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If my hon. Friend is saying that defence should permanently have more money than it gets in any one year, neither I, nor-I suspect, as I look at him-the shadow Defence Secretary would disagree with that. We have to live within the financial constraints that we have. When we say that there were inevitable distortions because of Afghanistan, that is merely to state the blindingly obvious. We need to have a regular period of review so that we are able to take account, on a constant basis, of changing circumstances. That is
why we want to have a five-yearly defence review that is able to do that, so that we are not having to wait for disproportionately long periods before making any adjustments that we might need. The 2015 review will be a very useful point at which to try to assess what the legacy of Afghanistan may be on our armed forces and what adjustments are required in the light of that.
Let me now turn to the detail of the SDSR in relation to defence. The new national security strategy set out the policy framework that was the force driver of the SDSR. The adaptive posture demands that our armed forces become a more flexible and agile force with global reach, capable of providing nuclear and conventional deterrence, containment, coercion and intervention.
The Government are committed to the maintenance of the UK's minimum effective nuclear deterrent. We will proceed with the renewal of Trident and the submarine replacement programme, incorporating the changes set out in the value-for-money study published in the SDSR. The decision to extend the life of the current Vanguard class submarines and changes in the profile of the replacement programme mean that initial gate will be approved in the next few weeks. The next phase of the project will commence, and the main gate decision will take place in 2016. This programme does not in any way alter the continuous nature and credibility of the nuclear deterrent.
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): There has been a lot of discussion about the renewal of Trident. Irrespective of the decisions about gates, can my right hon. Friend confirm the absolute centrality in his thinking of the fact that we need to maintain a continuous at-sea deterrent?
Dr Fox: I have absolutely no problem in agreeing with my hon. Friend about the importance of continuous at-sea deterrence. Let me make two simple points about that. First, having a continuous at-sea deterrent has a diplomatic utility. It means that because it is a background and consistent deterrent, we do not have the problem of choosing when to deploy it at a time of rising tension, which could exacerbate a difficult situation. Secondly, if we do not have continuous at-sea deterrence, we have to decide at what point we are physically going to put the deterrent to sea. That may require our having additional military assets effectively to fight it out to sea if required. Those who think that taking risks with continuous at-sea deterrence because it is a cheap option economically might need to think again in the light of what I have said.
The adaptable posture required by the NSC also means that we will be investing in new technology and capabilities more suited to the likely character of future conflict, such as cyber-security, while reducing our stockholdings and capabilities that have less utility in the post-cold war world, such as heavy armour and non-precision artillery. We will, however, maintain the ability to regenerate capabilities that are not needed now if threats change. Capabilities that we have the option of regenerating include increased amphibious capability as well as heavy armour and artillery in the event that more is required. We have taken less risk against those capabilities that are more difficult to regenerate, such as submarines, to take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris).
Alliances and partnerships remain a fundamental part of our approach. In taking decisions in the SDSR, we have given significant weight to the fact that we and our NATO allies consciously rely on each other for particular capabilities. Sometimes even our biggest allies do that. I think, for example, of the United States and the British mine-hunting capabilities in the Gulf.
Ms Gisela Stuart: Our biggest ally always retains certain sovereign capabilities. What would be the Secretary of State's thinking and planning on which of our sovereign capabilities we need to maintain as opposed to where we just share?
We rely on our allies, and we will deepen our multilateral and bilateral defence relationships. This week, we set out our deepened relationship with France. On Wednesday, as I intimated to the House the other day, I will have a meeting with the new British-Scandinavian NATO group. That is very important for a number of reasons. We want a closer bilateral relationship with Norway, which is one of our key strategic partners. We want to create a NATO framework that makes it easier for Sweden and Finland to have a closer relationship, and as a nuclear power we want to give even greater reassurance to the Baltic states about the reality of article 5 of the NATO treaty. We also want to create regional structures to make it easier to engage with Russia, where we can, on regional problem solving. It is a useful lesson for the UK that in a world in which there is a multi-polar power base, we need more different levers to act in the interests of our national security.
The UK has unique national interests, however, and we cannot always expect to depend on our partners when Britain's direct national interests are threatened. I wish to make it clear that we will maintain an autonomous capability to sustain a considerable and capable military force on an enduring basis, if required, for both intervention and stabilisation operations. That means, at best effort, a one-off intervention force of some 30,000, including maritime and air support, or a force of some 6,500 plus enablers for enduring operations. That is not hugely dissimilar to the level of effort in Afghanistan today.
As delivering effective defence capability in the 21st century becomes more expensive at a time when budgets are under growing pressure, we should exploit economies of scale and increase co-operation where national security allows it and sovereign capability is not jeopardised. That means exploring deeper co-operation with NATO members, as demonstrated with France this week, and with partners further afield in key regions around the world.
I wish to set out the future shape of our armed forces and the process by which we have made our decisions. I will then deal with specific issues, particularly those on which we have taken calculated risks with capability.
The SDSR is a point of departure, not the end of the line. We have set a path to 2020 and beyond, with regular reviews every five years. The first period, from 2010 to 2015, is necessarily a period of rebalancing our strategic direction, in the light of the factors that I
outlined earlier. That is required to tackle the unfunded liability in the defence programme, to live within our means as the deficit is addressed and to focus our efforts on Afghanistan. Overall, the resources allocated for the spending review period will allow us to pursue today's operations and prepare for tomorrow, but that means scaling back the overall size of the armed forces.
To make those judgments, we have contrasted cost savings and capability implications with the risks that we face in the real global security environment and our ability to reconstitute or regenerate capabilities that we might need in future. We have taken the tough decisions that the previous Government ducked. The Prime Minister has set out to Parliament in his statement and in the White Paper the implications for the structure and establishment of the armed forces, and I will not tax the patience of the House or yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker, by repeating each of them here. I will, though, address specific issues later.
There are still difficult decisions to be taken for the coming period as we implement the SDSR, including the basing decisions mentioned by the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), who is no longer in his place, and the rationalisation of the defence estate. As the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) said, we will also have the issue of allowances to deal with in the coming months. I can assure the House that we will take those decisions as quickly as possible, to minimise uncertainty, but in a way that is sensitive to economic and social pressures and the needs of our people and their families. In addition, three further reviews are being undertaken to bring other areas of defence into line with the new force structure.
Bob Russell: Will the rationalisation of the MOD estate include such things as the scandal in 1995 of the sale of the married housing stock to Annington Homes, and the ongoing revenue rip-off that Annington Homes is enjoying at the expense of the public purse?
Dr Fox: There is no doubt that we need to deal with armed forces accommodation. We will want to do so as quickly as possible and in a way that produces the best and quickest improvement, at the best deal for the taxpayer. We will learn all the lessons from the previous Government, and even from times before them.
The three further reviews that I mentioned are the six-month study of the future role and structure of reserve forces; a review of force generation and sustainability by the service chiefs and the defence reform unit; and the remodelling of the MOD itself, which is overseen by Lord Levene's defence reform unit. Let me be very clear: I entirely agree with Lord Levene's view about the staff in the MOD, who are among the most able people I have worked with. I am sure that former Ministers would concur. However, I wish to be equally clear that the Department must be restructured to serve the interests of the new national security posture, and smaller armed forces will require a smaller system of civilian support.
I am acutely aware that behind the bare numbers of the reductions that we plan are loyal people, with livelihoods and families, who face an uncertain future through no fault of their own. We will do everything we can to manage the process sensitively and with care and support, but manage it we must if we are to meet our vision of the future force structure. The Government are determined to reinvigorate and respect an enduring military covenant. We cannot shield the armed forces from the consequences of the economic circumstances that we face, but we will make progress wherever we can. I look forward to receiving soon the report of the independent armed forces covenant taskforce that we set up earlier this year.
The second period, from 2015 to 2020, will be about regrowing capability and achieving our overall vision. That will include the reintroduction of a carrier strike capability, with the joint strike fighter carrier variant aircraft manned by a joint Royal Navy and RAF force, and an escort fleet including the Type 45 destroyer and, soon after 2020, the Type 26 global combat ship, which used to be called the future surface combatant-the names keep changing. We will also reconfigure the RAF fast jet fleet around the JSF and the Typhoon, and consolidate the multi-role brigade structure in the Army.
One of my goals as part of the SDSR was to reduce the number of types of equipment used to provide the same capability. Achieving that by 2020 will mean less duplication and less expense overall, when we take into account the complex training and support requirements of each piece of kit. That will include reducing the number of types of equipment in the air transport and helicopter fleets, and of destroyers and frigates.
Nevertheless, my very strong belief, which the Prime Minister shares, is that the structure that we have agreed for 2020 will require year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget beyond 2015. It would be nice to do more sooner, but as the great hero of the Labour party, Tony Benn, once said, albeit in different circumstances,
"the jam we thought was for tomorrow, we've already eaten."
There is a hard road ahead, but at the end of the process Britain will have the capabilities that it needs to keep our people safe and live up to its responsibilities to our allies and friends, and our national interests will be more secure.
I turn to some specific issues. The carrier strike capability that we plan will give the UK the ability to project military power over land as well as sea, from anywhere in the world, without reliance on land bases in other countries. Britain will require the strategic choice and flexibility in force projection that carrier strike offers. I also believe that that capability should be as interoperable as possible with the allies with whom we are most likely to work in future. The inherited design of the carriers would not have achieved that.
The House and the country must understand that any decisions regarding the carriers must be taken in the context of their extended service life of 50 years. The final captain of a Queen Elizabeth carrier has not even been born yet. When they go out of service, I will be 109 years old and the shadow Defence Secretary a sprightly 103. We are taking decisions now on what will be best for us as a country in the middle of the century. That is why we have taken three decisions. First, we have
decided to take a capability gap in carrier strike, because we assess that the risk of not having access to basing and overflight for our fast jet force in the next decade is low. However, the same cannot be said looking further ahead.
Secondly, we have decided to install catapult and arrester gear, which will allow greater interoperability, particularly with US and French carriers and jets, and maximise the through-life utility of our carrier strike capability. Thirdly, we have decided to acquire the carrier variant of the joint strike fighter. Adding the "cats and traps" will allow us to use the carrier variant of the JSF, which has a bigger payload and a longer range than the STOVL variant planned by the previous Government. Overall, the carrier variant will be significantly cheaper, reducing the through-life cost compared with the STOVL version.
Contrary to popular belief, there will not be a new Queen Elizabeth class carrier in service without the planes to go on it, apart from in the period required by law for us to have the carrier properly crewed up and ready to accept the planes. The idea I have come across in some parts of the media-that we can get brand-new carriers and the brand-new planes to fly off them almost on the same day-simply defies the complexity of the operation involved.
When the carrier enters service towards the end of the decade, the JSF will be ready to embark on it. Yes, there will be a delay to the programme as a consequence of the decisions I have mentioned, but unlike the previous Government's delay to the carrier programme in 2008, which added £1.6 billion to the overall cost-more than the whole Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget next year-and gave us nothing in return, our delay will give us a carrier that is best configured for the next 50 years.
Mr Ainsworth: I am seriously concerned about the decision that the Government have taken. They have not only scrapped the Harrier, but retreated from STOVL, going back to what is basically today's and yesterday's technology of "cats and traps". They have left themselves potentially reliant on two aircraft that do fundamentally the same thing, giving up the ability to use short-take-off and vertical-landing aircraft. This is about more than the capability of the carrier. We are giving up-not temporarily, but permanently-the capability that the Harrier has given us. We will have two fleets of aircraft that fundamentally do the same thing.
Dr Fox: First, "cats and traps" are not yesterday's technology. In fact, considerable expense is going into ensuring that there are more modern, more effective "cat and trap" systems. The United States is spending a great deal of research and development money on that at present. Secondly, if we are to have genuine interoperability, it makes sense to have carriers that the American navy or the French can land on and, in the case of the French, use when their carrier is in refit and they require ongoing training. It is perfectly rational to buy the plane with the longer range and bigger payload, which is in fact cheaper. In the past, it was decided, for whatever reasons, to build 65,000-tonne carriers without a "cat and trap" system, and that decision was augmented by the STOVL decision. That would have been the most expensive variant, with the shortest range and the smallest payload. We are bringing those greater capabilities into better alignment with the carrier itself.
