned-about what I read in the press and what I hear from former colleagues who are still serving. I think that there will be a significant reform of our armed forces and that many sacred cows will be slain.
As a former soldier, I do not want the armed forces to be reduced in size or capability. My instinct is to oppose significant reductions in formations and capabilities, with which I trained, and which I am used to, but-it is an important "but"-that is my heart talking. There is no room, in a subject as vital as the defence of the realm, for a misty-eyed, romantic old soldier like me-and perhaps Colonel Bob-to try to preserve things as he knew and loved them. That approach damaged our
ability to defend ourselves in the past. Historically, our armed forces have been most at risk when they remained resistant to change.
During the first world war, contrary to popular perception, the British Army was highly innovative. We invented the tank and were among the first to develop the use of combat aircraft. After the great war, great British military thinkers, such as J. C. Fuller and Sir Basil Liddell Hart, led the way in developing the concept of mechanised warfare. By 1927, the British Army put together the prototype combined arms formation, called the Experimental Mechanised Force. It was arguably the world's first modern armoured brigade-well ahead of its time.
So what happened? By 1929, the force, despite a successful programme of exercises and tests, was disbanded. The old guard, resistant to change, won the day. Consequently, while Germany was rearming throughout the 1930s, Britain still had four cavalry regiments, equipped with horses, as late as 1939. Germany had learned the lessons of mechanised warfare and prepared for the next war, while, as had happened so often in the past, we were too slow to move on from cherished weapons and tactics. As a result, we lost the first half of the second world war, leading to the humiliating retreat from Dunkirk and the surrender to Germany of the western European mainland for several years. The British military has always had to adapt to a changing world. It must. When it does that too slowly and too reluctantly, more soldiers die.
In my time as a soldier, my first unit was 19 Airmobile Field Ambulance. Just two years into my career, it no longer existed. When I became adjutant, it was of a unit called 3 Close Support Medical Regiment, which did not exist when I trained at Sandhurst only a few years previously. My initial commission was with the light infantry-no regiment now serves under that name.
We have been fighting two difficult and bloody wars for many years. We have done that with overstretched and tired solders and-initially, at least-inadequate equipment, vehicles and support helicopters. Yet throughout that time, we have continued with questionable and poorly managed defence procurement programmes costing billions of pounds. I will not rehearse the litany of disastrous procurement projects. We all know about the Typhoon and its problems, the A400M, which has been mentioned, the future rapid effect system debacle and the Type 45s, which have ended up costing £1 billion apiece.
Our long-term procurement programmes are a shambles and our forces are not balanced in a planned manner, according to a hard-headed assessment of the capabilities that we require. They have evolved as a result of historical equipment programmes and from a strategic defence review that took place more than 10 years ago, before 9/11. It was never properly funded and used defence planning assumptions that we have never met throughout my time in the service.
We have inherited a Ministry of Defence that I make no apologies for describing as not fit for purpose, and a £38 billion black hole in defence spending. Defence is not in good health. The strategic defence and security review is long overdue. Although my heart shudders with trepidation at what may come, my head tells me that change is badly needed to put defence back on a balanced and sustainable footing.
Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): The debate is welcome, although it is a little unsettling against the changing landscape of the SDSR. I hope to make my remarks brief, bearing in mind, as I look across the Chamber, that others, more knowledgeable in defence matters than me, wish to speak. First, I pay tribute to the former hon. Member for Salisbury, Mr Robert Key, who went last year to the Hebrides, where I have some concerns, and made a great speech in the Chamber, backing a constituency issue of mine.
I represent the Hebrides range in Uist and Benbecula, and we feel that we have already been through the tough and robust process of a full review in the past 12 to 24 months. Two years ago, the then Labour Government threatened 125 jobs at the Hebrides range, which would have primarily affected Uist and Benbecula. That closure would have been devastating for those communities which have for decades cut their cloth and forgone other opportunities to serve the needs of the MOD. To put the issue in perspective, the job cuts in Uist and Benbecula at the Hebrides range would have been the equivalent of 25,000 jobs being cut in Edinburgh or Glasgow, or 300,000 jobs being cut in London, with the added difference that finding another job would have meant leaving the Hebrides-a ferry ride of between three to five hours, depending on the route taken. There would have been nowhere else to go.
I do not want to go over past woes, but to highlight present and future opportunities. The Hebrides range is a world-class testing facility, covering an area of 35,000 sq km, with current applications to extend even further. Comparisons are always made with Wales, but the area is larger than Wales and stretches further west from the Hebrides than is the distance to Aberdeen in the east. The size and scope of the area is unique in Europe and it is used by our European allies, our NATO allies and, indeed, our non-NATO allies.
The Hebrides range not only has an unrivalled space and danger area for missile testing, but also expertise and vast experience in organising trials and testing. A bomber at mach 3, a moving target and a missile are all measured and instrumented. Indeed, for a test lasting only 26 minutes, and for the test to be successful and yield useful data, planning has to be undertaken from about four months beforehand. Safety is of the utmost concern and every missile is fitted with a flight termination system in the unlikely event that anything goes wrong. Testing on the range can include air to air, air to sea, surface to surface and surface to air. Rapier tests are also carried out and tests on other missiles that are, I confess, only names to me, but others with great technical knowledge might recognise them-Storm Shadow, Brimstone, BVRAAM, which is a beyond visual range air-to-air missile, high velocity rockets and Type 45 Sea Vipers. The Navy has been on the range for three or four days and carried out very successful and useful testing of live Sea Viper firings. All tests, as I have said, are instrumented and yield vital data.
I mentioned the threat to the range, but this was rejected after a professional campaign by the Hebrides range task force, and included support that I had personally garnered from the then Liberal Democrat defence spokesman who is now the Minister for the Armed Forces, as well as the then Tory shadow Defence Secretary, now the Secretary of State. Their support was very
welcome. They provided useful and sensible quotes backing the full retention of the Hebrides range, which led ultimately to the realisation dawning on the powers that be that the threat to the range was misplaced.
Three reasons were given for the possible downsizing of the range. First, it was claimed that there was a technical risk from the inadequacy of the microwave link between St Kilda and mainland Uist. St Kilda is almost in the middle of the range and is very high. Importantly, as identified by Jane's defence consultants, who were commissioned by the Hebrides range task force, that means that the curvature of the earth is not such a problem in the use of the range, given its size. They also highlighted the lack of dependable communications with the mainland if control of the range was moved elsewhere. Secondly, the concern was that a downgraded Hebrides range would undermine safety planning, thus risking the obtaining of future planning consents, with the possible consequent lack of local good will and support. That is not an insignificant consideration.
The third reason was the financial acceptability of the plan. The cost of the QinetiQ proposal was some £41.5 million, with a £3.9 million saving annually. But the then Minister outlined guidance from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury who told him "clearly and unambiguously" that decisions could not be made based on net present value of the liability because
"it is the current year cash ceiling, not the Present Value of the liability which must be decisive."
Those observations remain valid. Nothing has changed since the Hebrides range passed the most recent review with flying colours, so I can only conclude that it is safe. We look forward to the position of the Minister and the Defence Secretary, in their new roles, chiming with what they said when in opposition and with what the MOD said a year ago. I am confident about that, and I merely highlight the fact that they need to show it fairly soon.
It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to point out two further uses for the Hebrides range in years to come. It would be ideal as a decompression camp for those returning from overseas operational theatres, and I am sure that the Ministry will look at that. It would also be a perfect test and application environment for unmanned aircraft systems. The Hebrides range is ideal, it is world class, there is probably nowhere better, and it is on our doorstep.
Finally, the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton) made a comical and misleading quip about the SNP and our defence underspend. The point is that our defence underspend is a proportion of our taxes in Scotland, so the underspend is a consequence of the lack of Scottish independence.
Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): I apologise for not being here at the start of the debate. I wish that I had heard the speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), the Chairman of the Select Committee, but I was at a ministerial meeting.
Like other hon. Members, I have been impressed and illuminated by what I have heard from Members on both sides of the House. As a former soldier and now
an MP, I, like my right hon. Friend, am concerned about the situation we find ourselves in today. Out there, thousands of men and women are defending our nation. Hundreds have been killed, and more than 1,500 have been seriously injured. Who is watching their backs? We all are-this is non-political; we are all watching their backs. Dare I say it, but we inherited a large liability from the Labour party. However, I do not want to get political on this issue-it is too serious.
My perception, and that of others I speak to, is that while our men and women sharpen their bayonets at one end, we too are sharpening ours-but to stab them in the back. That is the perception, and I am not comfortable with that as a former soldier and an MP. However, in my view, and that of many others, our armed forces are already pared to the bone. Underfunded and overstretched, they have seen conflict in recent years in the Balkans, Sierra Leone, Iraq-twice-and now Afghanistan. We have played our part on the world stage and lived up to our responsibilities, and I do not see that changing-and nor should it.
The likely threats of the future will be many and varied. Do we need this world reach, and the equipment and manpower to face them? Or do we put the duvet over our heads and bury our heads in the sand? I do not think so. It is not in our national psyche, as the recent commemorations to those brave few who fought in the air 70 years ago have reminded us in such a timely fashion. I sympathise with the Secretary of State and the Front-Bench team. He said he did not come into politics to see our armed services cut, and neither did I-and neither, I suspect, did many in the House.
Back in 1982, as we fought the Falklands war, expenditure on defence was, as we heard, 5% of GDP, but it is now about half that, and we are considering cutting it further. That, in my view, would be a disastrous mistake, both militarily and politically. We can and must reorganise our armed services-of that I have no doubt-grip our procurement programme, reshape the MOD, and buy off the shelf where expedient, but we must not cut their overall size. To make a sound and sensible decision, we need to have a clear strategy before the bean counters are let loose with their pens-with all due respect to accountants. Only then can we balance the losses to one service with increases to another. The cold war is over-we all know that-but climate change, finite resources, food, water and energy security, the possibility of cyber-attacks, and the rapid advance in technology, to name but a few, demand constant vigilance. To man the ramparts effectively, protect our world interests and fulfil our obligations to NATO, we need ships, planes and personnel.
Mr Kevan Jones: I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman says, and I agree with quite a lot of it. However, I have to tell him that the bean counters are already in charge. We are not talking about a strategic review in defence terms, but something that is being led by the Treasury. If he wants that confirmed, he only has to look at the 43 work streams that are currently under way and see that the Treasury is in the driving seat.
Richard Drax: As I have already hinted, and as I shall now say bluntly, the reason the bean counters are in is partly, dare I say it, because of those who are now on the Opposition Benches.
Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not think it a bit rich for those who are now on the Opposition Benches to complain about a strategic defence and security review that is run by the pejoratively named bean counters? Perhaps they might like to cast their minds back to the last strategic defence review in 1998 and say how they think that one was conducted.
Richard Drax: I entirely concur with my hon. Friend.
On nuclear submarines, I entirely concur with my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who made a very eloquent speech on the defence of our submarine-based nuclear deterrent. It is essential. We have four boats. To non-service personnel, let me explain that four boats are never in the water at one time; at least two, perhaps, will be out of the water, or will certainly be in the process of being updated or serviced. We need to have four. As I understand it, those submarines are the hardest form of deterrent to detect; and to those who say to me, "Why do we need a nuclear deterrent?" my answer is: "You've just answered your own question." As was so eloquently stated by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton), it is our first duty to protect our country and her people.