The right hon. Member for Coventry North East mentioned the Harrier. We had to face up to the difficult choices that the previous Government put off. Regrettably, we have decided to retire HMS Ark Royal three years early and to retire the Harrier force-both in 2011. Of course, that is not unprecedented. The UK's carrier strike capability was gapped during the late 1970s, as we transitioned from Buccaneer to Harrier itself. While Harrier was operating in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009, our ability to generate carrier strike was at best severely curtailed.
Over the next five years, life-saving combat air support to operations in Afghanistan has to be the overriding priority. In Afghanistan, the Joint Force Harrier did wonderful work, and I pay tribute to the Harrier aircraft, the crews that have serviced them and the pilots who have flown them since they entered service. During its deployment to Afghanistan, the Joint Force Harrier flew in excess of 22,000 hours on more than 8,500 sorties, more than 2,000 of which were close air support missions. It is my understanding that every Harrier pilot from every Harrier squadron took part at some point during the Harrier's deployment to Afghanistan.
Tough and unsentimental choices had to be made, however, and the military advice was that Tornado was the more capable aircraft to retain, due to its wider capabilities and force size, for not only Afghanistan but other significant contingent capabilities. Operations in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009 took their toll on the Harrier force. By the time the aircraft was withdrawn from theatre, the force's ability to recuperate and regenerate a fully operational carrier strike capability-notwithstanding the strenuous efforts to do so by Joint Force Harrier-had understandably been affected.
The decision taken by the previous Government in 2009 drastically to salami-slice the number of Harriers meant that, even if we had wanted to, we could not sustain our current fast-jet requirement in Afghanistan using Harriers alone. The decision in 2009 reduced the number of Harriers from 18 force elements at readiness to 10, but the military advice is that we require 40 force elements at readiness of Harriers to maintain our fast-jet contribution in Afghanistan on an enduring basis and without breaching harmony guidelines.
Dr Fox: The Fleet Air Arm will require something of a transitioning with the new joint strike fighter when we get towards the end of the decade. I have had discussions with my American counterparts, who have made it clear that, should we require help to maintain skills in any way in the run-up to that period, the United States will make the facilities available to us, and we fully understand that. Let me make it clear, as I did earlier, that the joint strike fighter will be flown from our carriers by both Royal Navy and Air Force pilots. We will maintain a joint force, which is an important message to both services at a time of uncertainty.
Some of the things we have read about Harrier have been hugely over-simplistic. As a result of decisions taken in recent years, I am afraid that the previous
Government loaded the dice against Harrier a long time before the last election. I fully understand the consequences of retiring Harrier for livelihoods and basing, and the emotiveness of this beautiful and iconic aircraft, particularly in relation to the Falklands conflict of 1982, as everyone in the House will appreciate. However, I believe that we have made the right decision, based on unsentimental military logic.
The Falklands have been the subject of some comment in recent days. The Government are unequivocally committed to the defence of our overseas territories and dependencies, but the situation now is far removed from that of the early 1980s. First, we maintain a far more robust and capable force in the Falklands to act as a deterrent and to secure our interests there, and that force is able to be reinforced as the need arises. Secondly, and more importantly, Argentina is no longer ruled by a military junta that is repressive at home and aggressive abroad. Argentina is now a vibrant, multi-party democracy, constructive on the world stage and pledged to peaceful resolution of the issues that undoubtedly remain between us. Of course, we maintain robust contingency plans for times of crisis, and there is no questioning our resolve to defend the Falklands whenever required and from whatever quarter.
The decision to cancel the Nimrod MRA4 programme was extremely difficult due to the nature of the military tasks to which the aircraft was designed to contribute, the amount of public money that had been spent on it and the impact of such a decision on the people who have dedicated their careers to delivering this capability or who depend on it for their livelihoods. However, the severe financial pressures faced by the Government and the urgent need to bring the defence programme into balance meant that we could not retain all our existing programmes, as recognised by the previous Government in their Green Paper.
I recognise that this decision means taking some risks on the capability that Nimrod was to provide. Since the withdrawal of the Nimrod MR2 in March-a decision taken by the previous Government-the Ministry of Defence has sought to mitigate the gap in capability through the use, on a case-by-case basis, of other military assets, including Type 23 frigates, Merlin anti-submarine warfare helicopters and Hercules C-130 aircraft, and by relying on assistance from allies and partners. In view of the sensitive and classified nature of some of those military tasks and the implications for the protection of our armed forces, including the nuclear deterrent, it is not possible for me to comment on those measures in detail, but as the previous Government did, I am happy to make the Opposition spokesman fully aware, as far as the classification allows, of our decisions and the military advice upon which we take them.
As Defence Secretary, I have concentrated today on issues within my remit, but the guiding principle of the SDSR has been to join national security efforts across the Government, flowing from the direction that the new National Security Council now delivers. The SDSR covers far more ground-from conflict prevention to counter-terrorism, energy security, cyber-security and border security, and resilience at home and overseas-and I hope that hon. Members will take the opportunity to raise those wider issues today.
The Government had to take some difficult decisions, and the transformation will be painful, but we will
emerge with a robust national security structure and a coherent set of capabilities that supports our foreign policy goals of rebuilding our prosperity and safeguarding our security both overseas and at home, but I should like to end by restating my commitment to sustaining operations in Afghanistan. We must succeed there-that must be our main effort. At the heart of those operations are the men and women of our armed forces, the civilians and families who support them, the intelligence and security agencies, and all those who stand between us and those who would do us harm. The whole House will agree that they are the best of the best and thank them for their dedication, professionalism and selfless commitment. All of us in this country owe them a very deep debt of gratitude.
Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond in today's debate and I welcome the Secretary of State's comments. At the beginning at least, his was a rather breathless speech. He spoke of being 109 years of age when the new Queen Elizabeth type aircraft carriers go out of service, but I hope he leaves more time to get to the Chamber from the Ministry of Defence when he is 109. He certainly will not be able to get here at the speed he did today.
Earlier in the week, the Secretary of State had to be summoned to the House to explain in detail the treaties with France, and today the House was treated to a quite remarkable filibuster to accommodate his diary and those of his fellow Ministers. I was tempted to reflect that perhaps they were on French time, but that would have brought them here in time for business questions rather than making them late for this debate. I welcome the ministerial team, who took the approach of arriving in shifts for their boss's speech this afternoon.
Despite that, it is with a sense of honour that today I am making my first speech at the Dispatch Box as the shadow Secretary of State for Defence. My sense of pride is only slightly diminished by having the word "shadow" in my job title.
Mr Murphy: I hope it will not be for too long. Even in opposition, it is an honour to work to support our armed forces and their families, and the defence of our nation and all our interests. The most important responsibility of the Government is the safety and security of our country. All MPs of all parties also carry that responsibility. I want the House to know that this Opposition will always act in the interests of what we believe to be right for our country, and not any narrow party interest.
Although the Secretary of State and I may disagree across the Dispatch Box, I want to tell him that I will never question his personal commitment to the defence of our nation. All Conservatives are patriots, but the Secretary of State must be aware that all patriots are not Conservatives. Therefore, I look forward to working with the Government to ensure that our forces, who are the best of Britain, operate with the right equipment. I also want to ensure that their service to their country is properly rewarded and valued, and where possible, that even more is done to value their dedication and patriotism. In addition, we should also recognise the crucial role
played by so many MOD civilian staff, as the Secretary of State did. I should like to put on record the House's gratitude for the unheralded work of our security services.
I thought that the Secretary of State, in what was in large part a thoughtful speech, struck a better tone on the issue of MOD redundancies than has been struck before. Hitherto, there was almost a sense of celebration at the reduction in head count. It will be reassuring for MOD officials, who are perhaps watching this debate or will read Hansard, that there was no waving of Order Papers today at the announcement of potential future redundancies.
As the Prime Minister has rightly said in recent times, our power and influence is enhanced by our integration with political, social and economic global networks. However, I sense that the unprecedented scale and pace of global change will, if anything, increase ever more sharply in future. Although our openness increases the threats that we face, conversely it assists us, in part, in overcoming those contemporary challenges. Today's threats are more complex and difficult to map, and they are harder to repel. Terrorism, cyber-attack, natural resource shortages, large-scale disaster or unconventional attacks from chemical or biological weapons all threaten our shores, our interests and our values. Although we might face fewer conventional threats, our defences at home remain subject to frequent aerial and maritime probing and challenges.
The strategic defence and security review was an opportunity to reshape the UK's military force in that changing global security landscape. Unfortunately, according to the Royal United Services Institute, 68% of the defence and security community felt that it was a
"lost opportunity for a more radical reassessment of the UK's role in the world".
It seems that the security review did not clearly define Britain's place in the world, nor did it alter the balance of Britain's armed forces to meet existing and emerging threats. The review leaves unanswered many questions about Britain's place in this ever-changing world.
Dr Fox: In that case, can the right hon. Gentleman enlighten the House on what he and his party believe is Britain's proper role in the world, and say how it differs from that set out by the National Security Council and the Government in the White Paper?
Mr Murphy: I will come to that later in my comments, but it is clear that Britain must make a pragmatic assessment of our global ambition. As the Secretary of State has acknowledged-tersely in his letter and, I am sure, in private conversations with others in government-the review process has been driven largely by the cuts that the Government have been determined to make. Some people say that the 38-page document to which the Secretary of State referred looks like a decent executive summary, but no fewer than 10 pages in it are entirely blank. In parts, it lacks historical accuracy. On page 23, we read:
"For 800 years, the UK has been at the forefront of shaping the relationship between the rights of individuals and powers and obligations of the state".
The document predicts future threats, which cannot be an exact science-we know that-but it lacks historical accuracy. The fact is that the UK did not exist in its current form 800 years ago. A document that aims to
set out a process and to predict the nature of future threats does not even get its history right. Its assessment of our nation's past lacks real intellectual vigour- [ Interruption. ] One of the Ministers who arrived a little late for the Secretary of State's speech says that that is a pedantic point, but I do not think that it is. To say that they do not understand the nature or the history of this collection of nations of the United Kingdom when it comes to an assessment of our role in the world is not pedantic.
There are major challenges facing our national security, as the Secretary of State has said, and as was emphasised only last weekend, with the bomb plots to bring down cargo planes. The defence review rightly makes it clear that primary among the myriad defence and security issues we face is Afghanistan.
I, my shadow Defence team and the shadow Foreign Secretary appreciated the first of what I hope will be many regular briefings on Afghanistan held yesterday in the Ministry of Defence. I also look forward to the opportunity to visit Afghanistan, and of course I, along with others on the Opposition Front Bench, will liaise with the MOD about such visits. I want to make it clear that we will work with the Government in a spirit of co-operation to help to bring the conflict to an end, and to ensure peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Our forces-and, indeed, our enemies-should continually be reminded of that unity of purpose. Our military aim must be to ensure that never again can al-Qaeda use Afghanistan as an incubator for terrorism, and we must use our military forces to weaken the Taliban to such an extent that the Afghan people can determine their own future.
Mike Gapes: May I join others who will no doubt welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role? His was an excellent appointment. I was in Afghanistan last week with the Foreign Affairs Committee, and we also went to Pakistan. Does he agree that although the international community-or some of it, at least-has set deadlines, there should be conditions-based activity in Afghanistan, and that the international community might need to think again about what will be needed in the future, if the proposed increase in the capabilities of the Afghan forces are not sufficient by 2015?
Mr Murphy: I have spoken to my hon. Friend and others who were on that visit to Afghanistan, and they commented on what they believed to be the significant progress made there in recent years. No doubt he would like to put that on the record as well. It is significant and important for the Government to continue to offer clarity about the conditions-based approach to the 2015 timeline; I am sure that the Secretary of State will have heard those comments and will seek to reassure the House and the nation on that matter.
The international strategy, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) saw on his visit, has been focusing on building up key pillars of the state and delivering better lives for the Afghan people. There is a real record of sometimes fragile achievement being carefully built upon in Afghanistan, and it is the bravery of our forces, which is renowned across the globe-we all celebrate that again today-and their professionalism, which we must also recognise, that has helped to make that progress achievable.
Mrs Moon: Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the British press write about the Afghan campaign, one of the problems is that we conflate Afghanistan and Helmand, although the severe problems that Britain is facing in Helmand are often not the same in the rest of the country? We must make it clear to the British public that outside Helmand there are positive conditions prevailing, good signs of development and huge progress being made. We are at the front line of the most difficult task, but we must not neglect the fact that huge successes have also been achieved.
Mr Murphy: My hon. Friend, who has paid close attention to these matters over a long time, is right. Those of us who supported the decision to take military action in Iraq and who supported the action in Afghanistan appreciate that those two conflicts have been conflated in public perception, which has not helped the debate about Afghanistan. She raised an important point about the misunderstanding and misapprehension about Helmand province. We heard from the MOD yesterday that Helmand province accounts for 1% of Afghanistan's population. The UK's forces are engaged in some of the heaviest fighting, and in some of the most difficult and most complex areas of the insurgency, but there has been remarkable progress, in Helmand and in other parts of Afghanistan. It is right that she has put that on the record, and that we celebrate it here.
The work that is going on in justice, law and order, civil administration, economic activity and freedom of movement in Helmand and Afghanistan, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) will have seen and read about, is a cornerstone of a lasting political settlement, as are efforts to eradicate institutionalised corruption. Part of such a settlement relies on meaningful engagement with former insurgents. As a precondition for engagement, those who want a political stake in their country's future must permanently sever ties with violence and accept the Afghan constitutional framework. In doing so, their interests will be recognised but constrained by the laws of the land and balanced by the interests and views of others. As the Government take that important work forward, they will continue to have the Opposition's full support.
I want to address a number of the points that the Secretary of State has made about Afghanistan recently. The first concerns the role of women in Afghan society. Many now rightly assess that women's role in Afghanistan has improved markedly beyond the pre-Taliban days in Afghanistan. Things continue to improve more slowly than we might wish. Nevertheless they have improved significantly, and I urge the Government to remain vigilant and ensure that, as former Taliban fighters are reintegrated, the welcome progress made in guaranteeing freedom and equal rights for women is not compromised in accommodating those with harder-line opinions.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South said, the Government have set 2015 as a target for the conclusion of our forces' combat role. We all wish to see our forces home as soon as possible. When I, along with my right hon. Friends the leader of the Labour party and the shadow Foreign Secretary, met General Petraeus recently, we talked about the conditions-based progress towards full withdrawal. It is essential that the UK Government are clear in private and public about the stages and conditions in advance of our withdrawal.
Crucial to Afghan and international ambition is the capacity of home-grown security forces to take on greater responsibility. It is important for the Government to make it clear whether they have undertaken an assessment of the capacity of Afghan forces to meet the 2015 timeline. Although the immediate concern about the quantity of recruits has abated-with 305,000 now in service-there remain genuine worries about the quality of some of those undoubtedly brave recruits. There is clearly a shortage of trainers for the Afghan forces, and although the UK is doing its bit, it is essential for that fundamental issue to be resolved quickly if the Afghan security forces are to be able to perform the functions that the Afghan Government wish them to. I urge the Government, therefore, to continue to monitor not just the quantity but the quality of the Afghan security forces. There is also, of course, a wider societal issue in Afghanistan concerning levels of literacy, which impact on the ability of the Afghan armed forces-but that is a longer term societal challenge.
Finally, on Afghanistan, we welcome the commitments that the Secretary of State and Prime Minister have given in assuring the House that the impact of the defence review is not intended to affect the front line in Afghanistan. However, Opposition Members-and, I am certain, many Government Members-will be seeking a constant assurance that nothing in the small print of the defence review or those flowing from it will affect our efforts in Afghanistan right up until the end of combat operations.
More widely, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) asked about Yemen. The Leader of the Opposition rightly asked the Prime Minister about that at Prime Minister's questions this week, and we were reassured by the Prime Minister's response. It is important that Yemen does not become a safe haven for terrorist recruitment, training and operations. It is also important that the country's economic decline and instability do not threaten regional security and economic interests. Continued conflict and loss of livelihoods could result in increasing poverty and a humanitarian crisis, and mass migration within the country and beyond. It is crucial, therefore, that we work with the Yemeni Government to counter the terror threat, including through our support in helping them to disrupt al-Qaeda.
Keith Vaz: I congratulate my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State on his appointment, and welcome his wise words today. Let us get the language on Yemen right. It is not a failed state, as some have said, but it has the capacity to fail if we do not assist it. We must follow up the promises made to the Yemeni Government in London in January to provide basic help, such as security scanners, which I understand have still not been delivered. Let us help Yemen and engage with it, rather than criticising it.
My right hon. Friend is experienced in such matters, and he is right to raise that point. So far today we have not heard anyone speaking of Yemen as a failed state, but it has the capacity to become so, with all that that means. I am sure that the Government heard my right hon. Friend's plea for scanners. The
Prime Minister was asked about that at Question Time on Wednesday, and gave a categoric commitment to continue to be engaged in Yemen. In addition to the scanners being delivered, I look forward to the Government making it clear that ministerial engagement will continue, with visits to Yemen in the near future. It is important for that political public commitment to be there for all to see.
There are points in the review that I and many others welcome: the commitment to hold reviews every five years, taking forward the previous Government's work on cyber-crime to prevent organised crime, terrorism and other states from making malign attacks on our infrastructure, the 25% reduction in warheads, and the continued commitment to increase funding for our special forces. However, among all the talk of fiscal deficits, I want now to turn to the strategic deficit at the heart of the Government's plans.
There are strategic contradictions between the Government's assessment of future threats, as laid out in the security strategy, and the tangible action to prepare for them, as laid out in the defence review. Those two documents were separated by just one day in their publication, but face in different directions in important ways. The security strategy rightly says that it will prioritise flexibility and adaptability across the armed forces, but the defence review surrenders some of that capacity in the Royal Navy. The Government said that they wanted to take tough long-term decisions, but have put off Trident-to appease their coalition partners, I think .
Some people believe that the decision on Trident owes more to defence of the coalition than to defence of the realm. The security strategy marks a significant shift with an emphasis on mitigating risk, the ability to deter, and the attributes of soft power. All that is rightly contained in the security strategy. However, the defence review lacks emphasis on cultural and diplomatic power in complementing traditional hard power. Indeed, the comprehensive spending review may have set back the cause of cultural diplomacy by many years. Moving the World Service, which has been so important to so many people in so many ways, from the Foreign Office may signify a serious scaling down of cultural diplomacy.
I grew up-or at least, spent all my teenage years-in South Africa, where people had to be bilingual in English and Afrikaans. I remember watching the news on television and listening to South African radio, and even as youngsters we knew instinctively that we could not trust what we were hearing, regardless of what language it was in. Whether it was in English or Afrikaans, we knew that it was state propaganda. The only place to turn to, which my family did, was the BBC's World Service. It was the one source of accurate and reliable information that people throughout the world regularly turned to at times of difficulty or when seeking the truth. Labour Members will continue to take a keen interest in what moving the World Service from the Foreign Office will mean to quality and reach in different languages throughout the globe.
Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con): Does the shadow Secretary of State agree that the role that the World Service could play in a country like Pakistan, where obviously we cannot and would not wish to send troops, is vital to the stability of the region, and would help our effort in Afghanistan?
Mr Murphy: The right hon. Gentleman is correct, and we can compete in our admiration of the BBC's World Service and all that it does, including the launch of the Arabic service relatively recently, the broadcasting in Pashtun, and the fact that President Obama used the medium of the World Service to broadcast. We are occasionally frustrated with some things that the BBC does, but in principle, as an institution, the World Service is something that everyone in this country who feels a sense of pride and patriotism should be remarkably proud of.
Mr Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): As someone who lives in Wales, I regularly listen to the World Service, for reasons similar to those that my right hon. Friend gave for listening to it in South Africa: we have a colonial Government these days. I echo the point made by the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), the Chairman of the Defence Committee, that in Helmand province particularly, and other parts of Afghanistan, the really important medium of information is the radio. It is not the television, or Fox News, as it is in America. The power of what the right hon. Gentleman said is palpable to anyone who visits the place.
Mike Gapes: Reference has been made to Pakistan. My right hon. Friend may not be aware that the BBC World Service gave evidence to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and said that because of financial restrictions, it could not go ahead with an Urdu language television service that it had hoped to establish. Does he agree that that is highly regrettable, and that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, while it has responsibility for funding the World Service for the next two years, should reconsider?
Mr Murphy: My hon. Friend raises the crucial issue of funding support, and the World Service's reach and ability to do remarkable things, and to be a presence and a trusted friend of people across the globe who have few other sources of reliable and objective information in their own language. The Minister will have heard the comments that have been made, and it would be extraordinarily worrying if the sort of cuts that my hon. Friend has mentioned came to pass.
When I was in the Negev desert, I met Bedouin tribesmen who talked about the power of the BBC World Service, which again is the one source of reliable
and objective information in that part of the world. I do not want to labour the point, but I am certain that we will return to it, as it has arisen in the comprehensive spending review.
The Government said in the defence review that they wanted to combat emerging threats, but we have heard little, in the review or since, about concrete plans to address threats to energy, food or water security. Thanks to the review, the Secretary of State's to-do list has grown. I do not doubt his ability, but he will have a packed day. Rather than announcing details in the review, the Government have delayed decisions until another day. A review has been set up to consider plans for procurement. Rather than coming up with a strategy for integrating, a review has been set up; rather than setting out efficiency savings in detail, a review has been set up; force generation, counter-terrorism and preparedness for civil emergencies are all subject to review. Add to that the fact that the plethora of parliamentary questions suggest that the Government have not done their homework, and that they must do better. Their strategy has been rushed, they did not ask many of the right questions, and they still have not come up with many answers.
I look forward to playing a full part in many of the reviews, but the sheer number is further proof that the entire process has been rushed. At the heart of the strategic incoherence is the back-to-front decision making leading to the review. For all the claims of cross-Government co-operation, the defence review has become a spending review-cutting what could be cut to meet fiscal priorities, not doing what could be done to reshape Britain's armed forces around strategic security goals. To answer the strategic questions, we needed a thorough examination of foreign policy flexibility, defence needs and how to make defence more efficient in the longer term, not simply a drive for immediate savings now.
Let me turn to some of the other points that the Secretary of State mentioned. On Nimrod, I welcome his commitment to share what he can with the shadow Foreign Secretary and me. However, there is a sense of disquiet in the country about the impact on the deterrent, and there are particular worries in parts of Scotland about the impact on air force bases.
Let me turn to the aircraft carriers, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), the former Defence Secretary, has spoken of. We already know that for a decade or more, the UK will have no carrier strike capability of its own. The Government have entered into two 50-year defence treaties with France, and although we welcome them in principle, there are still many unanswered questions. In opposition, the Conservatives played fast and loose with Euroscepticism when the Labour Government mooted defence co-operation. By contrast, we welcome a bilateral approach with our European neighbours. We will continue to support those efforts and ask the important questions. We are not clear whether those treaties, which have now been deposited in the Library, will contain legally binding guarantees. Last week in response to questions, the Prime Minister told the House:
"It is not easy to see in the short term the need for that sort of carrier strike".-[ Official Report, 19 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 808.]
Given the nature of those documents and the nature of the threat, the fact is that there is enormous uncertainty.