Our long island history has shown how vital the role of the senior service is, as I am constantly reminded by my father, who served for many years in the Royal Navy. Two aircraft carriers are essential, and key to our future defence. It was my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) who so eloquently stated the case for the two aircraft carriers. I was serving at the time of the Falklands war, and although I was not sent there-the Coldstream Guards were not sent-many friends were. That war showed the significance of a floating base where there is no friendly land-based alternative. There is no alternative. Of course, high-spec ships are needed to escort an aircraft carrier, but if we are involved in a NATO-led operation, they need not necessarily be ours. I would argue-many Royal Navy officers to whom I have spoken, both serving and former, have said this too-that we need more, cheaper vessels to carry out our maritime duties around the world. With ever-increasing globalisation, more and more of our trade will go by sea.
Alec Shelbrooke: Does my hon. Friend agree that, because of the ongoing conflicts involving the Army and the Royal Air Force, and because of the anniversary of the battle of Britain, the quiet work of the Royal Navy is often overlooked when we have these debates? It is thus important that we mention its vital work.
Richard Drax: I shall say it again: the Royal Navy is the senior service. Without the Royal Navy, we would not be here. It really is as simple as that. I entirely concur with my hon. Friend. I am screaming for the Royal Navy, despite being a former soldier. We are an island nation, and we need the Royal Navy.
In the air, of course, we need aircraft, but we must decide what kind of aircraft and at what price. We need traditional aircraft to take off from airstrips, but we also need aircraft to man our aircraft carriers. That debate will no doubt be carried out by people far more qualified than I am. I do have some experience in the infantry, however, and it is my view and that of many
others, serving and retired, that more boots are needed on the ground. It is perhaps an interesting statistic-although statistics can be dangerous-that at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, 20,000 troops were in the Province. Let us compare that with the 9,500 who are now in Helmand, a province three times the size of Wales.
Closer to home-I would be negligent if I did not talk about my constituency-we have the deep-water port at Portland. Many Royal Navy officers have asked me why we got rid of that facility. It is, however, still used by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and I have just heard today that that contract has been renewed. "Phew!", I say. It has also been identified as a port and base for aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines. Equally important are the headquarters of the Royal Armoured Corps at Bovington and the ranges at Lulworth. These employ 2,000 people, both military and civilian, and 4,500 students go through them every year. Cavalry troopers, many of whom are based in Germany, are now manning armoured platforms. We know that there are now 22 such platforms in theatre in Afghanistan. Many of those platforms are manned by troopers from cavalry regiments, and I am told that the training base at Bovington is an essential facility for getting those troopers qualified to use the equipment now being used in theatre.
I ask the Minister and his colleagues on the Front Bench to spare these vital and resourceful organisations. Cutting the armed services any further would tear into the very fabric of this country. They are a proud part of our heritage, as much so, dare I say it, as this House and the royal family. They have taken centuries to establish, but it would take only a moment to destroy them, and we would not be able to reassemble them if we needed them, as many hon. Members have said. Let us think of the training and the discipline, and the gold standard that our servicemen and women set us all. Their selflessness, courage and hard work go with them into civilian life, so that when they leave the armed forces, they contribute to this country. Many of the soldiers who served with me said that if they had not been in the Army, they would probably have been dependent on the welfare state. We bring them up and we train them, and when they leave, they contribute to the wealth and benefit of this country.
Only a week ago, we debated whether we should be in Afghanistan. The vote was unanimous: we should be. If we are prepared to hand out the guns, we cannot blanch when we reach for the cheque book. Freedom is not bought cheaply, and we must be prepared to fight for it. We must reignite our solidarity with NATO. We must also nurture our relationship with the United States because, like it or not, she is our guardian. I would rather have the United States than Russia or China, thank you. We must also be able to act on our own, should the situation demand that. Of course, we cannot prepare for every single eventuality-I accept that-but cutting our armed services further would be a dereliction of duty, a denial of history and a betrayal of those who have already sacrificed their lives.
Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): I should like to offer my apologies for being unable to stay for the end of the debate; I am afraid that I have been unable to rearrange a long-standing commitment.
May I take this opportunity to welcome the principle of conducting the review? Before the general election, there was widespread consensus across the political spectrum on the need to conduct such a review, and the previous Government were committed to doing so immediately after the election. The new coalition Government are now carrying out that review. However, I have some concerns about the process, and about the way in which the review is being conducted. Members will be aware that the previous strategic defence review, published in 1998, was conducted over a period of some 14 months, and that it involved an extremely thorough analysis of the UK's defence needs and capabilities. Indeed, other distinguished hon. Members have covered the issue in more detail, but the key point is extensive consultation and co-operation with the defence industry and other relevant stakeholders was carried out.
The current SDSR is being conducted over a period of just four to five months, and my understanding from discussions with defence industry representatives and trade unions is that they feel that the Government consultation with them has been, at best, limited and, at worst, non-existent. Industry representatives have complained to me that the process was very one-sided. I was told that on some of the rare occasions when they were invited to make submissions, they did so, but no subsequent attempts were made by the Government to engage in any discussions or to give any feedback on the ideas they submitted. As such, it would appear that insufficient time is being given to the review to ensure that its outcome will meet the UK's modern defence needs and that consultation with vital stakeholders in the defence industry has been inadequate.
None the less, it remains the case that a defence review is essential to ensure that our armed forces are equipped to deal with the threat the UK faces and to recognise the role that the UK wants to play in the world. It must be driven by these principles. The shape of our armed forces must be determined by our current commitments, particularly our effort in Afghanistan, but also by the changing nature of the threat we face, including from international terrorism, and the danger posed by failing states.
The review must not be driven by a desire to identify massive cuts to the defence budget. It must also recognise the value and success of the defence industry to the economy of the UK, to Scotland, and, indeed, to my own West Dunbartonshire constituency. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) suggested earlier that it was not helpful for Members to make contributions that were too parochial, but I hope he will not be too upset if I put my case on the record, given that the Conservatives have only one MP north of the border and that the current Secretary of State for Scotland has yet to convince Labour Members that he is an effective voice within the Cabinet for Scotland.
According to the most up-to-date figures compiled by the industry organisation ADS-Aerospace, Defence and Security-and Scottish Enterprise, the aerospace, defence and marine industry in Scotland employs almost 40,000 people in almost 850 companies. The total annual turnover of Scottish-based aerospace, defence and marine companies is £5.2 billion. The industry is a high-value manufacturing sector, evidenced by the fact that average
salaries within the industry are around one third higher than the Scottish average. These are not jobs that we can afford to lose.
My constituency is heavily reliant on the defence and marine industry. Many of my constituents work at the Clyde Naval Base, the home of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent, and many others work in the shipyards on the Clyde where HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carriers are being built. Some 7,000 jobs are based at HMNB Clyde, with an additional estimated 4,000 jobs dependent on the base. Given that the Royal Navy's submarine flotilla is set to be based there by 2017-a decision taken under the previous Government-it is likely that the work force will grow substantially.
It was therefore extremely disappointing to read reports that the Scottish Government were not intending to recognise the significance and importance of the Clyde Naval Base in their submission to the SDSR and have only now, after pressure from the Labour party, been forced to back down and recognise the importance of the expertise, manpower and facilities at the base.
A further 6,000 jobs in Scotland are dependent solely on the building of the aircraft carriers on the Clyde. The sustainability of these high-quality jobs is inextricably linked to sustained investment in defence by the Government-not for the sake of it, but to serve the UK's strategic defence interests. In 2007, Parliament voted to renew the UK's nuclear deterrent to safeguard our national security. Also in 2007, the then Defence Secretary confirmed the order of the two aircraft carriers, which were described recently by the current Minister for international security, the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr Howarth) as a "national asset" fulfilling "a wide range" of requirements for the future of UK defence.
It has therefore been a huge source of concern for many of my constituents that from May this year, there has been growing uncertainty over both the future of the UK's nuclear deterrent and the plans for the two aircraft carriers. Most worrying is the fact that the apparent threat hanging over these projects is for financial rather than strategic defence reasons.
It was, of course, a Conservative party manifesto commitment at this year's election to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system, the Conservatives having backed the previous Government's plans to do so, but since the formation of the coalition Government the position has become much less clear. The concession of a Trident value-for-money study to secure a coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats, and the Treasury's wish for the replacement to be financed by the defence budget, have placed a huge question mark over the future of Trident. The uncertainty over the future of our nuclear deterrent threatens to put at risk the defence of our national security and the major role that the UK plays in the world, which is a fundamental problem. However, it also puts thousands of highly skilled specialist jobs at risk, which is of huge concern to my constituents who are doing those jobs.
I think we all heard what the Minister said earlier about the timetable for Trident, but he must recognise that that does not tally with the comments that we have heard from other Government sources. If he is willing to give a commitment on the Trident timetable, can he not give a similar commitment on the timetable for the aircraft carriers? There is just as much concern about their future. Although contracts have been signed and
work has already been undertaken, the coalition Government have refused to guarantee that the projects will be completed. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff), refused to commit himself to a statement on the aircraft carriers' future in a House of Commons debate in July. More worrying, a senior Ministry of Defence source was quoted in various media in August as saying:
"We could have one, two or no new aircraft carriers... That does not mean we are leaning towards one particular option, but none should be considered as too radical."
Mr David Hamilton: As my hon. Friend may know, £1.2 billion has already been spent on the aircraft carriers. It would be ridiculous not to go ahead with the project.
Gemma Doyle: I agree with my hon. Friend. He has made a very good point.
The uncertainty threatens thousands of jobs in Scotland and across the UK, as well as undermining the vital role that, it has been concluded, the aircraft carriers will play in defending the UK. That point was made very well by the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt).
The SDSR must be about ensuring that our armed forces are equipped for the UK's modern defence requirements. Government and Parliament have already decided that our nuclear deterrent should be renewed, and the two aircraft carriers should be built, to meet those requirements. It would therefore be extraordinary if, as a consequence of decisions following the review, plans to replace Trident or to build the aircraft carriers were delayed, watered down, or cancelled, for financial rather than strategic reasons. The Government must recognise the impact that such a decision would have on the economy and on jobs in the UK, particularly in Scotland and, as I have said, in my constituency. Thousands of high-skilled jobs would potentially be put at risk and, indeed, could disappear.
I urge the Minister to ensure that, following the SDSR, we have certainty about the renewal of our nuclear deterrent and the building of the two aircraft carriers, so that we can protect our strategic defence interests and thousands of jobs. I also urge him to consider whether the process of the review has been adequate, and in particular whether defence stakeholders, including trade unions, have been properly consulted.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Before I call the next Member, let me point out that a great many Members wish to speak. If they could shave a little off the time allotted to them, it would help me to ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Let me begin by associating myself absolutely with the Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot). I thank him for his speech, which was wonderfully delivered.
We do not live in Utopia. It would be great if we did, but life is not like that. We would not need an army, a navy or an air force in Utopia. We would not even need doctors or schools. Everything would be perfect.
Mr MacShane: Would we need politicians?
Bob Stewart: We certainly would not need politicians.
Everyone is a little wicked, even Opposition Members. We have a problem in this country. We have a £38 million debt in the defence budget at the moment, and we would need an SDSR regardless of which Government were in power. I am not blaming anyone; I am just giving the facts. We also have a big problem because the SDSR-
Bob Stewart: If the hon. Gentleman wants me to give way, I will give way.
Mr Kevan Jones: The hon. Gentleman seems to be reading out the script he has been given by his party's central office or his Front-Bench colleagues, and it is unusual for him to swallow what they give him, but I must tell him that the £38 billion to which he refers actually relates to the equipment budget over the next 10 years. [Interruption.] Yes, that was admitted: it was in the Gray report. However, it is important to recognise that over that 10-year period there will be slippage and reprogramming. The impression is being given that somehow this £38 billion must be paid for today, but that is not the case.