Despite what the Prime Minister has said, and despite the fact that the title of the Government's own strategy document refers to an "age of uncertainty", they have not been able to persuade the country that they feel certain that we will not need carrier strike capability over the next decade. As the Chair of the Select Committee on Defence has asked, if the Government feel sure that we can do without that ability for a decade, why are they equally sure that we will not need a strike capability once that decade has passed? Our approach has led to our friends passing polite comment, while others snigger up their sleeves about a maritime nation building the two greatest ships in our history while the country is devoid of carrier strike capability for a decade.
In conclusion, I share the worry of many in this House and beyond the Commons-a worry echoed in the Defence Committee's report. The process has been rushed. Mistakes may have been made, and some of them may be serious. With respect, I hope that the Defence Committee is wrong, but I fear that it may be right. I want to finish my comments in the same tone in which I started. Nine years into a military commitment in Afghanistan, and with up to five more in a combat role ahead for our country and our forces, it is essential that we again commit ourselves to a bipartisan approach to Afghanistan. For all our disagreements on so many other issues facing our country, we are at one in supporting our forces as they face up to our enemies, and their families as they start to think of another Christmas separated from their loved ones. As our country comes together this week to commemorate the lives of those who have been lost in conflict through the ages, it is also right that today we celebrate the enormous contribution and immeasurable bravery of our men and women in uniform.
Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): In the week before Armistice day, I, along with every other Member of this House, salute the memory of the fallen and extend my thoughts and sympathies to their families, as well as to those who have been wounded, to wish them a speedy recovery. I further pay a heartfelt tribute to the men and women of the British armed forces, wherever they are serving-sea, land or air-and most especially to those in Afghanistan; to the service families, who just by keeping the home fires burning do invaluable work for the nation; and to the civilian staff in the Ministry of Defence and elsewhere, who support our armed forces extremely well.
I welcome the new shadow Secretary of State. I am delighted to tell him that I had the privilege of working on the Green Paper of his right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), the former Secretary of State, which was valuable pre-thinking for some of the work that went into the SDSR. It was not the right hon. Gentleman's fault, but looking back, perhaps the only mistake was that none of the aspirations that we discussed was in any way linked to financial considerations. They were really linked more to the question of capability. To that extent, the Green Paper did an important job, even though its conclusion at the end of the day was held to be rather unrealistic.
I declare an interest, as the honorary colonel of the Bristol university officer training corps. One of their
distinguished former officers, the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), now sits on the Front Bench, while the daughter of my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), the Chairman of the Defence Committee, is one of their most glittering alumnettes. I want the Secretary of State to be particularly aware of the exceptional work of the OTC this summer, when they deployed to Canada at full unit strength to take part in Exercise Prairie Thunder, an extremely important training operation that, as I am sure the House is aware, put formed battle groups through their paces before operational deployments, most particularly to Afghanistan. The cadets were attached to the opposition force, which is much the most interesting and fun thing to do, and they performed magnificently.
I raise that because I want the Secretary of State to congratulate the cadets on their efforts. They were extremely professional and did very well. I also want to thank the Ministry of Defence and all those responsible for helping, and to congratulate Lieutenant-Colonel Petersen and all those who arranged the exercise. I want the Secretary of State to understand that there is a wider utility to the university officer training corps, in supporting the regular Army. The exercise presented a tremendous opportunity for officer cadets to work with regular Army units, to everyone's advantage. I hope very much that he will remember that point when important decisions are taken about the OTCs, who make an important contribution to the military life of this country and provide an invaluable footprint at universities.
When the Prime Minister announced the review, I welcomed especially the careful analysis done to support it, and I welcome most of the conclusions that have been reached. However, as the Prime Minister agreed on the day that the review was announced and as the Secretary of State said this afternoon, this is just the starting point for a much more fundamental transformation of defence in this country, so that in 10 years' time we will have a defence posture and capability capable of securing our national interests at home and abroad. An enormous body of much more detailed work now needs to be done on strategy, capability and all the rest.
Let me take this opportunity also to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) on the excellent report that the Select Committee on Public Administration has produced on strategy. He has made an invaluable contribution, and the Government need to pay careful attention to the points that he has made.
The purpose of the 2010 strategy review-and presumably that of all other reviews-is to achieve a strategy that matches ends, ways and means. The most immediate signal to come out of the SDSR is that the financial realities confronting the coalition Government-and the country-have forced them to make cuts that they would clearly much rather not have had to make. It is important to recognise that the SDSR has inevitably resulted in a real reduction in Britain's ability to undertake strategic power projection. The jarring gong of reality has sounded, and the truly dismal lessons of the past 13 years have had to be learned in a very brief period.
As for the individual services, I would say this. First, I am afraid that I simply do not understand the stance of the Royal Navy, which would leave it unable to have anything but an absolutely minimal presence across the globe. That seems to be an appalling decision by the naval planners, and they will-mark my words-come always to regret it. Secondly, I simply believe that the Royal Air Force has got it wrong, while the Army has come up with a sensible, pragmatic and workable solution. However, will the Secretary of State tell me how he sees the development of the use of drone aircraft and who will be responsible for using them? What will be the configuration of the armoured regiments after the loss of the Challenger tanks? He is absolutely right to take those steps to retire-or, at least, to mothball-some of the Challenger tanks. What will the armoured regiments look like and what will their task be?
I warmly welcome the treaty signed between the French and British Governments. In truth, this has been 40 or 50 years in the making, and only now have the Prime Minister and the President of the French Republic managed to bring to harbour a very difficult and extremely important step for this country and for France. I am quite clear that it was the right thing to do. The most important step and the real game changer is with regard to the nuclear issues. I strongly and warmly welcome the treaty-although I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex has some reservations-and I think it will be but a precursor to further and greater co-operation.
I ask the Secretary of State to continue to examine how better to use our reserves. We in the UK are out of kilter with all our major allies. About 40% of US combat capability is generated by reserves. For example, the US deploys the National Guard brigades to Afghanistan where, after training, they perform on par with regular forces. The National Guard flies fast jets, including the 5th generation F-22 Raptor. The UK has demolished the capability of reserves to deploy as combat units. They are now used as trickle reinforcements to regulars. This may work well in Afghanistan-part of our main effort, as the Secretary of State said-and may help to allay regular overstretch. It is, however, a completely unimaginative approach to defence as a whole and a gross waste of a magnificent potential asset.
Much of our war-fighting capability is required at low readiness. As the House knows, this country faces no major external existential threat, and the opportunity to man much of it with expanded reservist capability and capacity clearly exists. Do we really need 300-plus fast jets at high readiness? No, we do not. Huge savings could be made, perhaps by placing two thirds of the force in reserve and building over the next 10 years the reserve capability to operate them. The Royal Air Force has a large alumni of brilliant fast-jet pilots, who would love to be better used. RAF regular pilots are reportedly restricted to 10 flying hours a month-fewer than US National Guard pilots.
Do we really need to man the tanks and artillery required for general war fighting with expensive regulars who are needed for operations on other equipment in
Afghanistan? No, we do not. It is a gross waste of money, and they should have got on and done that a long time ago. Again, those could be stored with small quantities of equipment used for training competent reserve brigades to be held at low readiness. The same could go for much of our amphibious shipping.
The leadership of the UK armed forces, as I know the Secretary of State understands, has always shown a disappointing disregard for the real potential of a transformed Territorial Army, Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Air Force voluntary reserve. They need to be ordered to go away and undertake a root-and-branch review to re-balance armed forces to take proper benefit from this cost-effective and potentially powerful asset. I warmly welcome the steps taken for a review of our reserve forces, headed by General Houghton, and I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), who has down the years championed the TA in this House with great vigour, power and energy.
My second theme is the need to continue to build momentum for transformation. As many have said, the strategic defence and security review is a beginning, not an end, but how can defence build momentum around the need to transform our armed forces without the catalyst of the SDSR? I was truly disappointed to hear the new permanent secretary in her first pronouncement on Monday say that the SDSR would be taken forward through the defence planning process. I have to tell the House that this is the same broken defence planning process that got the Ministry of Defence into the appalling mess that it is in now. This is about horse-trading, delaying, single-service rowing and general fudging of issues. What we need is real transformation. That game has definitely been started by the Secretary of State and it is clear that he has the will to see it through. I very much hope that he will do so, and get his way.
That leads me to my third point about the MOD. The best four years of my life were spent as Minister of State for the Armed Forces. I loved every single minute of it; I worked with the most wonderful people. They are marvellous people, but the MOD has become a vast and cumbersome beast. It centralises all power and freezes all decision making. Absolutely no one is accountable and no one is ever held to account. Difficult decisions are nearly always avoided, and vested interests always prevail. For a start, the single services plans organisation needs to be turned upside down and a far more purple approach is required. There are more three-star officers and officials in the headquarters now than there were 20 years ago when our armed forces were two thirds larger.
"How can anyone seriously justify the creation last year of the post of director general of strategy to serve in addition to the director general of policy, who did the job perfectly well when I was a Minister? How can anyone justify creating a commercial director general, a chief of defence materiel, a deputy chief of defence staff personnel and a director general of human resources? It is a crazy, absurd, overblown bureaucracy."-[ Official Report, 15 October 2009; Vol. 713, c. 503.]
Mr Jenkin: My hon. Friend is making some extremely powerful points. Does he agree that the emphasis now seems to have become a competition not between the three services, but between military personnel and civilian personnel? The fact that civilian personnel have given themselves equivalent ranks to military personnel has put them more in direct competition, so that they double up the functions of the armed forces.
Nicholas Soames: My hon. Friend is right. The problem is that there are overlaps at every level of decision taking in the Ministry of Defence. Two separate audiences are competing with each other. It is extraordinary that an institution that understands the ethos of command is so bad at doing it itself. Some of the most dreadful things were brought to me when I was a Minister. There might have been a terrible military cock-up and it would be taken away to be examined. The issue would come back six months later, but everyone would have had their fingers over it and Ministers would end up being told that it had been a great military triumph. It is true that no one is ever held accountable. The decision making is very lame and very long-winded.
Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con): May I give a practical example to illustrate my hon. Friend's point? I learned to my horror that the vice-chief of the defence staff had recruited a civilian medical adviser, to parallel the function of the three-star surgeon-general who is doing a very good job-and, of course, at great expense. Perhaps that provides an example of a post the could be cut.
Nicholas Soames: My hon. Friend makes an extremely vivid and important point. We can bet our bottom dollar that there would have been a frightfully good reason for doing it-it should have been blown out of the water on day one.
All this has created the mess we are in, with a £38 billion overspend. One of the most important jobs of the Secretary of State and the Administration is to build an agile strategic military headquarters and Department of State which are able to respond effectively to the rapidly changing environment of the 21st century. That does not exist in the Ministry of Defence at present, and it must be created, which will mean considerable decentralisation. The front-line commanders-in-chief need to be given the tools and the space that they need to do the job. As has been said, they need to be allowed to get on with it, and to stop being micro-managed by civil servants in Whitehall.
I am very pleased that the Secretary of State has engaged Lord Levene and a team of admirable and extremely experienced experts from the private sector to assist in this task, but if they are to drive the huge changes that are needed, senior officers and officials must recognise that what they have built has failed catastrophically, and must change. They must understand the need to transform. The senior military and officials need to own the change themselves, and they need to drive it forward. It will be a complete and fundamental change of culture, but it must be achieved.
Let me end by reading out a quotation that I have read out during almost every speech on defence that I have made in the House for years and years. It is a remarkable speech made by Lord Wavell, which the
House should bear in mind as all these changes are being made, and as they think about the men and women at the sharp end-the people who end up having to deal with decisions, sometimes very bad decisions, made in the Ministry of Defence.
"in the last resort, the end of all military training, the settling of all policy, the ordering of all weaponry and all that goes into the makings of the armed forces is that the deciding factor in battle will always be this. That sooner or later, Private so-and-so will, of his own free will and in the face of great danger, uncertainty and chaos, have to advance to his front in the face of the enemy. If all that goes wrong, after all the training, the intensive preparation and the provision of equipment and expenditure, the system has failed."