Bob Stewart: I am very glad to hear that, but we would certainly need an SDSR, and it is taking place very quickly-too quickly, perhaps. It is also happening when we are at war, which is extremely sad. We have a choice: we can either go straight to option one, which is to withdraw to fortress England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and just to look after our territorial waters, or we can go abroad to protect our interests overseas, whatever they may be. I happen to believe that we must go for the latter option.
Defence is a basket-case; it is really difficult. We have got to get to grips with it now, and it is exceedingly difficult to get to grips with. Mountbatten and Heseltine tried to reorganise the MOD, and there have been incremental and experimental changes ever since. The MOD is extremely difficult to reorganise, however. People always talk about the fact that we have two service personnel for every civil servant, but may I remind the House that many civil servants are people who guard bases and substitute for soldiers, sailors and airmen who would otherwise be called upon to do that job, and we do not have enough of them?
Mr Kevan Jones: And they may be cheaper.
Bob Stewart: Yes, and they may be cheaper.
Procurement is a big problem; it is never easy to procure. In the second world war, within 18 months we managed to design and build Mulberry harbours and then tow them across the channel and put them into position. Like many other Members, I cannot understand why procurement is part of this basket-case-why procurement takes so long and is so expensive-but that is a fact: procurement is a problem.
Everyone wants to have equipment off the shelf. As all ex-soldiers know, we want the best kit we can get, we want it now, and we want it regardless of where it comes from. I remember when I was an infantryman wanting
the M16 rifle. It was American, it was light and it weighed 6 lb. I wanted it to replace the self-loading rifle. In the jungles it was much easier to use an M16. Instead, however, we got the SA80, which did not seem to work and was heavy. The reason we had to have it was that we had to protect British jobs. I understand that-it is a fact of life-but it is one of the reasons why procurement remains such a problem.
When we have an SDSR, all three services have a problem because of regimental tradition. I pay great tribute to the Royal Air Force-my biggest hero is Guy Gibson of 617 Squadron-and I pay great tribute to the Royal Navy. Many people do not realise that we have a problem in trying to reorganise the armed forces because each of the armed services seems to have elements of the others within it: the Royal Air Force has the RAF Regiment and some kind of maritime capability; the Royal Navy has the Royal Marines and the Fleet Air Arm; and the Army says it has more aircraft than the RAF. It all seems a bit crazy, but it works and I hope we will not change it because tradition matters so much.
I shall now move on to my favourite hobby-horse: care of the wounded. Up until discharge, care is pretty good for our servicemen and women-it is as good as it can be-but I say to hon. Members that after our servicemen and women are discharged they are cast on to the national health service. I plead with Ministers to look at how we look after our wounded servicemen and women after they leave the forces, not necessarily within the defence budget but as part of an overall package.
Bob Stewart: If the hon. Gentleman wants me to sit, I will sit.
Mr Kevan Jones: The hon. Gentleman may find that what the previous Labour Government and I did on the Army recovery capability is exactly as he describes. I am pleased that the current Government are following through on it.
Bob Stewart: That is great, but let us make it better, because I know servicemen who were victims of the Ballykelly bomb 28 years ago who still live in poverty.
Cuts and reviews are extremely difficult. The reason why we have capabilities in our armed forces is that they are required to be effective in battle. Many hon. Members, on both sides of the House, have served. Throughout our service, we all saw salami- slicing, which means cutting down units. When I joined my infantry battalion, it was 750 strong; when I left, it was 530 strong, but it was still called an infantry battalion. That is salami-slicing. No one likes it, but I have a great fear that we will have to do it again, because if we want to take expeditionary opportunities or respond to such needs, we must keep the capabilities that we have. That means that we will have to stomach what I call super salami-slicing in one way or other-I cannot see how we can avoid it.
Defence is, indeed, the first duty of government, as we all know. It is also a very difficult matter. We all understand the difficulties of choosing between a hospital and a squadron of aircraft, but defence is more like insurance, in that no one wants to pay for it until we require it, when the chips are down.
Mindful that Mr Deputy Speaker will tell me to shut up soon-which I will-I want to end with the words of Rudyard Kipling:
"For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool - you bet that Tommy sees!"
You bet that Tommy sees what we do.
Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), whose maiden speech I heard. That one was just as eloquent. Rudyard Kipling, of course, lost his son in the first war, and in his later poetry, he was not so strong on militarism. That great poem, of course, was not in any way militaristic.
I want to give one figure to the House this afternoon- 2% plus a bit-because the idea that our overall defence budget expressed as a share of gross domestic product, which is a pretty good measure, will fall below 2% makes me nervous. That puts us in the same division as Spain, Italy, Luxembourg and other such countries, and it worries me because we have consistently made an important contribution since the end of the second world war to the notion that the democratic world is prepared to arm itself. It would prefer not to fight, but it can when necessary. As the Romans put it, if we want peace, we should prepare for war, or at least invest for it. If we fall below 2%, we will no longer be able to discharge that responsibility, which is common to the whole democratic world.
I am rather glad that the Defence Secretary is not here today, because I am not sure he would have agreed with the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), who said that this should be a non-political debate. The idea of the Defence Secretary, who has to carry his own non-aggression pact with him wherever he goes, being non-political is a touching concept. I hope that all Members of the House will hold him-I am sure that it is also his wish; I ask not to be misunderstood-to not letting our spending fall below 2%.
What we have not heard much of in this debate, after the introduction by the Chair of the Defence Committee, is the word "strategy". What is our strategy? The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), who has left the Chamber, is so keen for his country to leave the United Kingdom, but he is even keener for the English taxpayer to keep ensuring that there is investment in his constituency. That kind of constituency plea bargaining is justified politically, but it does not contribute to what should be the strategic choices that we have to make.
I put it to the House that one such choice is on Afghanistan. The hon. Member for South Dorset said that we are at war, but we are not; we are fighting a conflicted situation. We have declared war on nobody and we have mobilised nobody. We built the Mulberry harbour in a year and a half because deficit spending in world war two went through the roof in a way that is not even imaginable today; today we have not got the money or the will to do that. I suggest gently to the House that we need a clearer message on Afghanistan. No leadership is coming from the United States; there is
talk about being in Afghanistan until 2015 and then it is all over. There was a lot of confusion during the first period of government between what the Secretary of State for Defence was saying and what the Prime Minister was saying, and it is important that the politicians get back the control of all these questions from the generals. I hope that we find a way-it is not unknown in our great and glorious island's history-to say, "Enough is enough. Come home." That is not scuttling; that is sensible survival politics.
Do we have an understanding of the new threats to our country? One hon. Member-I believe it was the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles)-mentioned cyber-attacks and I completely agree on that. But into which part of the defence strategy does dealing with them belong? We have a National Security Council, but is it capable of giving orders to the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and Her Majesty's Treasury? The answer is no, which is why the director of the NSC is getting out as fast as he can to return to the diplomatic service. The creation of the NSC-this is where I disagree with one of the conclusions of this excellent Select Committee report-is not providing the answer to what we need.
Alec Shelbrooke: On the right hon. Gentleman's comments about cyber-attacks, I wonder whether he, like me, was able to catch the excellent Radio 4 programme during the summer recess that discussed the future of the Royal Air Force and how the RAF was best placed to deal with cyber-attacks.
Mr MacShane: I was not, but I am nervous of service patriotism. I understand it, but I wonder whether the RAF should also have military regiments, whether the Army should also have an Army air force and whether there is not some rationalisation that could be applied.
On the question of the nuclear deterrent, I entirely agree with the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and others. If Britain substantially reduces its nuclear deterrent capability, others may be tempted to step into the breach. We are lucky that in one of the richest regions of the world only two mature democracies -France and Britain-have a nuclear capability. If either of us were to let go or significantly reduce our nuclear deterrent profile, what other major European power might be tempted to feel that it might need one?
Mr MacShane: From a sedentary position, the hon. Gentleman makes a crack about Poland. [Interruption.] I have a lot of Polish background and I would not suggest that it is very helpful vis-à-vis Russia to talk up any question of Poland's becoming a nuclear power. It is far better that we are one and that the French remain one.
Mr MacShane: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me.
We have the new rising powers in the world that do not respect the rules of democracy, whereas at the same time the democratic world is leaderless. President Obama,
whom I like and admire-he is in my political family-is not a strategic world leader. There is no European leader who is a strategic world leader. The Chinese know what they want, the Russians know what they want, and Iran and North Korea know what they want. Many of the so-called Islamic republics know what they want. However, do we know what we want?
That is why the debate is important-not just in terms of my constituency interests, or firing ranges in the Western Isles or the absolutely correct need to talk with trade unions and others in the industry, or to help our wounded soldiers when they come back, for which the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) so eloquently appealed. It is about a bigger strategic set of choices. We have to lift our horizons and think about the new threats not just to our country but to the wider set of values of ourselves and our allies. I hope that the Government-I wish them well-can rise to that challenge. If they cannot, the House must make them.
Mr Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Let me start by paying tribute to 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, better known as the Argylls, whom we are proud to host in Canterbury-they were given the freedom of the city last year, the first Scottish unit ever to do so-and to 3rd Battalion the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment, our local Territorial Army battalion. They have both had many deployments to Afghanistan and both have taken casualties.
Before I make some rather controversial remarks, let me say that I am deeply conscious of the fact that I have never participated in active service. I was a witness to quite a serious battle once, but I have never been on active service, unlike a small number of Members of the House. Every time I meet people who have been, and especially when I meet those who have been desperately wounded-people who have lost limbs, who have been blinded and so on-I feel deeply humbled.
Bob Stewart: When people are wounded, it has an impact on morale. As I am in poetic mood, may I just say what Padre Woodbine Willie said in 1918? He put it perfectly:
"There are many kinds of sorrow
In this world of Love and Hate,
But there is no sterner sorrow
Than a soldier's for his mate."
The wounded not being dealt with properly has an impact on morale.
Mr Brazier: I thoroughly agree with my hon. and gallant Friend. Over the years, on a number of occasions-including at Prime Minister's questions-I have raised that issue and been glad to do so. However, my speech today is on quite another subject.
I am emboldened by a pamphlet by two very fine fighting soldiers, General Sir Graeme Lamb and Colonel Richard Williams, both former commanding officers of the regular SAS-it will be published by Policy Exchange and was trailed in The Times today-to say that I have a very specific concern that I have never raised in the House before: I do not think that, for some years now, the quality of military advice in the upper echelons of
the MOD has been anything like as good as that deserved by our gallant, brave and highly professional armed forces.
I was sorry to miss the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) and I must apologise to the House for being late, but I had a pressing constituency engagement with the Secretary of State for Health. However, I know that my right hon. Friend set out wider concerns-he is too polite a person to concentrate on particular areas-about the SDSR. I want to cite a couple of examples from the past for which politicians and the previous Labour Government must take the blame, but in which it seems that military advice must have played quite an important role.
The first is the second Iraq war, which is the largest conflict in the past 15 years. Let us put the intelligence, the dodgy dossier and all the rest of it to one side, although there was a military element in that, and ask how that conflict, in which we started so professionally and so well, could have led to such mistakes in operations, equipment and so on that it ended with a substantial British force sheltering on Basra airbase-I am saying no more than the American media have said again and again-subject to mortar fire, with men being killed and wounded, and unable to locate the mortars that were shooting at them until the US marines arrived to rescue them and effectively to clear the area.
Let me give a second example. There is probably no Labour politician for whom I have more respect than John Reid, who is an exceptional man. When he made that-in retrospect profoundly silly-remark about it being quite possible that we could go into Afghanistan without a single shot being fired, and when we deployed a force without even such basic equipment as adequate amounts of body armour, I cannot believe that he did so without first having conversed with his senior military advisers. I say that only because a number of Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for North Warwickshire (Dan Byles) and for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), have already said that the MOD will need some shaking up. I believe passionately that the defence of the realm is the first priority of a Government. I stepped down as a Parliamentary Private Secretary-I quietly retired rather than resigning-during the "Options for Change" programme. I believe that we have to be a lot cleverer and that we cannot continue as we are now.
Let me address two of the themes from the pamphlet I mentioned. First, we have to move on from the industrial age to the information age, just as we moved from the horse-drawn age to the age of the tank. The pamphlet points out that, in practical terms, although we have lots of drones and other information-gathering systems in Afghanistan, our troops do not have the technology with the bandwidth to make much use of it. We are losing more than twice as many people per thousand in each engagement as the Americans, because although we have some of the information-gathering machines, we do not have the means by which to get the information to where it is needed in a timely fashion. On a more strategic level, the pamphlet makes the strong point that, in extremis and out-and-out war, a force that has the edge over the other side in information terms will ensure that the other side is never able to deliver a single
shot. We are already that far behind the Americans in some areas. The really terrifying point is that, by working with little bits of civilian technology from the mobile phone and several other areas, the Taliban have in some areas got inside our information loop.
A second point that the pamphlet makes concerns a subject on which the House has heard from me many times. It discusses the reserve forces and the regular forces and makes the point, absolutely convincingly, that we must keep a full range of capabilities, but it is absolutely impossible for us to do so and at the same time afford to modernise our armed forces given the current costs of manpower. We could achieve it by doing what the Americans and the Israelis have done-by transferring most of the heavy stuff such as armour and heavy artillery not into storage in so-called reserves but into proper, trained volunteer reserve units.
We have just had the anniversary of the battle of Britain. My great-uncle served in that battle merely by driving a desk, but as an under-age enlistment in the first world war, he was one of the founding members of the Royal Flying Corps and served gallantly in the air. I am intensely proud to represent a Kentish constituency in which much of that battle took place. As the pamphlet that was published this morning reminds us, a quarter of those units were volunteer reserve units from the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and a third of the pilots in the regular squadrons were from the RAF Volunteer Reserve and were also volunteer reservists with civilian jobs who trained to fly for the Air Force in their spare time. The pamphlet asks something that we should all be asking about why the continental air defence of the United States is carried out almost entirely by the air national guard, with F-16s manned by people who fly for a living in their civilian jobs-the same applies in Israel-while in Britain we have the absurdity of paying the huge cost of training and retaining regular pilots to fly for just 12.5 hours a month. It must be possible to move some of those pilots across to volunteer units, as the pamphlet suggests.
I want to end by spending a couple of minutes on what makes volunteer reserves tick. If the outcome of the review is that the Government say that we have run out of money and that they intend to put various things on to the reserves, and that means pools of tanks and artillery equipment, aircraft in hangars and lists of people who very occasionally turn out to train, or worse still paper lists like those for the regular reserves of all three forces, the review will have failed and the volunteer reserves will wither and disappear.
We have to think about how we make the offer and the job sufficiently attractive that a high-calibre man or woman with a busy civilian job who is tired at the end of the week will be willing to climb into a car and drive to their training centre, aerodrome or vessel and undergo challenging and interesting training. There are three ways to do that. First, units must be led by volunteer reservists with real civilian jobs, not commanded by full-time people. Secondly, there must be a range of training and opportunities for command on operations that make commanders at the junior and middle-ranking officer level and the senior and junior NCO level feel that they are valued and have a real job to do. The Americans do it. When we sent a squadron of 21 SAS -my old regiment-last year, three out of fewer than 70 were awarded MCs in six months, so it can be done.
Thirdly, we talk about barracks and accommodation, but the volunteer reservists must have decent centres. As Field Marshall Montgomery said, "They must be the best clubs in town." These things cost money, but it is about a fifth of the price of their regular counterparts.
We face a difficult and dangerous world; we face an intensely difficult financial crisis. We must be more imaginative in finding a way forward.
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier) for the passion and sincerity that he regularly brings to our debates about defence and his excellent suggestion to reduce costs by depending more on reserves. It is obvious, as I shall say in a moment, that we cut equipment or cut manpower. That is it. If we cut equipment, we reduce future capability; if we cut manpower intelligently-I am afraid that the civil service cuts must come before armed forces cuts, and substantial cuts in the civil service must be made-it can be rebuilt much more quickly. We can maintain reserves of manpower, but we cannot retain reserves of equipment that we have not built. I commend his suggestion to the House.
The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) mentioned strategy. Let me say first that the Defence Committee has alerted us to the startlingly compressed timetable for the review. We know that there is only one reason for that. It is to fit into the spending round. There is no doubt that we are in danger of having an FDSR instead of an SDSR-a financial defence and security review rather than a strategic defence and security review.
Mr MacShane: On whether we cut expenditure on manpower or equipment, does the hon. Gentleman feel any of my concern that a great deal of DFID money goes to countries with massive military expenditure that represents a disproportionate level of their national income? I wonder whether we should look a little more closely at whether DFID money should go to prop up the military machines in India, Pakistan and some of the African states.
Mr Jenkin: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his suggestion, but I am not going to be drawn into that. I want to return to his mention of strategy. I am Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, which is conducting an inquiry entitled "Who does UK grand strategy?" We have had evidence from the Foreign Secretary and this morning the Chief of the Defence Staff gave evidence. There is a widespread feeling, expressed by the CDS himself, that we have lost the art of strategic thinking.
An article in the RUSI Journal by General Paul Newton and others states:
"The problem with the UK 'debate' on strategy, and defence matters more generally, is that for many observers there does not seem to be one."
I am afraid that that is the vulnerability of this defence review-that it is being conducted in the absence of a coherent strategy. As the CDS said, we have lost the "habit of strategic thought"-the kind that looks 20 years ahead and asks what sort of country we want to be. The decisions that are made in the SDSR will define what
sort of country we are in 10, 15 or 20 years' time. It seems as though we are following Sir Humphrey's adage about producing Government documents: "Always get rid of the difficult bit in the title-it does less harm than in the text." Thus strategy is referred to in the title, and not to be dealt with in the substance of the text.
Yes, deficit reduction is the main effort of Government under the present circumstances; nobody in the defence world resents or disputes that. Indeed, economic security is one of the fundamental qualities of a secure state. However, the SDSR should concentrate on maintaining what I call minimum recoverable capability, so that however far we pare down current capabilities, they are recoverable in the event of an emergency. It is a risky business in this world. In the 1930s, we planned for a three-year warning for going to war, yet three years was hardly enough. As was pointed out in evidence to our Committee, it was the fighters-the Hurricanes and the Spitfires-coming into service at just the critical moment that saved this country from annihilation.
That is the kind of risk analysis that has to be made in this defence review. If the debate is about what capability we are employing and what capability we do not need because we never use it, that misses the point. Defence is about preparing for what we do not expect or anticipate. It is about being ready to use capabilities that we hope never to use, the strategic deterrent being a case in point. The danger of the SDSR is that it is being cost-driven-that it will permanently relegate this country from the first division of global powers, and that we are losing capabilities that once lost will never be recovered. We nearly did that in 1982. Paradoxically, it was the invasion of the Falklands that saved us and completely changed the situation. In fact, it brought back into being the whole concept of expeditionary warfare, which was a very alien concept in cold war terms.
The CDS referred to the financial envelope that the Ministry of Defence has been given. That sends shivers down my spine. The Treasury cannot be allowed to define £500 million spent on defence in terms exactly equivalent to £500 million spent on quangos and bureaucracy. The saving of £500 million on defence will cost far more strategically to this country than that of £500 million on quangos and bureaucracy. That qualitative judgment must be understood.
We have talked about Trident, although perhaps, for the sake of brevity, today is not the time to have that debate. If we delay Trident, we are not only doing something extraordinary that the Treasury has decried and despaired about so often in relation to defence, but putting off a programme that will cost more. If we are trying to get the deficit down over a 20-year period, then adding to costs in five years' time will not reduce the deficit. It is like the pension problem whereby we store up future liabilities instead of facing up to them today. It is better to spend the money today than store up a bigger liability later on. We also run the risk of reopening the debate and creating an atmosphere in which cancellation becomes an option, and eventually an inevitability because of the cost increase.
If we are going to have a deterrent, then it is not about firing those weapons but about being ready and evidently prepared and determined to do so if necessary. It is about resolve, intent and sending signals to the wider world about what sort of country we are and how determined we are to defend our interests and our allies.
If we falter on the upgrade of Trident, we will falter on the intention and resolve to defend our country, our wider interests and our allies. That is why we should not go down that road.
The alternative that we face in the defence review is Trident crowding out everything else, because there would be a bulge in expenditure on the procurement budget between 2015 and 2024. We would lose the aircraft carriers, the fast jets, the joint strike fighter, the transport aircrafts or the tanks, and they all have to be included in the mix. The problem is that the relationship between the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence has become dysfunctional. The MOD is evidently the most dysfunctional Department in Whitehall and became so under the previous Government. If I were in the Treasury, I would be exasperated at the constant moving of the goalposts, the additional costs, the cost over-runs and the incompetence that we have seen and that the Gray report exposed.
The Prime Minister will have to intervene in that dispute between the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence, to safeguard vital defence capability, despite the MOD's incompetence, and give it a chance to sort matters out. Otherwise, we will finish up abandoning vital capacity, and non-economic strategic considerations will simply be ignored.
Perhaps the real SDSR will start after the spending review, because this SDSR has such a short time scale. The real strategic thinking-the installation of capacity for strategic thinking throughout Whitehall-has to start after this SDSR, and then we have to rebuild on the foundations that are left after the spending round. But what this spending round must not do is permanently relegate this country to the second division.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. We are moving into last-hour territory for Back-Benchers' contributions to this important debate, and a considerable number of Members still wish to contribute. I hope that all Members will show a lot of time discipline now, so that everyone can get in. Many MPs have been here throughout the entire debate, and it would be very good if people were able to make a contribution.
Simon Reevell (Dewsbury) (Con): There has been much discussion here and in the media about aircraft, aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines, and reference has also been made to the importance of high-technology warfare, run through cyberspace. However, it is worth remembering that, ultimately, any defence review is actually about the young men who will risk their lives fighting through the ranks of whoever is our enemy in order to substitute our flag for theirs. Any review that produces gleaming new carriers but a shortage of body armour, or that makes us powerful in cyberspace but short of troop-moving helicopters, has failed.
In the first Gulf war we watched on the news as the cruise missiles appeared almost to stop at the traffic lights and turn left. Iraqi command and control systems were destroyed from the air, but the Republican guard
in the desert were cleared from their trenches by the infantry using bayonets. The Taliban will not surrender because their wi-fi has been brought down. There is of course a valuable role for technology, but it will only ever assist rather than replace boots on the ground.
Our armed forces have had to make do and make do, because events have demonstrated that second-guessing the future is simply impossible. Part of the cold war peace dividend was to be a saving on the costs of heavily armoured vehicles, especially main battle tanks, but a short time later the armoured regiments had to cannibalise every vehicle in Germany in order to form up in the Gulf, with the men from Vickers flying out there to attach better armour protection in theatre. The kit shortages for the second Gulf war and the war in Afghanistan are well known and an absolute disgrace.