The House needs to remember, in the midst of the sometimes idiotic and petty political arguments that separate us in all parts of this House of Commons, that these young men and women are doing something really extraordinary, and doing it at great personal danger and risk to themselves. Ministers must never forget, in this great talk of strategy, this plethora of change and all that will go on at the top, with headquarters being got rid of and people being shuffled around, that they must be able to continue to deliver the really remarkable people who are able to do the job for which all this money is spent. That must be kept at all times in the forefront of the minds of the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State.
Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames). I echo his tribute to our armed forces-not just the fallen, but all of them. I spent two years as Minister for the Armed Forces and one as Secretary of State for Defence during a period when we were not only suffering the greatest losses of modern times, but fighting at the highest level of capability that we have had to achieve recently, and showing what our armed forces were capable of. That impressed on me what amazing people they are: they are worthy of our wholehearted support.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mid Sussex for many other reasons. As he said, he was very helpful when I was producing a Green Paper while I was a Minister, and his commitment to the armed forces is recognised by nearly everyone. I do not think it was entirely recognised by the sergeant-major who was responsible for his training at Sandhurst, if all the stories that he has told me are true, but everyone else recognises it-and, of course, his ancestry rivals my own. [Laughter.]
My admiration for the current Secretary of State is growing by the minute. I have to say that he has displayed huge capability in the political field, both in the House today and elsewhere. In the political arena, he is emulating some of the skills displayed by the Duke of Wellington, who used to hide his horses on reverse slopes and show his strength where he felt weakest. The Secretary of State has done the same this afternoon: he has lectured us about strategy-he has used the phrases of the lecture circuit-because he knows jolly well that what has been presented to the nation in the last few weeks is far from a strategy. What we have is an SPSR, or
"seriously pretend spending review", not a strategic security review. I think the Secretary of State knows that, but he does his very best to hide it, and he will do his very best to work within it. He has fought his corner hard in Government, and he is to be respected for that.
However, we never quite received an answer from the Secretary of State to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart). He talked a great deal about how we were joining our commitment to Afghanistan with the growing capability of the Afghan national security forces. The right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), the Chairman of the Select Committee, tried to help him by telling us again what we all know-how long we have been in Afghanistan-but the question was very simple: did the Prime Minister consult the Secretary of State before he announced the 2015 withdrawal date for our combat mission in Afghanistan?
Answer came there none, but we know what the answer is. The Prime Minister did not consult the Secretary of State. He did not consult his Defence Secretary, he did not consult his Foreign Secretary, and he did not consult his Chief of the Defence Staff. We know whom the Prime Minister consulted before he made that decision: he consulted the Deputy Prime Minister. This was a political decision, made for political reasons. We have more than 9,000 troops in theatre in Afghanistan, facing an enemy whose main tactic is to wait until we tire and then to inherit a victory, but for political reasons, and no others, the Prime Minister of this country announced an end date for our combat mission, playing into the hands of the enemy by transferring the pressure from the Taliban to the Afghan Government.
I am not saying that there is not a huge need for pressure on the Afghan Government. The single weakest point of the campaign of the international security assistance force in Afghanistan lies in the weaknesses and corruption of its Government, and if we fail to put that right, the mission will most certainly fail. But the decision to remove the pressure on the main enemy for domestic political reasons without even consulting the Defence Secretary, the Foreign Secretary or the Chief of the Defence Staff was astonishing.
Mr Jenkin: I have great respect for the way in which the right hon. Gentleman conducted himself as Defence Secretary in very difficult circumstances, but I really do think that he is talking complete rubbish about this. When I last visited Afghanistan, the Americans had already indicated that they were minded to withdraw, and the effect of that was to galvanise the Afghan political process. The stalemate in the Afghan political process has been the main obstacle to progress in Afghanistan. I believe that the Prime Minister made the right announcement, and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence was properly consulted.
I have the greatest respect for the hon. Gentleman as well. I know that he follows these issues, and takes them very seriously. As I have said, there is a need for pressure on the Afghan Government-I do not doubt that-but let us not pretend that the British Government only went as far as the American Government
had gone. What the American President said in autumn 2009-albeit unfortunately taking a long time to say it-was that by 2011 there would be a draw-down of the additional troops put into Afghanistan. He did not say there would be a withdrawal and an end to the combat mission. It was the British Prime Minister who said that, and as he is the leader of the nation providing the second largest troop contribution, that announcement was by no means insignificant in respect of the ISAF contingent.
The British Prime Minister named a date for the total end of the combat mission for party political reasons. We can establish that by considering the people he consulted as against those he failed to consult. If the reasons for the announcement had been to do with the operational mission, he would have consulted the Defence and Foreign Secretaries and the Chief of the Defence Staff, but as both the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) and I know, the person he consulted was the Deputy Prime Minister.
Mrs Moon: At the beginning of today's debate the Defence Secretary was asked whether or not he was consulted on the withdrawal of British troops, and he said by way of reply that the 2015 date was arrived at because the Afghan President had stated that he wanted to have strategic control over the defence of Afghanistan by 2014. Does it not therefore follow that if the Afghan President decides by 2014 that he is not ready to take over that strategic command and control, we will have to stay longer? Perhaps the Prime Minister should discuss and consult on that matter with the Defence Secretary.
Mr Ainsworth: Well, the decision has been taken, and it has been repeatedly reiterated. It is not going to be reversed, so we can ponder it as much as we like, but our armed forces and others will have to plan within the parameters that have been set for them. All I would say to my hon. Friend is that if the reason she has advanced for the 2015 decision is correct, President Karzai would have been consulted before the announcement was made, but as the Defence Secretary was not consulted, I do not believe that President Karzai was consulted either. The person who was consulted was the Deputy Prime Minister, and that is what gives us the key insight into the motivation for this announcement.
Dr Murrison: I think the right hon. Gentleman is getting distracted over this consultation issue. The central question is whether the Afghan national army is going to be in a fit state in five years to guarantee the country internally and externally. Does he seriously think that if it is not ready in five years, it will ever be ready?
Mr Ainsworth: Plans are in place, and the argument the hon. Gentleman puts is part of the cover for the 2015 decision, but I know that, privately if not publicly, he has no doubts about the real reasons that decision was taken, and he knows that what I am saying is true. Many other people know it to be true, too.
On the strategic defence review, I do not deny the problems the Government were facing, although they are doing their very best to exaggerate the difficulties we left them. They keep on mentioning the figure of £38 billion, and if they persist in doing so eventually somebody will
apply their common sense and realise that it is a bit of an exaggeration. There was overheating in the defence budget, but the only way we can get even close to £38 billion is by assuming a flat cash settlement for more than 10 years and no trimming of defence aspirations. That is not what the Government did and it is not what any alternative Government would do.
However, I do not blame the Government for exaggerating the difficulties they inherited because they did have some very difficult decisions to take. They faced an extremely acute financial situation and they had to try to conduct a strategic defence review with the Army in the field. I congratulate them on their efforts to do that, although I think they could have tried harder. They could have consulted more and therefore not rushed, and they need not have been totally dominated by the financial considerations, but they did their best in very difficult circumstances.
I also congratulate the Government on their decision to invest in cyber-security. That is a genuine area of weakness that needs to be addressed, but is the investment they are making in cyber-capability being counted towards our 2% NATO target for defence spending? What else are they putting into that in order to get to the 2% figure and thereby shield themselves from the fact that there are considerable defence cuts here that could-it depends on how we count this-take us below that target figure?
Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): I join others in thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the work he did as Secretary of State. We all know that he inherited a very difficult situation and he did the best he could in the circumstances. He is also my constituency neighbour of course, and we work together on other issues.
The right hon. Gentleman has alluded several times to the fact that the review was a spending review rather than a strategic defence review. Does he honestly believe that if Labour had won the last election, defence would have had a better financial settlement than has been achieved under this Government?
Mr Ainsworth: I have to say that the answer is, "Not necessarily." I think we would have taken more time and consulted more broadly, however. I think we would have got industry on board and carried more people with us, but I am not sure how well we would have done. I will come on to that issue later, however, as I want to make one further point about the level of settlement that has been achieved.
I am genuinely worried about the decision the Government took on the joint strike fighter. The Prime Minister's announcement on the strategic defence review revealed that we have not only not funded the carriers, but we have bought the wrong aircraft. The Government have, effectively, done away with our short take-off and vertical landing capability not for 10 years because of the early demise of the Harrier, but for ever. We will therefore end up with the JSF and the Typhoons. They will be two separate fleets, and small fleets too, because there will not be the money to expand either of them. We will be faced with the running costs of those two separate fleets as well, when they have fundamentally the same capability.
I know that the JSF has stealth whereas the Typhoon does not, but the Typhoon is a pretty impressive beast, and we are going to wind up paying for two separate
sets of maintenance for two separate fleets of fast jets that do fundamentally the same thing, but having given up short take-off and vertical landing capability. That capability is not only required for flying off carriers; it is required for other scenarios too-day-one warfare involving failed states, for example. A Harrier can take off in a big car park, but the JSF basically needs a full-size runway in order to be able to operate. That capability would be greatly valued by the US Marine Corps if the programme had been maintained, but now that the British Government have pulled out it will not be available to us. I am not at all sure that the Government have not made a significant mistake in that regard.
Let me return to how well the Government did. The Defence Secretary fought his corner and the headline cut in the defence budget is 8%, but in reality it is 13%. That is because the Treasury has won and it has transferred the costs of the deterrent to the core budget. That is getting very little attention, but it is equivalent to another 5% cut in the defence budget. The Government put off the decision on the renewal of the deterrent and the Prime Minister told the House in a fantastic piece of salesmanship that he had actually managed to save money while doing so. Well, he managed to save money by the normal process of the initial gate assessment that is going on: by cutting the number of warheads and of tubes. That would have been done, irrespective of who the Government were, as part of the assessment phase of the deterrent, because both parties are committed to the maintenance of a minimum credible nuclear deterrent.
But again the decision to delay the deterrent was one made for political reasons-for coalition reasons-not for industrial reasons or for reasons of capability. No matter what the Prime Minister tries to say to the House, that decision, on its own, costs this country billions of pounds-it certainly costs in excess of £1 billion and I would say the figure is probably £2 billion. So for the purposes of keeping peace in the coalition for the next five years, we have thrown away between £1 billion and £2 billion on the deterrent. The Prime Minister accused us, with a degree of justification, of shirking hard decisions and pushing things to the right, but while he was saying that-while those words were falling from his mouth-he was doing exactly the same thing. That is one reason why this is not a strategic defence review but a political fix and a spending review, and most certainly with regard to Trident.
As a result of that, my party-I know that the Liberal Democrats will have to do this-may well have to consider whether or not we maintain our position on Trident. We set the position in 2006 and we held to it. We did not try, as the Liberal Democrats did, some short-term political fix to pretend that we had another way. But if no decision is to be taken for another five years and if the cost of a like-for-like replacement of Trident will fall wholly and solely on the defence budget, at the cost of other military capability, we will have to think seriously about whether there is another way. We will also have to use the time, the expertise that exists in think-tanks and some of the information that will come from the armed forces themselves, now that the pressure is on and they are paying for the deterrent in alternative capability, to see whether there is some other way of maintaining Britain's deterrent without the huge cost that will come at the expense of the rest of our armed forces.
Dr Fox: If, as the previous Government said in their own study, the current Trident replacement was the most efficient and cost-effective way of defending Britain against a unique existential threat, and if the reason for having the deterrent in 2006, as set out in the previous Government's White Paper, was that we could not predict the threats in the next 50 years, what has changed since the election?
Mr Ainsworth: The answer is a treaty that the right hon. Gentleman has just signed with France; technological capability going forward; another five years; and a need to analyse the cost-benefit as against the other defence benefit that will be lost. It is all very well for the Foreign Secretary to say there will be no strategic shrinkage, but the Government have embarked on a fairly substantial degeneration of the military capability in this country that underpins our strategic position in the world. It may well be that Trident remains the most effective option and that a continuous at-sea deterrent is still essential, but with another five years we will have to examine that. Other people will examine it and if we do not, we will be seen to be putting our heads in the sand and not prepared to undertake a proper analysis of the choices that we face.
I have one further point to make, and it relates to force generation. The Secretary of State will know that his personnel costs are rising every bit as much as his equipment costs. The equipment costs catch the headlines, and people talk about them and the press get excited about them, but the personnel costs are rising every bit as fast. The Commandant General of the Royal Marines addressed a meeting in the House of Commons just a week or so ago, when he was able to say that the Royal Marines could generate deployable capability more cheaply than the infantry. If he can stand on his feet while he says that, something needs to be examined in the way the Army force- generates. The Royal Marines' training is much longer and is therefore a lot more expensive. In addition, the Royal Marines' capability is arguably considerably higher, so if it is cheaper as well, something is wrong and this needs to be examined.
One important job that the Secretary of State needs to do, and one that I started to get into, is to deal with how the Army force-generates, although he will be hugely resisted if he does so. If he is going to keep that minimum ongoing deployable capability force of 6,000-or whatever he said is the figure he is trying to maintain-he is going to need a 90,000-strong Army, so that corner needs considerable examination. I urge him to do this job, because it is necessary if we are going to get value for money and motivate the very fine people who make up our armed forces.
Mr James Arbuthnot (North East Hampshire) (Con):
So far, this has been the best informed and best defence debate I have attended in this House. As the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) knows, I had a very high opinion of his tenure of office as Secretary of State for Defence, and it is a pleasure to follow him. He spoke with his habitual integrity and persuasiveness. I also wish to welcome the shadow Secretary of State for Defence to his position. As he knows, I also have a very high opinion of him, to the extent that I was a bit surprised that he did not stand for
the leadership of his party. [Interruption.] I have ruined his chances now. I hope that, contrary to his own wishes, he will be in that position for rather longer than his predecessor was, because we should not have too many changes of position in these very important places.
The first and most important thing that the Ministry of Defence did was to start a strategic defence and security review, so the first and most important thing that the Select Committee on Defence did was to begin an interim report on that review. After we have done more work on our current inquiry into Afghanistan, we will be resuming our inquiry into that review. We have not yet done that, so what follows are my own views, rather than those of the Committee.
The 1997-98 review took place in a benign economic climate, whereas this year's review happened against bank meltdown and the simply dreadful economic consequences. That is why the Government decided that the defence and security review had to coincide with the comprehensive spending review. As a result, it became primarily a spending review and, secondly, a defence and security review. Is that a bad thing? It is absolutely essential to get the country's economy right. What won the second world war was the United States' economy, and the same applies to the cold war. The greatest weapon that a country can have for its defence is a strong economy, and any business man knows that the key to having a sound business is keeping one's costs under control. If the Government had done nothing, instead of paying £43 billion a year in debt interest alone, by the end of the Parliament we would have been paying nearer £50 billion a year. As the former Chief Secretary, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr Byrne), said, there is no money left.
The Defence Committee recognised all that, but we also wanted to look at the process of the review and we concluded that it was, pretty much, rubbish. This review took five months, whereas the highly regarded 1997-98 review took 13 months. The haste of this review meant that an opportunity to consult the wider public, defence academics, the defence industry and Parliament was missed.
Nicholas Soames: I know my right hon. Friend's views on this matter, but does he accept that the review was the first stage of a process that will require a great deal more work? Both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence have made that point. It is merely the architecture behind the transformation of defence that will take place, so an ongoing defence review will be needed all the time; indeed, there is to be one every five years.
Mr Arbuthnot: I accept what my hon. Friend says and I listened with great admiration to his earlier comments. There is a lot of work to be done, as the Secretary of State has made plain, and I hope that my hon. Friend will play as valuable a part in it as he played before the election.
My greatest concern about defence is that the British, and perhaps the European, public believe that defence is a job done and that the end of the cold war meant the end of the need to spend serious amounts of money on defending our interests. They think we can rely on the Americans to protect us, but they are wrong: the Americans will protect us only for as long as it is in their interests to
do so. Until our constituents demand that we spend more on defence, no Chancellor of the Exchequer will wish to do so, but that will not happen until the public are properly engaged in talking about defence or until they understand its importance and purpose. If one conducts a defence review behind closed doors, while everyone is away on holiday and at a pace that would startle Michael Schumacher, no such understanding will arise. Let us hope that the next one comes across better.
Given all my criticisms of the process, the result was far better than I expected. First, the Secretary of State for Defence did an absolutely valiant job of fighting his corner and I doubt that he alienated the Prime Minister or the Chancellor in the process-he was doing his job. Secondly, given that the Secretary of State started with a defence posture and budget that were both utterly incoherent and unsustainable there was a surprisingly strategic feel to the outcome, the thrust of which seems to be that we shall be gambling our security in the short term in exchange for its enhancement in the longer term. That is preferable to the reverse, provided that we always have at the front of our minds the need not to fail in Afghanistan.
Thirdly, despite the tightness of the settlement, there was a recognition of the changing and unpredictable nature of the threats we face. There was extra money for cyber-security and a recognition by the Secretary of State personally regarding the threat from electromagnetic pulses. I expect also that there will be extra money for space security. Those are some of the new threats.
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I think that is superb. The real problem that having smaller armed forces will bring is an absolute requirement to get our intelligence tip-top. We have been utterly surprised so many times in history. We have to make our intelligence much better, so that we reduce the chance of being surprised again. For example, why do we have so many intelligence agencies? I would bet my bottom dollar that we will be surprised again, but we have to reduce the risks as much as we can. That is as much a part of the review as anything else; indeed, it is probably one of the most important factors.
Mr Arbuthnot: I agree. My hon. Friend talks about the number of intelligence agencies we have, but he might like to look at the United States, which has such a plethora of intelligence agencies that it gives one a headache simply to look at a wiring diagram. Nevertheless, he is quite right: some of the threats we face are unpredictable. We are useless at predicting where threats will come from, or where we may need to be deployed, and for that reason we have to be adaptable.
My overall view of the review is that it is 80% common sense, pragmatic and broadly agreed upon, and 20% controversial, risky and able to generate headlines in the media. The success in pulling together the 80% that is agreed upon should not be overshadowed by discussion and argument over the 20% that is not, but that is what sells newspapers.
Let me give one example in relation to the French-UK treaties that were signed this week. I am in no doubt that they are a good thing, and that we are moving in the right direction. I have a reservation relating to the aircraft carriers, but I repeat that the treaties are a good thing. Actually, I believe that we should go further and
give reality to the treaties, so that the warm words that they contain might be translated into tangible progress in training, doctrine, equipment-sharing, acquisition and research with our good friends and allies, the French. My reservation about the aircraft carriers, however, has been wrongly depicted as some great showdown between myself and the Secretary of State. I shall explain my reservation.
"We will build both carriers, but hold one in extended readiness."-[ Official Report, 19 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 801.]
And we all know that "extended readiness" in Ministry of Defence-speak means exactly the reverse. But, in the press conference after the signing of the treaties this week, my right hon. Friend referred to our "carrier". As I understand it, we have not yet decided to sell one of the two carriers, and I hope that we do not. To talk of our "carrier" might be to build an expectation that we shall definitely mothball and almost certainly sell the other one. It is pre-empting a discussion that needs to take place much later, when we can see the economic circumstances of this country and, more importantly, the threats against us.
Two carriers would be a good idea, and no carriers would be a fairly good idea, but one carrier? Surely not. Every time it went into refit would we not prove to the Treasury that we were able to struggle on without it? Furthermore, are we really yet close enough to the French position that we can utterly rely on being allowed to use theirs? The answer is no, not yet. Our deployment to Iraq took place in the last decade. I do not say that we never will be close enough to the French, because I hope and expect that at some stage in the reasonably near future we shall, but it will come about only after a decent length of time operating alongside them, and after the treaties have been given detail, teeth and funding, none of which has yet happened.
How about another idea? How about deciding between the two of our countries that the French will contribute to the cost of the second carrier and, in return, have the right to use it when their carrier is in refit? That would mean that the two countries had three operational carriers between them, which should surely be acceptable. Having said all that, let me repeat that the French treaties are, in the words of "1066 and All That", a "Good Thing".
Of course, it is easy to mock the SDSR: "If only it had not been necessary to scrap the Ark Royal! If only we could have kept on the Harriers! Perhaps we could get by with some inflatable Harriers"-all that sort of jolly joking. However, the consequence of having to find money is that the alternative is to salami-slice all that is left and destroy the fundamental effectiveness of our armed forces in the process.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has had the courage to take some very difficult decisions. My guess is that in the decision between the Tornadoes and the Harriers, the fact that the Tornadoes have an air-to-ground strike capability was what saved them; we might well need that capability sooner than the Typhoon can provide it, and there must be questions about why that has been delayed for so long. Why did we need to scrap one or the other, the Harrier or Tornado? The cost of the logistics of keeping another
type in the air is huge-billions of pounds; a billion here and a billion there, and soon we are talking about real money.
The noble Lord West described the decision to scrap the Harrier as "bonkers". That would be easier to accept if, when he was in a position to do something about the bonkers economics of the Ministry of Defence, he had tried to do something to put it right. Instead, he drove forward the carrier decision, which he must have known was unaffordable.
How did all this come about? First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) set out so convincingly and with such great knowledge in his speech, there is the awful system of perverse incentives inside the Ministry of Defence. I congratulate the noble Lord Hutton on commissioning the Bernard Gray report. Those perverse incentives did not begin under a Labour Government; they have been around for decades, and I must bear some part of the blame for them myself.
Secondly, there is the disgraceful command from No. 10 that before the election there was to be no more money, but also no bad news about base closures or programme cancellations. The former Secretary of State for Defence did his valiant best to try to take some real, hard decisions, but he was thwarted at every step of the way by the Prime Minister of the time and some of his Ministers. In the private words of one of his Ministers at the time, the problems were to be chucked over the fence, into the responsibility of the next Government. I have been Chief Whip, and I am not often shocked. But I was certainly shocked when that remark was reported to me.
I still have considerable concerns about the strategic and defence review. I am very concerned about the gap in vital capability if the Nimrod aircraft go. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex, I am very concerned about the overall size of the fleet, which will be tiny in future; the unquantifiable influence exerted by the Royal Navy when a smart ship sails into a foreign port will be rarer and rarer. For the next 10 years, the strategic defence and security review will rely heavily on our enemies giving us advance warning of an impending attack. The enemy have a vote in all this; let us hope that they are polite enough to do that.
There will be other concerns. Service families watching this debate will fear redundancies, uncertainties and upheaval, having given themselves and made such sacrifice for their country. The same will apply to civil servants, who have also given outstanding service, and to the defence industry, which has done so much to support our defence efforts. All this will have substantial effects on whole communities-for example, in Scotland. We must do our best to mitigate those effects.
Whatever the concerns, one thing is absolutely clear. We have now had the defence review and we must now make it work. In my view, there is only a limited amount to be achieved by blaming the Labour party for the ghastly mess that it left us or the coalition for the hasty and secretive review that it has brought in to put it right. We now have a plan and we must scrutinise it, but we must leave defence on a stronger footing at the end of the process than it is on now. We must make it work for the good of the country.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Hon. Members will have noticed that no time limit has yet been set in this debate. I ask the 14 Members who still wish to participate to show some restraint and consideration for those who will try to catch my eye after they have spoken. We will do our best to ensure that everybody who wants to speak can, but it will not be possible at this rate unless there is some restraint.
Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): I welcome the opportunity to participate in today's debate. Following the precedent set by the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames), I pay tribute to those who have paid the supreme sacrifice in our armed forces and who laid down their lives so that today we can have this debate and enjoy the relative degree of freedom that we do. In particular, I am thinking of the soldiers who served in Northern Ireland over a number of decades, and those who lost their lives protecting the community there.