The approach of assessing what we want to be able to do, and of equipping and training our armed forces in that context, has a certain logic, but it works only if there is the political will not to intervene in conflicts that fall outside what has been envisaged. That commitment is impossible to give. The problems of huge overstretch caused by fighting simultaneously in Iraq and Afghanistan are an example of politicians ignoring defence planning assumptions and asking the armed forces to sustain the unsustainable. In that case the situation was made worse by a refusal to recognise that and act upon it, but the basic danger of the problem recurring will always be present because circumstances may well not be of our making.
The solution is to build sufficient tolerance in troop numbers into the system. That is not waste; it is the price that has to be paid for the flexibility that may well be the difference between success and failure, and between the lives of our armed forces being saved and lost when the unexpected occurs. We have a duty to ensure that we have a properly trained, fully equipped and fully protected front-line Army. It must have the equipment necessary to move and resupply by air, and we need soldiers in sufficient number to allow rapid and effective deployment and to avoid deploying the same troops repeatedly in relatively short periods.
The smaller the Army, the shorter the gap between deployments and the greater the burden placed on not just our soldiers but their families. The fact that they would never shirk that burden makes it all the more important that we do not impose it upon them. By all means let there be discussion about carriers, aircraft and submarines, but let us not forget those who fight on the ground and our obligation to them.
Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): You have asked for brevity, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I will genuinely try to honour that request for the speakers who will follow me.
I wish to speak about an issue that concerns the welfare of the armed forces, and particularly about a constituent of mine whose case was highlighted last week in my local newspaper, the Express and Star. More broadly, I feel that the points that the case raises are directly related to our troop deployments in Afghanistan and illustrate the severity of the problems we have to confront there. They are also related to the morale of our soldiers.
Last week, as the Deputy Prime Minister read out the names of our brave soldiers who had fallen over the recess period, my heart sank as the roll call just did not seem to stop. It took an eternity to complete. Beyond that heartbreaking toll of young British lives lost in Afghanistan, an increasing number of men and women are disabled by their injuries. One of those is my constituent Luke Cole, a recipient of the military cross.
Three years ago last week, reservist Private Cole was part of 2nd Battalion, Mercian Regiment, clearing the Taliban from an area in the south of Helmand province. He was in a section of four who had just finished clearing a building when they were trapped by a well-set Taliban ambush. At this point, I think it only fair that I use Luke's own words to describe the situation that he encountered on that day, as the House often hears about those who have fallen but very rarely gets a real picture of the brave commitment taken on by those who fight on our behalf. He said:
"As we walked round from a building onto a patch of open ground, they took us by surprise with really heavy fire-AK47s, RPGs"-
rocket-propelled grenades. He continued:
"You could hear the bullets cracking over your head...you know that scene at the start of Saving Private Ryan? It was just like that.
I was hit instantly in the left leg. My mate, he was injured as well, shot in the head. I crawled over to him and started to give him first aid.
Bullets were flying past my head and hitting the ground around me. Rocket-propelled grenades were exploding but I knew I had a job to do."
Luke refused morphine for his pain as he waited for his colleagues to get him out.
Luke Cole kept dozens of Taliban at bay, but three more bullets thudded into his rifle. Finally, after two hours of intense, non-stop fighting, he was hit again. To quote Luke once more:
"The shot went through the left hip and the bullet exited through my abdomen. I knew it was serious, I could see that my stomach had been torn open. I was on my own for about two hours but my commander was in touch with me through my radio. I told my commander 'I've been hit' and he said 'Yes, we know', and I said, 'No, I've been hit again'. They asked me how I was doing and I said, 'Just get me out'."
The initial blast of Taliban fire had killed two other soldiers. Despite his dreadful injuries, Luke managed to keep firing his damaged weapon, pumping shot after shot at the enemy, keeping them at bay until rescuers hauled him clear.
Private Cole was awarded a military cross, and a further military cross was given posthumously to one of his fellow soldiers who fell on that fateful day. Luke's leg is now damaged and he has suffered a hole in his hip and internal injuries. His injuries mean that he can never go back to his previous job as a forklift engineer, nor can he achieve his hope of becoming a full-time soldier.
It is often said that a society can be judged by the way it treats its elderly and its children. I am pretty sure that we can add soldiers to that list. After all, they put their lives on the line so that we can sleep safely in our beds at night. To cut to the chase, Luke has been advised that he may be retired on a Territorial Army pension rather than that of a regular soldier. He has been treated as a member of the TA, despite the fact that he was shot
during a 12-month tour of duty with the regular Army unit that he intended to join full time. I think that most right-minded people would find that hard to fathom, and I ask the Minister to revisit the case.
Mr Kevan Jones: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Paul Uppal: I will not because time is pressing. Normally, I would give way, but I have to press on.
I have often heard the Secretary of State talk about the differences that he has noticed in the treatment of armed forces personnel by our American cousins and by us. Luke was awarded the military cross for his bravery, and one can never put a price on that. However, such bravery is worthy of a dignified and respectful acknowledgement of the sacrifice that our soldiers make.
In view of that particularly pertinent personal story, may I recommend to the Secretary of State that he look at the anomaly, so that when all our soldiers are on a tour of duty, they are compensated on a fair and just basis? I trust he will agree that that is the very least we can do for those who have done so much for us.
John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): At the core of the debate are three interlocking factors. I want to examine them and draw some conclusions from them. First, there has been a massive reduction in the defence budget since the war. It is now clear that, in the past decade, funding for defence has fallen too low. During our recent two foreign wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the sheer number of urgent operational requirements is evidence of the lack of investment in defence. We do not have the equipment in place for the engagements that we have chosen to pursue. Resources are scrambled at the last minute-at times, that leads to concerns about the adequacy of provision for our armed forces in theatre.
Secondly, we need to recognise that the debate cannot occur in the abstract. As we have just heard, it concerns men and women who are prepared to lay down their lives on our nation's behalf. We must remember the very real needs of the 9,500 men and women who are currently serving in theatre in Afghanistan. Any outcomes of the continuing review must give them the highest priority in investment and spending.
Thirdly, the conclusions of the debate on the SDSR hinge on our assessment of the threats that we may face in future. Some see Afghanistan as the template for future operations, and want our armed forces configured on that basis, whereas other intelligence suggests that additional threats from different sources-such as interstate conflict, threats from failed states and cyber warfare-should be given greater consideration. The tension between those three factors must be resolved to reach the right conclusions on the future shape of our armed forces.
In short, while the Afghan commitment dictates our current priorities, it must not be allowed to dictate Britain's future capabilities and defence posture. There is much discussion about the nature of the future threats. Some failed states show no signs of compromise, and history demonstrates the dangers of cutting defence spending in the belief that interstate war is over.
In future, an attack is as likely to come from disruption to our computer and IT networks as it is from a conventional military force. The debate is about the
design of our defence capability and the extent to which it should be shaped on current or contingent operations, or on the threats we may be expected to counter in 10 or 15 years. Although we must ensure that our forces are armed properly and can fight and win in any combat operation with which the Government may task them, we must also make sure that we are a leader in countering cyber warfare. We must invest in Britain's intelligence capacity as a priority, both in the armed forces and in other Government agencies. Whatever the challenge may be-terrorist attack, invasion of a dependent territory or NATO article 5 commitment-it will probably come when we least expect it. The capture of the Falklands, 9/11 and the gas shortages a few years ago have all demonstrated that, whatever the nature of the threat, it frequently comes from out of the blue.
Our front-line forces need strength, flexibility and the capability to fight all foes. It is clear that there is an irreducible minimum for each service if they are to remain viable, credible and capable of dealing with the threats that we ask them to counter. Whatever short-term economic pressures exist and however they weigh in this debate, they should not shape the strategy of our defence spending. As a member of the Defence Committee, I endorse the comments made by several Members, especially my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot). I remain concerned that a budgetary straitjacket, imposed by the Treasury, will dictate some of the SDSR outcomes, despite the best efforts of the ministerial team and the Secretary of State.
The UK's decisions on defence need to be made in conjunction with the obligations and alliances that we have in NATO, as well as our commitments to the UN and in the EU. These are foreign policy areas and perhaps outside the scope of this debate, but the hard facts mean that defence comes at a cost-either we pay for it or we reshape the role and expectations of influence that we have.
I wish to offer a few observations about where savings can be made, such as in training. Rightly, the armed forces invest heavily in training, but in many areas that training overlaps among the three services, necessitating many initial training establishments with all the associated duplication of costs. There is scope for areas of joint training between the services, which will further reduce costs. This kind of cut will always generate a rearguard action from the services but we need to be bold. It is not a case of abandoning one service or another, but the question needs to be asked whether distinct establishments are needed when they have significant elements of training in common. However, it must be acknowledged that people, and by that I mean service personnel, are still required in significant numbers-for servicing equipment; for maintaining aircraft; for fire fighting and damage control on board ship; and for dominating an area on land.
These are tough times. The Treasury, as one would expect, has a tight grip on the spending review process-perhaps too tight for some of us-but this should not lead the SDSR to make decisions today that will cost more tomorrow. The capabilities to be deployed at times of critical but undefined threats in the future should not be sacrificed to deal with imminent budgetary
threats. Anything we cut for good today will not be easily recovered tomorrow. I hope that the SDSR will make wise decisions that put our serving forces first. I hope that it will take tough decisions based on rational analysis rather than tradition, while acknowledging that if we do not look beyond the spending review to the risks and threats the nation will face in 10 or 15 years-and invest in research into new capabilities-this review will have failed.
Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): I declare an interest in this debate as the wife of a serving naval officer. It was in that capacity that I was in the arrivals lounge at RAF Brize Norton on Saturday. Today, we have addressed the technical side of the SDSR, but the human side of it was etched on the faces of the families waiting with me in that arrivals lounge and could be seen in the emotional scenes of reunion as the soldiers, sailors and airmen returned to the arms of their loving families. It was a powerful reminder to me of the responsibility and duty that we have as politicians to not only the men and women of the armed services, but their families back home.
In this time of deficit and defence reviews, it is vital that we in the Chamber are aware of a fundamentally important point. The armed forces are not just a homogenous mass of fighting machine; they are about people-soldiers, sailors, airmen, as well as their wives, children, partners and parents. We ask these people to lay their lives, or those of the people whom they love most in the world, on the line, so these people must be at the heart of any decisions we make about the armed forces. That means giving them enough manpower and the best equipment we can afford to enable them to do their jobs safely and properly, as well as respecting them enough to restore the military covenant and address the quality of life issues that can seriously affect morale.
All the UK armed forces have been operating at a sustained high tempo since the end of the cold war, which has meant that our armed forces have endured a near continuous cycle of deployed operations for well over 20 years. The effect on our servicemen and women is hard to quantify, and what is even more difficult to ascertain is the effect on those left behind. That is why rest and recuperation is such a vital part of the military covenant. It provides a useful period in which service personnel and their families can regroup and prepare for redeployment. It is essential, therefore, that the R and R clock starts when the person actually arrives back in the UK, to allow the maximum time for the unseen wounds of stress to be in some way healed, prior to returning to the front line.
Currently, R and R starts as soon as somebody leaves their front-line base, and in the case of Afghanistan, it can often take up to three days to get back. That has nothing to do with manpower. Operation Herrick manning within infantry battle groups allows for the extra personnel to cover those on R and R. The delays are actually due to the lack of capacity within the strategic air bridge between the operational theatre and the UK. If we are serious about looking after the continuing health of our forces, surely it is fairer that we adopt the American system, in which the leave period begins only when they touch down on US soil.