We had a debate yesterday in the House on the Saville inquiry, and there was much criticism of the actions of the Army in Londonderry in 1972-but that must not become the mark of the Army's contribution to Northern Ireland and to the relative degree of peace that we enjoy today. The Army did many valiant things in Northern Ireland, and many people are alive today because of its contribution. I would also say that the Army has learned much from its experience in Northern Ireland. I hope that, whether in Afghanistan or in the other parts of the globe, it can put that experience to good use.
It is a matter of concern that recently the head of MI5 warned that the threat from dissident terrorist groups in Northern Ireland is on the increase. We are discussing today a strategic review not only of defence but of security, and I want to highlight the continuing threat, because not only is it posed in the cities, towns and villages of Northern Ireland but it has the capacity to extend to other parts of the United Kingdom.
Yesterday in the Belfast Telegraph there was an interesting interview with some of the so-called leadership of a new dissident group that described itself as Oglaigh na hEireann, which is Irish for the army of Ireland. It is the latest version of the Irish Republican Army, and it draws together disaffected elements from the Provisional IRA, the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA. Significantly, among the new recruits are bomb makers who have developed a capacity to explode bombs in a way that is very dangerous. It concerns me that although, of course, our focus at times is on our role in Afghanistan and on the threat from al-Qaeda and other militant groups, there remains here at home in the United Kingdom a potent threat from such groups. It is estimated that the new group has about 600 members, some of them new but many of them with experience of involvement in terrorism over a number of years.
We should not underestimate that threat. I do not want to give the group a status that it does not deserve, but the reality is that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has been reduced from 14,000 officers at its peak during the troubles to the current level of just
7,000, who alone have to deal with that terrorist threat, supported by the security services but without the support of the Army.
Bob Stewart: I am worried by the right hon. Gentleman's comment that there might be 600 people in a new terrorist organisation in Northern Ireland. That is a significantly large terrorist group, particularly if substantial numbers are active. That worries me a great deal. Is he absolutely certain that it is anything like as large as that? If it is, that is a big worry.
Mr Donaldson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and for the contribution that he made while serving in the Army in Northern Ireland. I know that he experienced some terrible events that occurred during his time there. The figures that I quote come from the security services and from the Police Service of Northern Ireland; they are not something that politicians have dreamed up for the purposes of scaremongering. I do not share these remarks with the House to scaremonger, but merely to say that, in the context of our strategic review, we must keep an eye on a growing internal threat in the United Kingdom that may have consequences for the capacity of the PSNI to cope with it alone without the support at least of specialist assistance from our armed forces. We still have that capacity based in Northern Ireland, and it may be more needed than was envisaged when Operation Banner drew to an end just a few short years ago.
At the end of Operation Banner-as the former Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), will recall-commitments were given at a political level that a significant garrison would be retained in Northern Ireland. It therefore concerns me that there is talk of 19 Light Brigade, who are headquartered in Thiepval barracks in Lisburn in my constituency, being transferred back to the mainland. Similarly, there is talk of 2 Rifles, who are part of 19 Light Brigade and based at Ballykinler in County Down, and who recently served with distinction and great loss in Afghanistan, being transferred back to the mainland, with Ballykinler no longer being used as part of the garrison establishment in Northern Ireland, although its ranges and specialist training facilities would still be available to the Army.
This causes concern to us in Northern Ireland, as we very much value the presence of the Army in our part of the United Kingdom. Although we still have 38 (Irish) Brigade headquartered at Thiepval barracks, the presence of 19 Light Brigade has been important; they have done some valuable work with the local community. I would be worried if there were a move to transfer the brigade headquarters away from Lisburn back to the mainland. When the Prime Minister made his statement to the House on the SDSR, I sought an assurance from him that the cuts in troop numbers would not result in a reduction in the size of our front-line infantry units, and he gave that assurance. At the moment, 1 Royal Irish and the Irish Guards are deployed in Afghanistan, currently on operational duty in Helmand.
We in Northern Ireland are very proud of our long and historical tradition. It may not go back 800 years, but it certainly goes back over many hundreds of years. There is a tradition of Northern Irish men and women serving in our armed forces. Someone mentioned the Duke of Wellington, who is only one of many I could
mention. Montgomery, and others of Northern Irish extraction, have made major contributions to our armed forces. We want to ensure that that tradition will continue and be respected. If I may be so bold as to speak for absent Members from Scotland and Wales, the regional contribution of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to our armed forces at all levels is to be valued. That is true not just of the units that originate from those regions but of members of all units at every level of our armed forces. They are members of the British Army and proud of the British tradition as well as of their regional identity. I hope that those identities will be respected as the SDSR is taken forward.
I support the remarks of the hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) about the review of the reserves. I hope that the thrust of that review will be to strengthen the role of the reserve forces within our armed forces. He made some valuable comments in support of that move, which would bring the UK into line with other countries where the reserve forces play a greater role.
For the record, some 24,000 reservists have been mobilised on or in support of military operations since 2003, which is quite a remarkable contribution. To make the greatest contribution to our armed forces, the reserves need to be properly structured for future conflicts. That will make the best use of their skills, experience and capabilities, while at the same time moving us towards a more efficient structure. I understand that as we are having this debate, some 929 reservist personnel are on current operational duties. We wish each of them well. Their contribution is valued, and we want it to be strengthened because they have skills and specialisms that can provide valuable input into what our armed forces are doing.
The concept of conflict prevention, which is mentioned in the national security documents that have been published, is important in the context of the SDSR. If we are to have a smaller military capacity in future, we want to ensure, with our international partners, that the prospect of conflict developing is diminished as best it can be. In recent years, in the light of our experience in Northern Ireland, I have had the honour of working with people in many parts of the globe who are facing conflict. We have sought to use the benefit of our experience to help them avoid conflict or resolve it where it occurs. Just two weeks ago I spent some time in Cyprus talking to people from the north and south of the island about the situation there and the need for a political settlement. We have worked with people from the Iraqi Parliament, from Moldova, from Kosovo, from the Basque region in Spain and so on.
The UK has an important role to play in conflict prevention. Despite all that has happened in the past, it is still very much respected, and in many respects we can give a lead to the international community by working with others to prevent conflict where possible. I received an invitation recently to attend an event here in Parliament on the situation that is developing in Burundi, and I have discussed other countries where there are early warning signs of the risk of conflict.
Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Does he agree that the UK is playing a key role in bringing stability and infrastructure through the Friends of Yemen group and the Democratic Friends of Pakistan?
Mr Donaldson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and he is absolutely right. I also support what has been said about the BBC World Service, which is another valuable contribution made by the UK. Addressing conflict issues is about much more than just our military capacity; it is about what we can do to help people who find themselves in conflict or potential conflict situations, and the BBC World Service is an important component in that.
The UK can make a valuable contribution to conflict prevention, and I hope that we will be able to draw on our experiences around the globe, including in Northern Ireland. I hope that we will be able to draw on our experience of conflict to make a contribution to conflict prevention.
My colleagues and I welcome the publication of the SDSR. I am not one of those who criticises the fact that it contains a number of other reviews that need to be taken forward. I support what the Defence Committee Chairman, whom I am privileged to serve under, said about moving in haste. It was right that we took a little more time in the SDSR to look in more detail at reserve forces and other key elements, to have a more focused review and to make proposals. I welcome this debate, and my colleagues and I will continue to make a contribution as the debate goes forward.
Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) made an important point about the potential threat in Northern Ireland. He underlined much of what I will say, in that we simply cannot rely on events panning out in a certain way. In Northern Ireland in the mid-1960s, for instance, we could never have foreseen that events would start deteriorating very quickly in the late 1960s.
In a way, I feel that I am going full circle. Forty years ago, when I first got involved in politics, one of the things that propelled me into politics and away from the Royal Navy university cadetship that I had at the time was the debate about the Royal Navy, the then Labour Government cutting the number of aircraft carriers and the resignation of the Navy Minister. In the early 1980s, I started working with my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who, by the way, would have liked to have taken part in the debate but for attending a funeral. He is one of our foremost thinkers on defence, and we set up the Coalition for Peace through Security.
At the time, a fierce debate was raging about the Royal Navy. Keith Speed resigned as Navy Minister because he felt that the Navy was under threat. At the time, it had 66 destroyers and frigates. Within a year of his resigning, the utterly unexpected happened-the Falklands were invaded and we needed no fewer than 23 frigates and destroyers to retake them. By the way, this very day, Cristina Kirchner, the President of Argentina, has pledged an "eternal fight" for the Malvinas. It is extremely dangerous, therefore, to assume that we will see a particular scenario over the next 10 years.
I very much admire my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell), who is the Father of the House. He gave an important speech to the 1922 committee last week. Such speeches are supposed to be private, and I will not, of course repeat it. However,
I want to repeat just one interesting point that he made-it is so good, I cannot resist the temptation. He said that when he left the employment of Anthony Eden many years ago, Eden gave him a framed copy of the Locarno treaty. The treaty represented the high point of the belief between the wars that peace was assured. Of course, we all know that it was not.
There was a disastrous tendency between the two world wars to believe in what was called the 10-year rule, which assumed that there would be no war for another 10 years. In the 1930s, Lord Hankey criticised the 10-year rule, to which we are apparently returning. He asked who could have foreseen in the spring of 1914 that the world would be convulsed by a world war within a couple of months. If we look back at history, it is clear that any 10-year rule or academic scenario that suggests that we do not need the aircraft carriers for 10 years is extremely dangerous. I am therefore very dubious of any confident statements on how the world will look in five, seven, eight or 10 years' time.
We are, after all, a maritime nation. I agree that for many periods in our history, the Army has been neglected, but never the Royal Navy. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and in the early part of the 20th century, it was considered essential as a maritime nation dependent entirely on trade-as we still are-to maintain a significant Royal Navy. I echo some of the comments that have been made on Royal Navy planning. We will be left with just 19 serious major ships, and we are hugely dependent on them. We will need to deploy large numbers of them to protect the aircraft carrier-or carriers-and we should be extremely concerned about that situation.
Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the great worries in Asia? Japan has 4,000 islands, many of which are vulnerable, especially to China. There are concerns elsewhere about the fact that China, which has said it is interested only in territorial self-defence, is now building three aircraft carriers, and fourth and fifth generation aircraft-based attack vehicles, and looking for naval bases in the Indian ocean. Britain and Europe disarming themselves and leaving everything to the United States sends a very worrying message in relation to possible future nationalist adventurism in that part of the world.
Again, we should look to history. Had Spain declared war on us in 1940, we probably would have lost Gibraltar and the second world war. It did not declare war because it was deterred by the existence of the Royal Navy-Franco knew that it would immediately take the Canary Islands. Of course, Spain is now a friend and a member of the European Union, and there is no likelihood that the Spanish will ever declare war on us or seek to take Gibraltar by force.
Incidentally, following directly on from that, Spain now has two carriers with Harriers, as does Italy; the USA has 11 carriers; and India, Thailand and Brazil each have one carrier with Harriers. With this review, we have unilaterally destroyed our carrier capability for 10 years. That is unilateral disarmament, and I am extremely concerned about it.
I am also concerned about the decision on Nimrod. There has been a lot of talk about the cost, but very little about how we will maintain that capability, although
the Secretary of State referred to that today. I was under the impression that we needed Nimrod as an early-warning surveillance system, particularly to protect our nuclear submarines, and particularly as they are returning to base. Some assurances were given to us today. I know that the Secretary of State cannot go into any great details because such matters are sensitive, but the House is entitled to ask why Nimrod was developed for all those years. Why is it suddenly considered necessary to cancel it just because of its cost?
Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I accept the sensitivities regarding what we use Nimrod for, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we take any capability out, we must either bin it altogether and not task it, or replace it?