We also have an obligation to provide our servicemen and women with the equipment they need to do their jobs properly. There is a simple point here: fail to prepare, prepare to fail. It is clear that in years gone by, our armed forces have not been adequately equipped to deal with current and emerging threats. Equipment deficiencies have resulted in billions of pounds being spent under the urgent operational requirements process, and tales of equipment shortages during Operation Telic, in the second gulf war, were well documented and widely reported in the press. However unpalatable the cost of re-equipping our armed forces, it is a necessary process, and failure to invest in defence procurement allows the gap between current and required capability to widen more quickly.
At present, despite ever decreasing resources, we continue to play our full part on the world stage, but a review is needed of how operations are planned and how thinly we spread our resources. The Army currently operates in 80 countries worldwide, and the Royal Navy, the senior service, which has a long and distinguished history firmly rooted in my Gosport constituency, continues to operate all over the world, from anti-piracy missions of Somalia to the fight against drugs in the Caribbean, and of course supporting operations in Afghanistan. As 80% of the world's population lives within 150 miles of the sea, aircraft carriers and the aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm have the ability to influence nations from international waters. That is the strategic effect that this nation has fought to maintain and that other nations, such as India and China, are so desperate to acquire.
Recent history shows how important those carriers are. I am talking about the Falklands conflict back in 1982, lest we forget that we could not have liberated those islands without two aircraft carriers, and had the taskforce lost one of those carriers, both military and political history would have been rewritten. The Falklands war also teaches us the importance of adaptability. If this country is to play a role in the world, we must be ready and able to react to any threat that arises, in any area of the world. In 1982, we had sufficient capacity to deal with the loss of ships we suffered, but today's fleet has been cut to the bare bones and we are spread very thin.
In recent years, we have had a tendency to produce technically advanced warships in smaller and smaller numbers, evidenced by the new Type 45s. To paraphrase Stalin, however, quantity has a quality of its own. It does not take a genius to figure out that no matter how powerful a warship, it cannot be in two places at the same time. If we are to continue to send our brave soldiers, airmen and sailors out to meet our world commitment, it is our duty to do so only if we can ensure that they have sufficient manpower, ships, aircraft and equipment to get the job done and to bring them home safely.
Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), I have a special interest in the Royal Navy, because my daughter is a serving Royal Navy officer. I can therefore empathise with the feelings that she and the other naval families experienced at Brize Norton.
HMS Raleigh lies in my constituency. It is the Royal Navy's premier training establishment in the south-west of England and the only naval facility in the UK
responsible for the initial training of ratings. Recently-last week, in fact-it was announced that HMS Raleigh was to cut its intake by 50%. I understand that this is because people are not leaving the Navy, which means that there is no room for people to come in. However, my main concern-I hope that the Minister will take note of this-is that we could end up with a future skills gap.
HMS Raleigh has many strings to its bow. The facility can boast of being home to the naval military training school, the Royal Navy's submarine school, the defence maritime logistics school, the Royal Marine band and the national Sea Cadets. The firefighting facilities located at the site regularly play host to fire brigades from throughout the United Kingdom. They develop their skills in conjunction with other Government agencies, such as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, in order to practice combating incidents of fire, chemical release or industrial accidents on vessels or structures at sea. Other public bodies, such as the police force, also make regular use of the facilities.
Hon. Members will also be pleased to know that the excellence provided by the staff at HMS Raleigh is recognised not just within the confines of the UK. As part of the deals to sell now much-needed Type 22 and 23 frigates to the Romanian and Chilean navies respectively, HMS Raleigh played a significant part in training the foreign crews that serve onboard. It is estimated that nearly 5% of the Romanian navy has passed through the doors of HMS Raleigh, bringing millions of pounds into the UK's coffers in the process. Indeed, it is not just on the high seas that that is the case. The Saudi Arabian air force put nearly 50 students through the 21-week full-time training programme at Raleigh. Local families played host, providing a homely environment and boosting the local economy as well.
HMS Raleigh is a busy base and a relevant base to today's Navy, and long may that continue. The Raleigh of 2010 remains an incredibly busy place. Indeed, the Navy states that because of the sheer volume of courses run at the site-the figure is in the hundreds-at facilities such as those that I mentioned, throughput runs at about 44,000 per annum, a figure far larger than the Royal Navy itself. Building work at the base has been almost continuous over the past decade, costing hundreds of millions of pounds simply to accommodate new recruits and customers in clean, pleasant accommodation. When taking into account the population of Torpoint, the town of about 9,000 residents where HMS Raleigh is situated, it is clear that the base always has, and always will have, a highly significant economic impact on the town and the surrounding area. That is a key point: local pubs, taxi firms, bed and breakfasts, and shops all benefit from HMS Raleigh.
I hope that the Minister will take the message back to the Secretary of State that the people in my constituency are very anxious at this time of great upheaval and uncertainty. They rely heavily on HMS Raleigh for employment. I hope that the Secretary of State will ensure that this tremendous training base remains, because it not only trains superb recruits for the Royal Navy, but provides a great deal of income for the Ministry of Defence.
Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con):
Notwithstanding the fact that time is pressing, I want to thank the Backbench Business Committee for initiating
this debate. I also want to associate myself with the tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray) to the citizens of Wootton Bassett, who come out, week in, week out, rain or shine, to show just how important our armed forces are to the people of this country.
We have heard a great deal about the Army and, latterly, the Royal Navy. I want to spend a little time focusing on the Royal Air Force, notwithstanding my own very brief service in the Army, which was nowhere near as distinguished as that of my hon. and gallant Friends who have already spoken, or of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). I want to talk about the Royal Air Force because it seems appropriate to do so this week, as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the victory of the few. That seems to make it a fitting topic. I think that the whole House will concur that the few in our generation have become few enough, and I hope that the Minister will recognise that there is little scope for reduction either in their numbers or in the capability that the Royal Air Force delivers.
At its most fundamental level, the first duty of the Royal Air Force is no different from the first duty of the Government-that is, to ensure the security of the United Kingdom. The Royal Air Force demonstrates to potential adversaries our capabilities and our resolve to ensure our essential freedoms. It is necessary, therefore, that we maintain the capability that we already have to deter attack, if the Government are to act freely and with confidence in the nation's interests, without fear of reprisal in the form of air attack from abroad. There is a very real threat, not merely from foreign countries but from those who do not necessarily associate themselves with any country. The recent anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States serves as a necessary reminder of the potential for terrorist action from the air. Quite apart from that, foreign military aircraft continue to attempt to probe the United Kingdom's airspace on a surprisingly regular basis. That is a matter of public knowledge.
If the Government therefore wish properly to discharge their first duty of keeping their citizens safe, they must start from the position that the RAF's current fast jet capabilities are necessary for the protection of our own borders, and not just so that we can go on jaunts overseas. Stereotypically, perhaps, we tend to think of aerial security primarily in terms of the RAF's quick reaction alert fighter force, which is on call 24/7 to defend the sovereignty of the United Kingdom's airspace. That is undoubtedly important, yet homeland security-as our American cousins like to call it-is in fact broader than that. At this moment in our national history, economic security could be equally, if not more, significant than the direct physical threat of attack.
As an island nation, we have to be able to secure our lines of communication, not least so that we can trade our way out of the current economic crisis. Self-evidently, the capabilities of the Royal Air Force play a vital role in protecting our air and maritime trade routes. The chaos caused by the recent volcanic ash cloud showed the impact on national life of significant disruption to air transport, as well as the financial consequences that can result from it. It was a timely reminder to us all of
how the use of our airspace can be challenged in unexpected ways, and how there could be other innovative threats to our way of life.
Our way of life is also challenged by the asymmetric threats that we see in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world, and air power is vital in addressing those threats. Any soldier on the ground will say that the RAF is performing a mission-critical role in Afghanistan-in terms of the air bridge to get our troops there and back and to keep them supplied logistically, as alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage); the heavy lift capability within theatre, so vital for keeping ahead of the enemy and ensuring safety and security in movement; and, of course, the threat that the Royal Air Force can create from the air both in support of ground movement and in order to defend our soldiers when they come under attack. It is simply impossible to conceive that the operations in which we are engaged in Afghanistan could be performed without the support of the Royal Air Force.
It was an American general, Lieutenant-General Karl Eikenberry who, admittedly in the context of a smaller troop deployment in Afghanistan in 2007, observed:
"Without Air and Space Power, 500,000 to 600,000 troops would be needed in Afghanistan to achieve the same effects as the 40,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen we have there today. Air and Space Power provides the asymmetric advantage over the Taliban such that no matter where they choose to fight, coalition forces can bring to bear overwhelming firepower in a matter of minutes."
I could add a number of other things, but time presses. In due course, we will have the chance to see what comes out of the sausage-machine of the strategic defence and security review.
As a number of Members have observed, we do not ourselves know what lies around the corner. The epistemologist Nicola Taylor refers to this difficulty as the "black swans" and a former US Defence Secretary talked about "unknown unknowns", and my hon. Friends the Members for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) and for Salisbury (John Glen) referred to this issue. What I know is that past conflicts tell us that we simply do not know what the future holds, as indeed the Falklands war demonstrated. Had the defence review of 1981 been implemented, we would not have been able to carry out that deployment. I venture to suggest that we therefore need to be very careful about future capabilities so that the few do not become so few that the Government are no longer able to perform their first duty of defending the citizens of this country.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I am grateful to Members for their brevity.
James Wharton (Stockton South) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak this afternoon. Like so many Members before me, I would like to extend my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for its excellent foresight in calling a debate on a topic of such great interest to so many on both sides of the House.
The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton) said earlier that he wanted to encourage new Members to join the armed forces parliamentary scheme. The hon. Gentleman is no longer in his place, but I would like to echo his comments and say how pleased I am to
have signed up and how pleased I am that so many of my new colleagues of all parties have also signed up to this excellent scheme.
Of course, the strategic defence and security review has to be seen in the appropriate context, both financial and strategic. We have to be careful to ensure that it is not driven solely by financial considerations. In this House, we have a duty to ensure that it pays proper heed and attention to the strategic considerations. I would be the first to accept that the strategic situation in which we now find ourselves was not particularly in the control of the previous Government, just as it is not directly in the control of any Government-nobody could have foreseen or predicted the international and global situation that has arisen.
I would argue that the financial circumstances in which the SDSR is being carried out were perhaps more in the control of the previous Government and that the challenges we now face in addressing some of those problems can more accurately be laid at their feet. However, we are where we are. In proceeding to debate and carry out the SDSR, I hope that the Government will never forget, as many colleagues have reminded them, that the primary duty of any Government is to ensure the defence and security of the realm.
In order to get this right, we have to deal with a great many difficult questions. Some are headline grabbers: the aircraft carriers, strategic nuclear defence, the joint strike fighter-the big issues that all the newspapers want to talk about. There are also many other issues, often equally important, that do not always grab the front pages: the quality of service personnel accommodation, how we are to deal with our reserve and cadet forces, the work we need to do to encourage the cadet forces and how best to look after those injured in conflict when fighting overseas for the nation. All these questions must be taken into consideration in the context of the world in which we live today and of the financial constraints that exist so that we can ensure that the SDSR comes up with the result that is in the best interests of this country.
Throughout the decision-making process, the Government have, of course, another obligation-always to try to strive to deliver value for money for the taxpayer in everything they do. We have heard from a number of Members today comments about, and discussion of, various defence procurement programmes that have not run according to plan. I am thinking particularly of the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray), who referred to a number of aircraft schemes, notably the new scheme for the new strategic tanker aircraft.
The tanker aircraft is very much in the news today. The latest report from the Public Accounts Committee is scathingly critical of the programme, pointing out that it will eventually deliver 14 aircraft at a cost of £10.5 billion, that it is currently nearly six years overdue, and that the signing-up process took nine years to complete. Although, as a member of the Committee, I have a slight vested interest, I think that the report was quite right in its criticism. In the context of defence spending assessment and the approval of projects, it is important to stress the need for the Government to drive for value for money in procurement, and to ensure that it is flexible so that our armed forces can adapt to and meet the needs of the changing strategic environment in the future.