Mr Leigh: Exactly. I know that parliamentary questions have been asked, but the House must tease out more information on maintaining early-warning capability. I know that this is not an exact historical comparison, but if someone had said in 1938, "Oh, this radar programme that we are deploying on the south coast is terribly expensive. We've wasted enormous sums of money on it and there are all sorts of pressures on our budget, so we should get rid of it," we simply would have lost the second world war. I know that that is not an exact comparison, but we should always be aware of the lessons of history. In defence, whether we are talking about Northern Ireland or piracy, we simply cannot rely on the same situation existing in eight or nine years as exists now.
I am also extremely worried about the decision on Trident. The decision not to push through the main gate on Trident before the next general election is very dangerous indeed, because I believe that it was taken for fundamental political, not military, reasons, and because of the possible result of the next general election. What happens if the Labour and Conservative parties are level pegging, and there is a bargaining situation, as we had this year? I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would not be prepared to enter into a coalition with the Liberals if the price was getting rid of Trident, but can we be so confident about the Labour party? The former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth), whom we all greatly admire for his time in office, made a significant intervention when he said, "Well, now that Trident's been put on the backburner, perhaps we should reconsider; perhaps there are cheaper options. It will be five years in advance." So the political decision to delay Trident is worrying and dangerous.
I do not say that as someone who is fanatically in favour of Trident. I managed to blot my copy book with the Conservative parliamentary party as soon as I arrived in the House-I have succeeded in doing it again and again ever since-when I and my hon. Friend the then Member for Wells tabled an early-day motion questioning whether there were not cheaper alternatives to a ballistic missile system, and suggesting that we could consider cruise missiles off nuclear-powered submarines. My right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister was none too pleased with both of us. So I have always been sceptical about maintaining ballistic missile systems in a post-cold war age, and more and more people like that will be coming out of the woodwork the longer we delay main gate.
Some have said, "If a future Labour Government wanted to cancel Trident, they would cancel it anyway, whether it had been through main gate or not", but why have we not cancelled the carriers? It is because the admirals were determined to force them through main gate before the election, knowing that after it, there would be enormous political and financial pressure to cancel them. If, therefore, Trident has not gone through main gate before the next general election, it will be thrown immediately into the political mix and it will be much easier to cancel it. I have noticed that the president of the Liberal Democrats, who has been quoted in the Evening Standard, has been crowing that they have achieved a major political victory in delaying Trident. So as much as I love my coalition partners, we should be aware of what could happen in the future.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot) has done a wonderful job as Chair of the Defence Committee-he is shaping up to be a superb Chair-in questioning the decision on the future shape of the carrier fleet. I am not a Francosceptic; I am a huge Francophile. Both my parents were brought up in France, I went to a French school, and I speak French, so I am all in favour of every kind of co-operation with the French-
Mr Leigh: But, indeed. Hon. Members and the public are right to be wary about such co-operation. The public do not really understand-and why should they?-a lot of these details about joint strike fighters, Typhoons and Tornadoes. However, they can visualise aircraft carriers without aircraft, and they can visualise sharing an aircraft carrier with the French, and they do not like it-and they are wise not to like it. We all know what would have happened had we been sharing an aircraft carrier with the French during the Falklands war or the Iraq war. We simply cannot foresee-
Mr MacShane: I want only to make the point that when the Falklands were invaded, the then US ambassador to the UN, Jeane Kirkpatrick, supported Argentina to begin with, but the first call that Mrs Thatcher got that Saturday morning was from Francois Mitterand, pledging support and revealing all the secrets of the Exocet and the Super Etendard. There are many differences between us and the French, but on the Falkland Islands, they were with us, and to begin with the United States was not. That should be put on the record.
Fine, but we must remember, I am afraid, that it was a French Exocet that sank HMS Sheffield. I do not doubt for a moment that it is a wonderful idea to have increased co-operation with the French on procurement and to work together more closely, but on this basis it is an extremely dangerous decision. My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire was right. There is no way in this debate that we can change the decision on the Ark Royal, the Harriers or Nimrod, and I do not think that I will still be in this
Chamber when the two aircraft carriers retire, because I will be about 120. However, for the next 10 years, we can together mount a campaign. Its nature must be clear: that we would make ourselves ridiculous, as one of the world's greatest maritime nations, if we built the greatest and most powerful ships we have ever constructed and then sold one of them to India, Brazil or elsewhere.
As my right hon. Friend said, extended readiness is not good enough. Our commitment, as with Trident, must be that at all times an aircraft carrier will be available. That means that we must keep our two aircraft carriers and ensure that when one goes in for a refit, the other is available. We remember how long the refit of Ark Royal took and its cost. The refits of the new class of aircraft carriers will take even longer and be even more costly.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Deputy Speaker said that many Members want to speak, and the hon. Gentleman has been rabbiting on for about 15 minutes. Can he please wrap it up so that others may get in?
We are entitled to speak up about our concerns for the future of the Royal Navy, bearing in mind that we are a maritime and trading nation, and we must continue the campaign for the future to ensure that we have a strong and viable Royal Navy that can protect this nation, as it has done for centuries.
Mr Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab): The word "strategic" is in the title of the document, but we have heard several examples of how it is not a clearly formed strategy at the moment. At the end of his thoughtful speech, the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), explained where we are now and said we needed to form a clear, strategic view of where we will be in future, and that is a job that we must all do.
The debate has been a little deficient-this is understandable because we are considering the matter from the point of view of defence-for the reason that the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) gave. The review is supposed to be about defence and security-that is what the annunciator screens say-but the security part is clearly deficient. The document on the national strategy from the National Security Council is all very well as far as it goes, but it is not clear to me where our foreign policy is in this debate; nor do I think it is clear where the home services stand in terms of the Home Office, policing and so on.
Some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman are telling. The only way to deal with the problems is not with large toys and pieces of kit, but with good old-fashioned police work and intelligence. There must be correct mixture of capability, including people as well as machinery. The cross-governmental aspect of the review was encouraging. In the Defence Committee during the last Parliament, I said that we were in effect already having a defence review, but in an ad hoc and unguided way that was not very helpful or useful. It should have been put into a proper structure much earlier. That is the missed opportunity because the review does not cover the whole of the subject in the title-strategic defence, including security.
There are many parts to the review. I echo some of the points that have been made about Trident. As I said back in July, we cannot take Trident out; well, we could formally, descriptively and all of that, but in reality we cannot, so it was all nonsense. Whether that was said for political reasons to do with the coalition partners is for history to show. There is probably a lot of power in those arguments, but the reality is that it was nonsense to try to proceed in that way.
The other thing that disturbs me is that some parts of the review have not been mentioned today. The lack of clarity about a defence industrial strategy is hugely important. I know that there will be a Green Paper, apparently by the end of this year. It is now November the something-or-other, so I do not know what is meant by the end of this year. I must tell the Minister that I hope we see the Green Paper before the recess comes; otherwise we will have no opportunity to consider it. Apparently there will be a White Paper some time next year, and then something beyond that. What key capabilities are we going to focus on? What direction are we giving to industry? Where is the strategy? Where is the plan? It is not there. We have to form it, and it is to the benefit of us all that we do so.
There is also the reform group-or whatever it is called-that has been set up to transform the Ministry of Defence. We had the reform acquisition strategy before the election. I wrote all this down so that I would not get it wrong, but at that time the Ministry of Defence said, "Well, don't worry about it, because we're transforming ourselves. We have the PACE programme"-performance, agility, confidence and efficiency-"the defence acquisition 'Terms of business agreement' process, the equipment and support plan, the acquisition operating framework, and the capability delivery practitioners guide." We were told that the MOD had lots of other things, doubtless all recommended by a legion of consultants of various sorts-not medical consultants, but business consultants-about internal process. That methodology will clearly be part of the MOD's review.
A number of reviews have been mentioned in other respects. The points that have been made today about force generation are important. I attended part of the presentation by the Marines about how they do things. They give clear costings, and they were not shy about saying what things cost them or how much time they took. The hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Nicholas Soames) made an excellent contribution to the debate about what needs to happen with MOD processes. However, as all that unfolds and we do the work, my concern is where we are in that process. Who even is this "we"? What I have seen so far is a process that went
forward over the summer, but which did not really involve the public or Parliament, as the right hon. Member for North East Hampshire said. In fact, there was a very narrow discussion among a narrow group of people, and it was therefore not as well informed as it should have been.
Scrutiny and involvement in the process are important, as is transparency. There was a review of Trident. Apparently something came out of the end of that review, but I have no real idea what process was used or what the results were. We need to understand better what is going to happen in that process if we are to end up with a better strategic review, which can serve as the overarching architecture, as the hon. Member for Mid Sussex put it. The review may well be the framework for that debate, but it is not the debate itself, nor is it the end product, and to that degree it is deficient.
There are issues to do with particular aspects of the review. I have concerns, partly because my local economy is affected, but the decision on St Athan and the training there is worrying. It is particularly worrying because, as the Chancellor and others have said, one way or another we have to find different ways of paying. We are talking about a private finance initiative. I have to say that I am not the greatest supporter of private finance initiatives in general, but what has happened prompts the question: why, having gone through a due diligence process pretty recently, was the facility not thought to be good enough? We now have a decision that that is not going to happen, but what is going to happen? All we have now is a vague declaration that something else will happen. The big question is about the training. It is about the people, and it is important that this aspect should not be lost in the review, with all the discussions about large pieces of equipment.
I could say a few words about the carriers, which we discussed on a number of occasions in the Defence Committee during the last Parliament. At one point, there was talk about having three carriers-my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) would like to hear this, but he is not in his place-but that was on the basis of having two British carriers, with the French perhaps buying one off us and our making it for them with their Slingshot deck on it. All these discussions were going on, so this is not an entirely new argument, although it is new in some respects.
I thought a remark in yesterday's edition of the Financial Times was prescient. It pointed out that if the Ministry of Defence gains the savings it declares it is going to get, it would be a good thing if they went back to the MOD, and did not just get lost in the coffers. If there is a dividend, the MOD should have it, not the Treasury.
One issue raised by the treaty is whether markets, including the French defence market, would be opened up to British companies. Given my hon.
Friend's long membership of the Defence Committee and his close interest in defence matters, does he recollect whether the French have ever bought anything that does not have a main French component to it?
Mr Havard: I may be old, but no-that is the short answer, and it might go back longer than me. The French have a particular view about their sovereign capability, so my hon. Friend raises an interesting issue. The Defence Committee was asked to consider the trade treaty with the United States, and did some pre-work before it was agreed. The Americans have only just agreed to the treaty-it took them three years to ratify it. Included in it was important stuff related to technology transfer and the joint strike fighter. Yes, some other nations take a very parochial view: they claim to be free traders, but they often behave in a very-how can I put this? -protectionist fashion. That balance is always there. What comes out of it, I do not know. It will be interesting to find out what lies behind some of the declarations and whether it will change that form of acquisition.
I have a few small questions for the Minister. One is about helicopters and search and rescue. This may be a small aspect of defence, but it is very important, particularly in Wales, because we have to spend a lot of time calling people from Culdrose to come and rescue mostly English people off Welsh hills. In that sense, people in England have an interest in what happens in Wales as much as Welsh people do. It gives rise to a question about particular capabilities within the review. This service is under review and there are lots of individual programmes on which we need more clarity.
Some of the decisions are about timing. It is all very well saying we will have a defence review every five years. Let me tell Government Members that they will have an iteration in 2012 and another in 2014-whether they like it or not. That is because there will be political change in Afghanistan, and there is already political change going on in America. They should not try to pretend that this will work on some prescribed artificial timetable that might seem desirable today, because it will not. Events, dear boy, events-and some of those events are largely predictable because of watersheds in the political timetable set for us elsewhere as well as here. I hope that whatever the review going forward will be-in all its different component parts-it will be open. I hope that Parliament will be directly involved in the process.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr Havard), and I am really pleased that he has rejoined the Defence Select Committee, which, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), has an extremely impressive membership. I know that the Committee will do a great job in holding the Government to account, which is indeed its function.
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