With that important issue in mind-along with the importance of managing, in whatever way we can, to secure an effective strategic defence capability within the financial constraints that we all know exist today-I was delighted to hear so many of my hon. Friends fighting for the things which, to me, seem particularly important. I would single out the aircraft carrier proposals and the strategic nuclear deterrent and its replacement. Of course those projects must deliver value for money, costs must be controlled, and they must be delivered on time and fit for purpose; but we must bear in mind that they are vital to giving our military forces the strategic ability to continue to engage in a dynamic way throughout the globe, as they can today.
I am conscious of the time. Let me end by asking the Government to take careful account of the comments that so many Members have made, and to note the priorities of Members in all parts of the House as we have heard them expressed today. We ask the Government to ensure that whatever decisions they make are in the best interests of the military as a whole, and to consider the possible future needs as well as the known unknowns, the unknown unknowns, and the things that we are really just not sure about at all.
Ben Gummer (Ipswich) (Con): If only the former United States Defence Secretary had possessed the clarity of speech that has just been demonstrated by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), he might have been better understood.
I, too, thank the Backbench Business Committee. Last week's excellent debate on Afghanistan, the ripples of which are, I believe, hitting the shores of Government, showed that it can have an effect. This rather modest reform of our Parliament is clearly for the better, both improving the quality of the voice with which we represent our constituents and demonstrating that we are a revitalised House. That is important in the context of today's debate, because it is surely our democracy that we are discussing. I refer not just to the oft-repeated fact that the first duty of any Government and Parliament is to defend the interests of our democracy, the people who put us here, our political institutions and our allies, but to democracy as a wider entity. It is worth pointing out, even if we were to wish it otherwise, that we are still the second largest contributor to the effort globally, and while our contribution may be considerably less than that of the United States in Afghanistan, it is still more than 10 times that of Germany and France, welcome though their contribution is.
I was going to present a short critique of the actions of the last Government, but owing to your injunctions, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall cut that out. In any event, I think that, given that only one Labour Back Bencher is present, it would be grossly unfair to vent my spleen on him. The one person whom I would exempt from criticism is sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. It was plain to many people-those of us who were not in the House at the time could observe it on television from an amateur perspective-that the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) was one of the few people who wrestled with the very difficult circumstances in which he found himself, if I may put it in that way, in the interests of our forces and our servicemen.
What I will say is that, like much of the promise of the last Labour Government, this promise started out very well indeed. The 1998 strategic defence review and the 2005 defence industrial strategy were both extremely fine documents. They were not only coherent and well thought out, but founded on the firm basis of a sense of foreign policy direction and wider British interests. They were also surprisingly prescient. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the following phrase in the 1998 strategic defence review. It states that while the review's authors understand that we have to address wider strategic interests, it is also important that there is an understanding that
"smaller but frequent, often simultaneous and sometimes prolonged operations can be more difficult than preparing for a single worst-case conflict."
If the foresight of Lord Robertson at that time had been fulfilled by the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), we might be having a different discussion here today. I believe that future historians, whom the right hon. Gentleman often prays in aid when he is assailed by the judgments of the current generation, will surely judge his failure to articulate a sensible and clear policy on Iraq and Afghanistan-and his predecessor's, too-and his complete failure to fund appropriately our forces in theatre to be a case of terrible neglect.
The right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor did precious little to advance the cause of, and case for, peace in the middle east, despite all the assurances we were given at the inception of the Iraq war. Effectively, that failure charges a levy on our intelligence, security and defence budgets for every single year that we fail to find a solution. That is the framework within which the current SDSR must be undertaken.
A cautionary tale must also be heeded. It is to be hoped that any differences that might exist between the Treasury and the MOD-I am sure there is complete amity between them!-are settled, and settled for the next 10 years, as is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's intention. The division between those two Departments has been alluded to frequently in the debate, and it causes a structural problem in our defence capability that has manifested itself very clearly in previous years.
I am also pleased that in the formulation of the context of this SDSR there seem to be signs that the Gordian knot that lies at the heart of any defence review is being grasped, in that while my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State states what I hope is the obvious point that we should keep our options open for a future in which we expect our highest priorities to change over time, there is also a recognition that the UK cannot ensure against every imaginable risk and that therefore the Government must decide which risks they are prepared to take. These two statements go to the nub of what we must address in the SDSR. It offers a good and appropriate opportunity to think very clearly about what threats we will face in the distant future, rather than just next year, the year after that and in five years' time, which are much more apparent. I hope it is not too provocative a statement to say that we need to take far greater risks with short-term threats that are unlikely to materialise in order to protect ourselves against longer term risks of which we are far less sure.
Let me quickly mention a few key issues that I do not think have been mentioned so far: the competition for water resources; the continued reliance, at least over the next 40 or 50 years, on liquid hydrocarbons; and the shift in global economic power to China and India. All of those issues suggest that we need to be looking to have a stronger maritime force, which requires investment decisions now, not in five, 10 or 15 years' time.
Let me also briefly address the question of how we pay for that. It seems ludicrous that we are preserving a deep strike force against an enemy that is unlikely to exist in the very near future-for instance, battle tanks that within their lifetime are unlikely to face an enemy that will come over the European plain. I also echo the points about reservists; their greater use seems to be an obvious way to bring down costs and maintain capability.
I also hope the Secretary of State will take on board very clearly the message about Afghanistan that came out of the previous Backbench Business Committee debate. In respect of that country, comments have been made about the 13th century. With the passing knowledge of mediaeval history that I have-and I know one other Member in the Chamber also has-I can say that I think many people in the 13th century would have taken some offence had they heard that comment.
The fact is that we cannot generate five centuries or fifteen centuries of development in civil society in five years. We must think very carefully about why we are in Afghanistan. Once that question is answered, the savings might be put towards the serious threats that we will face not in five years' time, but in 20 years' time.
Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): I pay tribute to the brave men and women of our armed forces. We have heard a lot about them in the debate, but I fundamentally believe, as many of my constituents do, that as a nation, we have a duty to give our armed forces our full support in return for the selfless service and sacrifice that they are prepared to give in our name.
As we discuss the review against this financial backdrop, which we have heard a great deal about, my thoughts and those of my constituents are with the troops and families of 16 Air Assault Brigade. Based up the road from Witham at the Colchester garrison, they will once again return to Afghanistan in the autumn. They have suffered losses on previous tours, and we pray for their safe return.
Troops based at the garrison and their respective regiments, such as 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, have been involved in many major conflicts, including both world wars, and the Crimean, Napoleonic and Falklands wars. They have played an instrumental role in safeguarding British sovereignty, protecting British interests and threats from other European nations and foreign powers. Long may that continue.
As a country, we owe a tremendous debt to our troops for what they have done and what they continue to do in the name of our country. We should never, ever shy away from celebrating our armed forces, even during the difficult financial situation that we currently face and this review. That is why I am heartened by the campaign that is being run locally in my constituency by the Daily Gazette newspaper to encourage local
businesses and attractions to give discounts, and special offers and deals, to members of our armed forces during their valued rest periods.
As we have heard again today, there are many significant concerns with the defence review and the future nuclear deterrent. I fundamentally would like to think that the support that my constituents and the broader British public give to our armed forces will be further reflected in Government policy following the review. I very much urge Ministers to focus on the things that we have heard about, but they should not forget our duty of care and responsibility to our injured servicemen and women, given the great sacrifices that they make for our country.
I hope that the review will very much right the wrongs of the damaging period when we saw our armed forces overstretched, under-resourced and sent into theatre with overused or out-of-date equipment. As we know, for a great period, our armed forces suffered greatly. At the same time, it was a period of great and deep shame.
Progress has since been made, particularly with the doubling of the operational allowance. We have heard today about the military covenant, but time is short, so I conclude by saying that I hope the covenant is restored in full as soon as possible, so that 16 Air Assault Brigade and their families, and my constituents who care so much about our armed forces and the defence of our great nation, can fully restore their trust in Government to support those who sacrifice so much for our country.
Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): We have heard this afternoon from both a wife and a mother, so I am happy to complete the set as the daughter of an Air Force officer. I grew up for most of my childhood on Air Force bases, so I fully understand the value of our armed forces.
Last month, I visited the cold war nuclear bunker at Bolt Head in my constituency. I hope that it can be saved from dereliction and opened as a museum, because it is a chilling reminder of how close we came to Armageddon. That did not happen largely because both sides understood the rules of the game, but does anybody seriously believe that stateless terrorist groups or rogue regimes understand those rules or even care about the consequences?
Many of my constituents cannot understand why our strategic nuclear weapon is being left out of the strategic defence and security review, because the uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons is one of the greatest threats to our existence. That voice has not been heard this afternoon. I hope that hon. Members will bear with me, because it needs to be heard.
At the heart of the 1968 non-proliferation treaty was a commitment to the goal of disarmament by recognised nuclear weapons states; it was the cornerstone of the pledge to the nuclear have-nots in order to stop them seeking to acquire their own weapons. Dissatisfaction among states without nuclear weapons at the lack of progress in achieving the aims of article VI is widespread. Let me remind the House that at the sixth non-proliferation treaty review conference in 2000 we signed up to
"an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all States parties are committed".
In renewing Trident, we break that pledge and remove our moral credibility. How can we begin to persuade nations such as Iran to step back from the nuclear cliff edge unless we are at least prepared to step back from the precipice ourselves? I am not advocating a unilateral approach, but if this obsolete, expensive and unthinkable weapon has any value at all, surely it is as the means to bring others to the negotiating table. I am rather tired of being told, "It cannot be done" and that to advocate nuclear disarmament is to be incapable of understanding the complexity of the issue. Nor do I accept the argument that these weapons cannot be un-invented; we cannot un-invent biological weapons, but nobody is suggesting that we take that route to mutually assured destruction.
My concern is that as time distances us from the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the horrific consequences of nuclear war become clouded and remote, and that we lose our sense of outrage. In the event of such an outrage-even with a dirty bomb-would we seriously consider nuclear retaliation? Against whom would we retaliate? I am not alone in believing that among the greatest threats facing us is uncontrolled nuclear proliferation and the risk of these weapons then falling into the hands of those who would not hesitate to use them. I have received a great deal of correspondence, as I am sure many hon. Members have, from constituents opposed to the renewal of Trident.
I would ask the Secretary of State to address those real and present dangers, as well as the unknown future threats, by delaying Trident in order to persuade others to join us at the negotiating table. Specifically, I would ask whether any efforts have been made to do that; has any contact been made with those countries that lie outside the non-proliferation treaty-Israel, India and Pakistan? Even more importantly, has Trident been offered up as a means of persuading Iran away from its goal of acquiring a nuclear weapon? Surely that would be preferable to waiting for an Israeli strike against Iranian installations.
I ask Members to consider how secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is from falling into the hands of extremists. An area the size of Italy is underwater in Pakistan and it will rightly be the greatest recipient of UK overseas aid. Surely Pakistan cannot afford to waste precious resources on maintaining a nuclear deterrent-come to that, nor can we. I would rather have an effective Army, Navy and-I have an interest here-Air Force than spend at least £20 billion of their resources on a weapon that we can never use and that no longer acts as a deterrent. I call on the Secretary of State to delay his decision on Trident, not because I am an idealist, but because I am a realist. I call on him to protect our conventional armed forces and, specifically, to recognise that in my constituency, Britannia naval college is far more important.
I shall conclude by reminding the House that Alfred Nobel, of peace prize fame, was famously convinced that his invention of dynamite would make war too destructive to contemplate. We would be wrong to make the same mistake with Trident.
Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con):
In the moments remaining, I shall try to be brief. I am pleased to be speaking towards the end of today's debate-there
have been some excellent speeches by Members of all parties and a great deal has been brought to the attention of the Minister, which I hope he will feed back to Government circles when they are considering the SDSR.
I put my name forward to speak in today's debate because I wanted to wave the flag for the Royal Navy. With our Army and armed forces in conflict, they are at the top of our concerns in defence debates-and rightly so. In today's speeches, when hon. Members spoke about defence, it all came back to the Army. The Air Force is also prevalent in our minds with the 70th anniversary of the battle of Britain and because of the lives that have been lost in the field of conflict by the RAF in the past decade. It is important that we recognise the work of the Royal Navy, which does not always take place in the field of conflict-as is the case with many of the other services, I hasten to add.
Drawing on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) at the end of her speech, it is worth reminding the House that the Royal Navy's role is extensive: it delivers humanitarian and disaster relief, as we recently saw in Haiti; it evacuates British nationals overseas, and I am not talking about the ash cloud but about what happened in Lebanon in 2006; it carries out counter-terrorism, with Operation Active Endeavour active in the Mediterranean; it carries out counter-piracy, which I shall mention, with the operations in the Gulf of Aden and the horn of Africa; it protects fisheries in UK territorial waters; it protects international shipping lanes, which I shall also mention; it counters drugs trafficking in the Caribbean; and, as shown in the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), it plays a role in defence diplomacy, including the joint exercises with international partners.
The Royal Navy is and remains the principal guardian of the silent principles of national security. That point is enforced by the words of the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, who said in July that
"maritime capabilities are not a luxury-they are a necessity. Our ability to control what happens at sea and from the sea is fundamental to our national security and prosperity...our maritime forces are delivering today and they will have a vital role".
Let me quote the Chamber of Shipping:
"Shipping is at the forefront of the UK's economic growth".
"92% of our international trade and 24% of our internal trade is moved by sea...The UK-flag fleet has grown by 530% since 2000...The maritime services sector (shipping, ports and maritime business) contributes £25 billion to the UK's GDP and supports half a million jobs."
We know that we face great piracy in our seas. There are still ongoing cases of civilians who are being held ransom. We know that some of our seaports and choke points are very dangerous. As the former First Sea Lord Jonathon Bond said:
"Maritime piracy is increasing, 95% of global trade passes through nine maritime choke points and there are still some 14 British overseas territories or crown dependencies and 5.5 million Britons living overseas."
When we take the debate forward, we must ensure that we do not merely look at the field of conflict and at what potential conflicts could come from that, although
that is vital to the defence of this country. However, let us not forget that this is also a security review and that the security of our country depends on the fact that we are, whether we like it or not, an island nation and one that depends on the merchant navy to keep it safe, secure and prosperous. Without a Royal Navy that can go out and enforce the conditions so that people can sail safely, we would be at a lower point than we are.
I was going to talk about the aircraft carriers, but I see that I am unfortunately running out of time. I shall save that for another debate. However, if we have the aircraft carrier capability and the Trident capability, we will ensure that we have a diplomatic tool. As the Secretary of State said in the House on 21 June:
"We know from historical experience that a declaration of peaceful intent is not sufficient to dissuade aggressors and that a weakening of national defences can encourage them."-[ Official Report, 21 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 55.]
My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) made an impassioned and excellent speech. In response to her comment about people who would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons and about our leading the way, I say that those people might hesitate to use them if we had a way of counteracting which would threaten their security.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): I am grateful for Members' brevity; we got everyone in. We can now start the wind-ups.
Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): We have had an excellent debate. There has been the usual mixture of party political fencing, good defence analysis and knowledge, and discussion of constituency and single-service interests. These debates follow a particular pattern but are none the less enormously useful.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who was the Minister for Veterans, has asked me to make a point about the comments regarding Luke Cole. We make this point constructively, but the ministerial team needs to stay on top of such issues and to be sceptical about what they are told if they are to make sure that the agreements that have been reached and the care that is, in theory, provided to people is actually provided through the chain of command. I appeal to Ministers to be as diligent as my hon. Friend and his predecessor about the welfare side of the veterans job.
We are about to go into the conference recess. I do not intend to put forward my name for the Labour shadow Cabinet, so this might-one never knows what will happen-be the last time that I speak from the Front Bench in this place. I was the Minister for the Armed Forces for two years, the Secretary of State for 11 months and I have been the shadow Secretary of State for about four months. My involvement with the MOD and the military has been life-changing and, on the whole, enormously rewarding. It has had its low points and many high points and I have worked with some amazing and fabulous people, including military personnel, civil servants, politicians and special advisers. Some great people work in this area of policy.
Let me mention one or two of the things that I have been involved with. I was totally in favour of commissioning the Gray report; I supported my predecessor in that and
I never tried to suppress or delay the report in any way. I was totally in favour of my predecessor-but-one's commissioning of the Haddon-Cave report, which was a devastating report on the systems that we had in the MOD, and I never tried to put any spin or gloss on that. It was enormously important that the MOD learned, or had the opportunity to learn, all the lessons that it needed to.
I was in charge of commissioning the service personnel Command Paper, and I had a lot of support from many good people in making sure that that was a useful document that actually delivered something for our service community-against much resistance, I have to say. I commissioned a Green Paper to try to help whoever was to be in government-us or the Conservatives -to prepare for the very difficult strategic defence review after the election. I did that in an open, broad and cross-party way, not for tactical reasons but because it was the right thing to do. I think that helped in some small way with some of the difficulties that people now have.
In my time as the Secretary of State for Defence, I never widened the gap in the defence budget; indeed, I closed it a little. The opportunities to close it outside a strategic defence review were limited, but we closed it none the less and we took some very difficult decisions in order to do so. What I am most proud of is that we moved force density in Task Force Helmand a long way in the right direction. Helmand is the most difficult job our armed forces face today. They need not only equipment, helicopters and vehicles but boots on the ground and enough of them to cover the ground. We moved force density in the right direction, and I am enormously proud of that.
Mr Arbuthnot: Will the right hon. Gentleman please accept that I confirm what he has just said in every respect? In his service to the House, the country and the defence of this country he gained and earned our admiration and respect, and we thank him for it.
Mr Ainsworth: That is very kind of the right hon. Gentleman. A number of people have said kind things.
The defence of this country faces some difficult choices. It is not my responsibility or that of my hon. Friends to help the Government in that regard; it is our responsibility to hold the Government to account. There are no easy options. Salami slicing is not going to work. It is the Government's responsibility, and it is in their own interests, that they do not walk away from those difficulties because, if they do, all that I would say to them on a personal level is that avoiding hard choices is a bit of a matter of character, but organisationally it can be habit-forming. And if they form that habit, they will pay a heavy price.
With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will reply. This has been a good debate. When the Backbench Business Committee decided on this subject for today's debate, it would have been pleased to think we would get 30 speeches from the Floor of the House of such wide-ranging nature and all of a positive and constructive tone. As I said at the beginning, the SDSR has not yet made any of the big decisions, but it is just about to do so. This could not, therefore, have
been a more timely moment for everyone who wished to put the points that they have made today to do so. I reaffirm our commitment to take away all the points made and give them the most serious consideration.
As ever in the House when we are discussing the armed forces, the debate has been informed by the personal experience, background and understanding of many Members. What has been most evident across the political divide is the respect shared by all Members of the House for the commitment and dedication of the brave men and women who serve in our armed forces. They are a credit to the country, and we are rightly proud of them.
As I anticipated, hon. Members from all parts of the country have rightly made the case for their local area, as is their responsibility. We have heard from places as far apart as the Outer Hebrides and Cornwall, and most points in between. Hon. Members with naval bases or a military or industrial footprint in their constituency all made points about the impact that any decision might have in their area. It is proper that they do so, but I hope they understand that it is not possible at this point in the process for me to respond or offer comfort on each and every point.
Angus Robertson: Will the Minister give way?
Nick Harvey: I will, but in the short time I have available, I do not want to make this a precedent.
Angus Robertson: This is very much in response to where the Minister is in his comments. Given that he has paid so much close attention to hon. Members who have spoken for the interests of their parts of the country, is he surprised that, given the importance of aircraft carriers, not one Labour Member from Glasgow or Fife has bothered to turn up or speak in the debate?
Nick Harvey: I suppose I am mildly surprised not even to have seen the usual suspects. In fairness, we have heard from them before very many times on these matters, so I think we can rest assured that their perspective is understood. The right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) said, quoting me from before the election, that all parts of the political community interested in defence would need to get together to make our views clear to the Treasury-"kick up rough" was his expression.
Nick Harvey: It was my expression, which the right hon. Gentleman kindly elevated to make his point.
I say to all Members present that it is not at all unhelpful to Defence Ministers that we will be able to illustrate to the rest of Government the strength of feeling that has been expressed in this debate. I am grateful to all those who came to take part and put their point of view.
We are wrestling with very difficult issues. The financial background is that which I described earlier; I do not intend to repeat all that now. However, even if we were conducting a defence review at this time and there were no financial difficulties at all, we would still be making big and significant changes, and we cannot do that without some pain and collateral damage. It is not possible that everybody speaking from every part of the
country and every part of the defence community will get what they want at the end of this process. We must acknowledge that and realise that if we are to reconfigure our forces to equip them for the challenges that we believe, in our best estimate, they are likely to face in the 21st century, then there will be change. Some capabilities will be less relevant in future than they have been in the past, and we will have to identify the new areas that will require additional investment to equip the forces in the way that we want them to be equipped.
Not all these decisions are self-evident. It is more than a decade-12 years-since the last formal review, and the world has changed immensely in that time. Furthermore, we have learned a lot from the operations that we have been involved in during that time. I very much agree with the right hon. Member for Coventry North East that the force density taking effect in Afghanistan now is having much more impact than we had on our initial entry into Helmand. The military have learned from these experiences, as have the Department and the NATO coalition. When we consider how we prepare force structures for the future, we have to learn those lessons. We cannot be exempt from the overall overhaul that we can see taking place across Whitehall. However, retaining effective defence will certainly be our priority, and we will not allow that to be undermined by the financial predicament in which we find ourselves.
Comments have been made about the speed of the review. As I said earlier, I have a great deal of sympathy with what the Defence Committee said in its report. It would not be from choice that anybody would conduct a review at this speed. I pay tribute to the previous Administration for the work they did last winter. The Green Paper process, with its cross-party nature and the involvement of an advisory panel that brought in a variety of interests, paved the ground for the work studies that took place prior to this stage of the review, which have in effect laid the agenda on the table and enabled the National Security Council to get to the point where it can decide the priorities and make the decisions.
Let me turn to some of today's contributions. I should like to respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal), which was picked up by Opposition Front Benchers. I take the point. The right hon. Member for Coventry North East-in a very level and, in no sense disloyal, way-encouraged new Ministers to question quite vigorously the information that we receive from officials and the military, and the point is taken. I will personally ensure that we do go away and have another look at that case.
Similarly, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) raised the issue of rest and relaxation and the fact that it ought to begin from the moment people get back home. I entirely agree that that is the most desirable way of doing it, and if in particular circumstances it proves, for operational reasons, not to be possible, we have guaranteed that we will add it on at the end, when people get back. That is a sub-optimal solution, but it may on occasions be necessary, for operational reasons, to handle it that way, and we will ensure at any rate that people do not lose out. My hon. Friend made a good point.
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